What Meal Pattern is the "Best"?
There's a lot of information out there about meal frequency, intermittent fasting and meal timing. Let's take some time to separate fact from fiction and find out what is the best way to eat!
Method one: Meal frequency. This is refers to a person eating up to 5 or more small meals daily. The common misconception is that this style of eating will reduce hunger, spike metabolism, and boost muscle mass. In reality, there is no proof that eating this way achieves any of these things. However, if this style of eating fits into your lifestyle, or you have always been a "grazer", then by all means continue eating in this way. As long as the foods you eat are healthy, there is no negative effect. If you find that eating this way is too time consuming or leaves you feeling too full, then this is not the method for you.
Method two: Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where a person abstains from eating for a period of 6 to 12 hours or longer. The theory behind this method is that restricting calories will increase the amount of fat being utilized for energy. While studies have proven that fasting does have this effect on the body, this is not a one size fits all approach. Very active people or athletes may find that this style of eating has serious performance repercussions. If you find yourself becoming too hungry during the day and are unable to focus or think clearly, this meal pattern is not for you. Studies show that both calorie restriction and fasting reduce caloric intake and have similar health benefits, including fat reduction and weight loss.
Method three: Nutrient Timing. This refers to eating specific nutrient combinations around workouts. For example this would be ensuring you eat a specific amount of a carb, a protein and a healthy fat within 20 minutes of your workout to replenish energy stores. While this method does have benefits, most people are able to achieve their goals through calorie restriction only.
Unfortunately there is no "one size fits all" solution. When deciding to change your diet for overall health and weight loss, the most effective meal strategy is one that fits into your lifestyle. Caloric restriction is now and has always been the best method for weight loss. If you need to eat five times a day or once a day or the traditional three meals daily to achieve your goals and make long term changes, then that is the plan for you!
Infomation from: Alencar, Michelle PhD, "Myths and Realities of Nibbling, Fasting and Feasting" IDEA Fitness Journal, October, 2019: 20-29, print