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Weight Loss 101: Meal Frequency & Timing

Posted Jan 26 2009 3:41pm 2 Comments

In part 1 of "Weight Loss 101", I discussed the most important topic of this series, establishing your weight loss/fat loss calorie limits. In part 2, I talked about food selection guidelines. In this installment, I want to discuss meal frequency, timing, and related issues.

Meal frequency, how many times to eat each day ("feeds"), the timing of your meals etc. is a controversial topic. Some experts will tell you it doesn't matter how you break your calories up-whether it be over 1 meal or 10- and that total caloric intake is the only thing you need to consider. Other experts will tell you eating every 2-3 hours, multiple times (6 or more) throughout the day is of vital importance if you want to successfully lose weight. Then there are experts who advise eating a certain number of grams of all the macronutrients at certain times each day. If can be head spinning trying to sort through all this, but it doesn't need to be all that difficult.

Well, here is my take: ideally, yes, you should definitely try to eat multiple smaller meals throughout the day, never going more than 3 or 4 hours without getting some calories in your system. HOWEVER, you are not going to sabotage your weight loss efforts if you don't. Yes, I do think eating more frequent and smaller meals throughout the day can accelerate your success and make your success more sustainable, but, the most important thing is not to exceed your weight loss calorie limits.

Why is it important to eat multiple smaller meals throughout the day? Here is some information I found from another website ( which pretty much sums up why eating more frequently and splitting your calories up over many meals is optimal (but not required):

"When you eat food (recipes), your blood sugar or blood glucose levels rise. Insulin is secreted by your body in response to food in the digestive system. As time passes, insulin drives glucose into the body’s cells and out of the blood stream. Both insulin and glucose levels decrease. This simplified version of the process takes place each time food in consumed and is considered to be a normal andhealthyfunction of the digestive system.

This process can become unhealthy when an individual consumes 2 or 3 larger meals a day and fasts for four or more hours in between meals. Eating in this manner, allows blood sugar and insulin levels to spike very high after the meal is consumed and drop very low after several hours of fasting. This can result in hypoglycemia or low blood glucose levels.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be irritability, confusion,
hunger, sweating, and palpitations to name a few. Ideally, it is advantageous for insulin and glucose levels to remain relatively steady throughout the day.Eating five smaller mealsthroughout the day minimizes the high spikes and low drops in glucose and insulin levels. In addition to avoiding symptoms of hypoglycemia, smaller meals help to decrease cravings or mood swings. Smaller meals also help you to avoid overeating at mealtime."

So, you see, it has a lot to do with keeping your blood sugar and insulin secretion "in check". By keeping blood sugar and insulin levels steady, you have a better chance of not getting overly ravenous and overeating. Furthermore, I also feel eating more frequent, smaller meals allows you to optimize and take advantage of the thermic effect of feeding (TEF), which is the number of calories your body uses to break down and absorb the food you eat. The more frequently you eat, the more TEF and the more calories you burn through this process.

Let's move on to timing of meals. Look, I'm not gonna make this overly complex. My audience is mostly 8-5 (if you are lucky) professionals with family and social obligations. I'm not going to bombard you with "minutia", and have you try to eat a certain number of grams of specific macro and micro nutrients at certain times throughout the day. You have enough on your plate with keeping track of calories and making highly nutritious selections. All I'll say in regards to timing of meals is this:

1. Eat breakfast: don't make excuses why you can't or won't. Get up 15 minutes earlier or prep your breakfast the night before. If you are not a "breakfast person" or if you are "not hungry in the morning", you need to become a breakfast person and/or find foods which you can get down early in the morning. Eating breakfast sets the tone for your day, gets your blood sugar steady, and generally gets you off on the right foot. Also, if you refer back to part 2 of this series, you'll notice I recommended eating carbs with breakfast, as your body is in a state to handle them well.

2. Get a good mix of protein and carbs within an hour after your workouts. Take advantage of this "window" of time post workout. Again, your body is in a state to handle carbs well after a workout because your glycogen stores are depleted and need to be replenished. Also, this post-workout "feed" goes a long way in helping you to recover from the stress of a hard workout.

I like post-workout smoothies or shakes for a quick meal I can take with me on the go. You can

buy these pre-packaged, at your gym (usually) or make your own. If you make your own, make it before hand so you can easily get to it after your workout. I like this:

8 oz. skim milk

1 scoop vanilla protein powder

2 oz. strawberries

2 oz. blueberries

2 oz. raspberries

The little drink above is under 300 calories and packs a great post workout nutritional punch.

3. Limit your late afternoon and evening meals to lean proteins, good fats, fruits and veggies...try to avoid starchy carbs at these times of day. Once again, starchy carbs are best consumed in the morning, late morning, and post-workout. So, cereals, breads, pastas, oatmeal etc. (again, see part 2 for recommended starches) should be eaten with breakfast or post workout.

That's all I have for this installment. I hope this series has been beneficial and, most importantly, practical and easily understood to this point. Next time, I'll talk a bit about supplements (most are worthless by the way). Now, go put some of this information into action!
Comments (2)
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Portion sizes are also a huge factor! The <gt; of dieting is watching how much you eat of anything!
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