Meal Timing and Frequency
First off, let’s discuss meal timing. To be sure we are on the same page if your nutrition is sub-par and your workouts are sub-par there is probably no point to worry about meal timing as studies show that the difference it makes is minor. However, if we are searching for that extra peak of performance or a boost to improve our body mass composition, then this may be something to consider. Eating first thing in the morning has been shown to be beneficial for general health and eating a higher protein meal in the morning has been shown to aid in weight loss. Through 9 years of trial and error, I have found this to be true as well. On the flip side, I’m sure you have heard the old myth “you can’t eat an hour before you go to bed”? Maybe this gained popularity because people tend to eat bad foods and sweets right before bed. But, to lump all food types in with this general statement is just plain silly. Many studies show that it does not promote weight loss by simply not eating one hour before bed. In fact, if you are spacing meals out evenly and eat a healthy meal before bed there are studies linking that to being beneficial for gaining lean body mass (reducing body fat %). The last aspect of timing we will discuss is eating around your workout. Check out this study: The Effect of the Timing of Meal Intake on Energy Metabolism during Moderate Exercise. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24759257.
Basically stating that eating one hour before a workout or 3 hours before a workout does not affect energy metabolism nor affect the performance of the athletes. Now I will say anecdotally I have found that a low fat, moderate protein, high carb meal about 90 minutes before training/sport works well to fuel performance. As for post-workout meals a high carbohydrate, high protein, low-fat meal/shake has been shown to be best suited to aid in recovery. Most research will show agreement with this.
Secondly, let’s discuss meal frequency. There are two main points to go over here: 1) Eating more frequently raises your metabolism. 2) Eating protein more frequently leads to muscle growth. Here is a great study that looks at point # 2:
Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23241341
What can we take away from this? We need somewhere around 3g of Leucine (an amino acid found in protein) to stimulate muscle growth and we can do this approximately every 3-4 hours. So if we were trying to add lean body mass we would have a protein dominate meal, along with some carbs every 3 hours to maximize the muscle growth potential.
Going back to our first point; eating more frequently raising your metabolism. Well again, this generalized blanket statement is silly. Does anyone think that if you eat more cake more frequently you will improve your body composition? What is more likely to happen when we ask someone to eat more frequently is that they are now more likely to make better choices, keep a journal, and/or eat protein more frequently. All of which have been shown to help aid in weight loss. If we simply look at eating a protein dominate meal 6 x a day there have been studies showing increased weight loss, lean muscle mass gain, and decreased abdominal fat. So what is the common thread here? Protein! Protein is thermogenic in effect, essentially meaning it burns more calories to absorb and use than the other macronutrients. It aids in lean body mass addition, and in fat loss when consumed multiple times throughout the day.
When looking at your personal meal timing and frequency try and find something that works for you and that is suitable for your lifestyle. Because the simpler something is, the longer you will do it, so make this work with your schedule/life and stay consistent.
Remember to make your own hierarchy of importance from what we have covered over the last month. Quality>Quantity>Frequency>Timing.