We all hear so often and have read it a million times about the importance of providing our body with proper nutrients and nutrition, in order to complete daily tasks, physical activities, training and exercise in a day. Despite the knowledge we still hear about people who skip meals for dieting reasons or lack of time, are now common place. These practices have undesirable health consequences and don not always result in weight loss.
When you skip a meal the body goes into a “fasting mode”. During this fasting, carbohydrates, protein and fats are all used for energy. Carbohydrates are the number one source of fuel for the body, followed by protein and then fat. As this fasting phase continues the following things happen:
- The muscle glycogen storage deposits in muscle and liver become depleted.
- As the glucose levels drop the body looks for other sources of fuel. Since the brain and nerves prefer energy from glucose, protein tissues (muscle) are broken down. (Not good if your aim is to build muscle).
- The effort to preserve the remaining protein, the body starts to metabolise fat for energy in the form of ketone bodies (acetoacetic acid).
- Decrease in T3 thyroid hormone, the longer the period between meals the greater the reduction inT3.
- Negative effect on insulin levels which causes increased insulin spikes which in turn leads to fat storage.
The process of using ketone bodies as fuel is called ketosis. This process can cause the following negative effects on the body:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Elevated risks of kidney disease (uric acid)
- Stale breath
- Fetal harm/stillbirth in pregnant women.
As the body switches to the use of ketone bodies, it begins to reduce energy output in an effort to protect both fat and lean tissue. (Lowering, of the metabolism). In addition, as the lean tissues begin to shrink, they become weaker and perform less metabolic work, reducing energy expenditure even more. Hormones also slow down the metabolism to conserve the lean body tissue. This is known as “starvation mode”, this mechanism is thought to have evolved as a defense mechanism against starvation. The body uses the calories efficiently in order to protect its fat stores using lean tissue and muscle instead. A lowered metabolic rate is a direct result of muscle loss. Accordingly; fewer calories are needed and weight loss slows down.
Skipping meals and restricting calories will create cravings. Rapid high blood sugar occurs when you give into these cravings. As a result, your body creates a high amount of triglycerides, which convert to fat-storage. In addition, the depleted glycogen causes low energy levels because blood sugar is not being replaced. Unfortunately, the weight that is lost is mostly water (glycogen is made up of mostly water) and muscle.
The slowed metabolism will also cause a slowdown digesting your food, if you cram all your food into one meal. This is also commonly seen in people who skip meals. They get so hungry they eat more than one meals worth of calories at one sitting. The already slowed metabolism is going to take a lot longer to digest the oversized meal through your digestive system again resulting in weight gain.
The success rate of losing weight from skipping meals is poor. A significant amount of weight may be lost at first, but once again this is water and muscle weight. And you will in most instances put the weight back on plus more.
Effects of skipping meals:
- Decreased energy expenditure
- Decreased metabolic rate
- Weight gain
- Increased preference of fat in the diet (Satiety)
- Decrease in strength
- Increase in injury rates
- Decreased bone density
- Decreased body temperature
- Decreased performance
- Decreased resistance to disease
- Impaired thermal regulation
- Decreased testosterone levels
- Mood swings
- Menstrual dysfunction.
WHY FREQUENT MEALS ARE IMPORTANT
The answer to this is a big YES. But it requires a bit of extra effort on your part. Research has shown that people who eat five to six meals per day are able to lose more fat and stay leaner than those people who only consume three meals a day.
The absence of food causes the stomach to secrete a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is referred to as the “hunger hormone”. It exerts its effects by slowing down fat utilization and increasing appetite. Without consistent food consumption, ghrelin levels remain elevated for extended periods of time, increasing the urge to eat. Frequent meals counteract these negative effects Blood sugar is better regulated and because there is an almost constant flow of food into the stomach the hunger-inducing effects of ghrelin are suppressed, reducing the urge to binge-out.
To make the task of eating frequently a little less arduous, it is beneficial to prepare several meals in advance, store them in plastic containers and reheat them in a microwave on an as-needed basis, for maybe taking to work, or whilst traveling. By doing this allows you to consolidate preparation, thereby heightening efficiency. Another alternative is to supplement your basic meals with meal replacement powders (MRP’s) these “engineered foods” provide the ultimate in convenience. They are nutritionally balanced, easily transportable, and can be prepared in a matter of minutes. Over the long-term, these factors make them an excellent aid in the pursuit of lasting weight management. In fact, fat loss programs that use MRP’s are significantly more successful than those that don’t. In most cases, you can substitute these meal replacements for either of your daily meal.
There are also many nutritional bars on the market at the moment and these bars come in a wide array of different flavors and are often quite tasty. But you must check the nutritional content of these bars if you are going to use them, as some of them are just glorified, sugar containing snack bars. Look for ones that have adequate amounts of protein and moderate carbs, and low sugars. Don’t be too concerned if, at the outset, you find it difficult to eat so frequently. It has been said that any activity done consistently for one month becomes a habit, and diet is no exception. For some it might take a little longer and for others not quite so long, but if you adhere to the same nutritional protocol on a consistent basis, then it will become ingrained into your subconscious. Eventually, eating every few hours will be second nature.
This article was written by Doug Lawrenson, our local diet & nutrition guru. If you would like to chat to Doug or any other Muscle&Strength members about muscle building, fitness, losing weight or diets head over to our Muscle Building Forum. The forum is absolutely free to join and is a great place to get some good advice to help you achieve your goals, whatever they are!