When you're on the road to life-long fitness, the two most critical variables to control are exercise and nutrition. Some fitness experts argue that true fitness is 50% regular exercise and 50% nutrition. Others in the field believe that it's more of an 80/20 split: 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. Either way, there's virtually nobody out there contradicting the basic truth that regular exercise and sound nutrition will pay huge dividends. What we don't hear so much about, however, is the timing behind exercise and nutrition.
To really rocket our fat-loss results into the stratosphere, we absolutely must consider not only what we do, but when we do it.
Today's topic is "When should we eat?"
The obvious answer is "When we're hungry!"
But is that the right answer?
How about "When food is in the room with us!"
Is that the right answer?
One more try: We should eat "When we get a chance."
Surely that's the right answer!
Nope, nope, and nope. It's a sad but true fact that eating at the wrong time of the day can undermine our fat loss efforts. To get the most 'bang for our food buck' we need to be scheduling our meals.
To maximize our 'eating timing' we should all be consuming 5-6 small meals each day. The old '3 squares a day' just doesn't work anymore. Eating frequent small meals each day allows us to control our blood sugar and insulin levels, and thus our energy levels. Many small meals (instead of 3 big meals) allows us to get our daily protein in manageable amounts throughout the day, which in turn minimizes the storage of body fat.
Consider this: the recommended amount of protein per day is 50 grams (for the average American). Sally eats some protein (about 8.33 grams) with every meal throughout the day. Sally is eating a small meal about every three hours. Her blood sugar remains fairly constant, which keeps her energy level fairly constant. Bubba, on the other hand, eats his 50 grams of protein all at one time by chowing down on a porterhouse steak with dinner. Both people had the RDA of protein. Who do you think is storing more fat?
Eat breakfast. The biggest mistake most of us make (nutritionally speaking) is going far too long between meals. How many of us skip breakfast? Think about it: when we wake up in the morning we've already been on at least a 6 hour fast ('break' the 'fast'.....get it?). If we skip breakfast we've extended that fast from 6 to 12 hours. What's the danger? When we eat infrequently, our body may think it is starving.
Make no mistake about it: the body is a wonderful system that scientists still do not fully understand. When the body senses danger (in this case, starvation) it takes whatever steps it can to protect itself and preserve life. We know this to be true by considering the body's response to freezing: blood is pulled in from the extremities (fingers, toes) so that the vital organs are kept warm. The body protects itself. How about the body's response to physical danger: adrenaline is released and every sense goes on high alert. Again, the body will attempt to protect itself.
How does this relate to eating breakfast every day and eating many small meals throughout the day? Well, when our body perceives a starvation situation, it will do whatever it can to protect itself. When we eat infrequently our entire endocrine system is thrown out of whack. The body may release hormones to help it store fat and use alternative sources of fuel (muscle). That's the last thing we want, but it's often what we get. If, by eating randomly, we tell our body that it may not get fuel for a long time, then the body will adapt by storing whatever it can for as long as it can. So eat breakfast and 'break' the 'fast'.
Rule #3 is to NOT take Rules #1 and Rule #2 to extremes. When presented with this information, some of us will invariably use it as an excuse to double our calorie consumption. Admit it, some of us were thinking "Wow! I can eat twice as often = I can eat twice as much!". Wrong.
The proper way to move from 3 meals per day to the recommended 6 meals per day is to eat 1/2 as much at each meal. The key is that total calorie consumption must remain the same.
If we eat what we've always eaten, but spread it throughout the day, we will see (and feel) the difference almost immediately.
We must eat for what we're about to do, not for what we just did. Before we eat anything, we should be asking ourselves "What are we about to do in the next three hours?"
If the answer is 'take a nap' or 'watch television', then our meal should be lower in carbohydrates and calories. Carbs are primary source of energy for the body, so if we're not going to need a lot on energy in the next three hours we shouldn't consume a bunch of energy-producing foods (carbs).
Let's say we're all going to mow our lawns at 3:00 pm tomorrow. Our reward is an ice cream cone from Cold Stone Creamery. Are we better off eating the ice cream before we mow the lawn, or after we mow the lawn? That's where most of us go wrong. If we know we're going to eat the ice cream anyway, we'd do ourselves a favor to have it before the lawn-mowing job. That way the calories and carbs would have a chance to be burned as fuel instead of stored as fat.
Again, the body is very efficient at what it does. After we eat something, anything, there's a window of about 3 hours where those calories are "put away". Some is stored as glycogen for near-future use. Some is stored as fat. If we're just sitting on the sofa, those calories are more likely to be stored as fat.
On the other side of the coin, which of our 6 meals should be lowest in calories? That's right: the meal closest to bedtime. Why consume a big huge batch of calories when all we're going to do is lay in bed and sleep? Most of us don't need all that energy to sleep.
What have we learned? That it's not enough to simply watch what we eat.....but we also need to watch when we eat. As the old saying goes, timing is everything, so let's use it to our advantage!
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Tracie Johanson is the founder of Pick Up The Pace, a 30-minute exercise studio for women focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit www.letspickupthepace.com/ for more information.
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