The Truth Surrounding the Complexities of Meal Timing

Introduction

 By Dr. Chad Kuntz, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, CSCS, CISSN, TPI-1

Over the past 10 years there has been a surge of interest regarding when you should be eating, how much, and how often. In addition, the word “metabolism,” is often thrown around in gym circles and misused as a majority of people may not truly know what makes up your “metabolism.” This article will serve the purpose to;

  • Introduce the definition and components that make up your metabolism.
  • Delineate truths and fallacies surrounding the importance of meal timing including but not limited to;
    1. The frequency of eating
    2. The timing of meals pre/post exercise
    3. How much you can digest in one sitting.

Metabolism

        Metabolism is essentially the breakdown of chemical bonds that formulate our main macronutrients such as protein, fats and carbohydrates. In layman’s terms, it is the speed and rate at which macronutrients are being burned, usually in a way to deliver improved aesthetics or to lose weight. To truly understand Metabolism, we must understand the concept of TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure.

TDEE is not a new concept, nor is it a simple one either. For the purpose of this article, we will skim the surface and help everyone have a basic understanding of it. While your age, gender, genetics, lean body mass, and total body weight are just a few factors that play a role, let’s look at the main components that make up TDEE.

  • Resting Metabolic Rate:
    • Resting Metabolic Rate, or RMR, is essentially the number of calories that you would burn if you laid down in bed all day. This is said to make up about 60-75% of your total caloric expenditure per day.
  • Exercise Thermogenesis:
    • Exercise thermogenesis is the second biggest contributor to metabolism as it burns up roughly 25-30% of your TDEE. It is composed of your NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and your PAEE, or Physical Activity Energy Expenditure.
      1. NEAT- This is your energy expenditure that simply comes from the maintenance of your posture, your activities of daily living or even from fidgeting!
      2. PAEE- This is your energy expenditure that comes from your daily training, exercises or any type of competition that you perform.
    • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF):
      • The thermic effect of food only accounts for around 5-10% and is the process of digesting, absorbing and the assimilation of the nutrients that you ingest.

The Frequency of Eating

             Conventional wisdom and traditional thought has it that if you eat more meals, but in smaller portions throughout the day, it will ‘spike up’ your metabolism, helping you lose weight.  This fallacy is confronted with the reality that the thermic effect of food only accounts for a total of up to 5-10% of the calories burned per day as you read above. Therefore, if you’re trying to lose weight, simply shoot for a hypocaloric diet. This means shoot for a caloric intake that is less than your caloric expenditure per day. A negative energy balance is the key to losing weight opposed to simply eating more often throughout the day.

Opposite to frequent eating is obviously infrequent eating. This has gained popularity amongst those trying to lose some quick pounds via fasting. However, let’s look into the details of fasting or ‘infrequent eating.’

Infrequent eating or fasting may actually leave you in a ‘hypoglycemic’ setting where your blood glucose drops to a certain level. In theory, this would signal your hypothalamus that you’re starving and all of a sudden, you’re aching in stomache pain due to excessive hunger. Being incredibly hungry along with a huge insulin spike which will store the excess food you eat as fat is certainly not the best recipe for controlled weight management. Therefore, it is suggested that if you are attempting to lose weight, eat as often as needed to maintain satiety, or to decrease hunger, as well as a diet that results in a hypocaloric diet.

The Timing of Meals Pre-and-Post Exercise

          Understand that truly the 24 hours preceding your workout may have an effect on your performance. While it becomes more apparent closer to the time that you work out, make sure you are doing your best to adhere to a healthy nutrition plan that accommodates your goals prior to that workout.

Pre-Workout

          More specifically, make sure to eat a large meal 3-4 hours prior to your workout.  It actually takes this amount of time to digest, break down the food, and eventually store the energy in your muscles and liver. It’s suggested that you look to “top off the tank,” around 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to your workout where you may ingest another smaller meal composed of protein and carbohydrates. This can help saturate your energy storage prior to enjoying a hardcore workout.

 Intra-Workout

Most people don’t recognize the need to ingest carbohydrates during the workout. As a general rule of thumb, during heavy lifting or hard workouts, look to ingest around 30-60 g/kg/hr of carbohydrates as your body can oxidize and utilize 1 gram of carbs per minute. In addition, we can burn through our net total glycogen, or stored energy in the body, quicker than we might expect. Adding in a little Gatorade or carb powder into our workout drink may make a big difference as you finish the second half of your workout.

 Post-Workout

The post workout timing has gained a lot of attention lately as it used to be known as the “Anabolic Window,” where you had to get in a protein dense meal within 45 minutes following your workout to achieve the results you are looking for or else everything would be lost. Fortunately, this has been largely debunked and is not the case. Protein has anabolic properties for 5-6 hours, meaning a sufficiently dense meal can provide you the nutrients you need well into the time that you finished your workout. With that being said, it does seem that eating a sufficient meal consisting of protein and carbohydrates within the first 30 minutes and then subsequently within 2 hours of your workout can accelerate your glycogen resynthesize as well as improve your anabolic hormonal profile.

How Much can you Digest in One Sitting?  

The old school of thought used to be no more than 20 grams of protein in one sitting. While research is still coming out, it seems that there is a larger anabolic stimulus with increased protein compared to lesser amounts of protein. Long story short, shoot for around 30 grams of protein in one sitting if you’re looking to maximize your protein intake and improve your nitrogen balance.

Carbohydrates vary in their digestion rates based upon their chemical composition, aka monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides. In layman’s terms, a sugar will be oxidized and utilized quicker than a whole grain carbohydrate, although both seem to be oxidized around 1 g/ minute, equating to around 60 grams in one hour. This does vary per body weight as a person with a heavier weight status may be able to digest > 60 grams per hour and a lighter person may digest and use < 60 grams per hour.

Conclusion 

While this article is not intended to replace your physician or nutritionist, it does shed some light on some hot topics that are often up for debate and dictated by “bro science.” We’ve learned what truly composes one’s “metabolism,” the fallacies of frequent meal timing, as well as the truth regarding meal timing. If you have any further questions or comments I’d love to talk to you more about it!

About the Author

Dr. Chad Kuntz is a Physical Therapist located in Charlotte that loves to reach out into the community to provide high quality information and assist in people’s health and fitness journeys. He is known for being a Sports Specialist who offers a wide variety of services within his practice such as Physical Therapy, Personal Training, Semi-Private Personal Training and much, much more.

Screen Shot 2017-06-27 at 11.29.30 AM Contact Information

Phone Number: 704-835-0831

Address: 601 N Polk Street, Pineville, NC  28134

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