T Nation

Meal Timing

There’s a popular notion right now that meal timing/frequency is mostly irrelevant with overall caloric and sufficient protein intake being the primary drivers for bodyrecomp. Barring extremes( e.g. One meal every three days or taking a bite of food every 5 minutes) this seems fairly accurate and I think many people have appreciated the newfound flexibility/freedom they get from not having to eat every 2 hrs, cut carbs before bed, separate protein and carb meals, and other “myths” that had taken a hold of their ADD side. This is partly why “programs” that let you eat whatever you want so long as you meet macros, or intermittent fasting, or MAG-10 pulse feast/fast work so well in leaning people out.

However, there were a few scenarios that got me thinking if the body really was “blind” to meal timing and all that mattered was the net day or net week calories in and out. For instance, would the following approaches provide the same results (short term and long term) in body comp or is one more “optimal” than another? Assuming same calories, 1 gram:lb protein, sedentary office job from 9-5, works out in the evening:

  1. Approach A: eat 80% of calories by afternoon, no pre-workout snack, and then remaining 20% post workout.
  2. Approach B: eat 30% calories by afternoon. Eat small (10-20% calories) snack before workout. Eat remainingpost workout.
  3. Approach C: Eat 100% fat and carbs allocation during the day (who doesn’t crave cookies while sitting around in the office?) Then eat protein at night.
  4. Approach D: Eat 100% macros at end of day before bed (a la warrior diet).

What would results look like at end of the day, week, month, several months? What if we assume a gaining phase and up calories: do we see negative effects (if/of any) magnified?

I know these options are a bit contrived to test a point but they’re not that unrealistic; plenty of people follow a pattern of eating and if they’re fitness oriented, and they think they’ve “seen the light” in regards to meal freq/timing and thus take a laissez fare approach to eating whenever they want so long as they meet macros, could they be sabotaging progress by not having more structure?

What I’m most curious about is, is there a threshold so to speak for any given time period that the body can absorb calories without storing them as fat? Take a not too far-fetched example of someone eating 1 meal a day vs. 6 meals a day (2000 calories). It seems like the “new” thought is that the partitioning effects from these methods are inconsequential, that the total caloric load is going to determine results.

Yet can someone explain to me how exactly does the body’s response differ throughout the day from these two approaches? If you eat 2k calories in one meal (let’s say early in the day way before your workout), does your body just store X amount in muscle glycogen, use Y to cover BMR, etc. And then the excess will be put in escrow and accounted for at end of day? Does yoiur body sense daily intake/activity level and “bank” any excess in some magical limbo? Or does your body at that moment in time put on fat in propotion to your excess caloric intake but upregulates thermic effect to burn more off through the rest of the day? So you “balance” your caloric account at days end but there is a certain period in time where you’ve just induced more lipogensis (vs. More frequent meal approach). Now if you were to factor weihght training (at end of day) into this, would the one meal approach have you start the workout with more body fat (which gets “burned” rather than glycogen while working out vs. Someone who ate sparingly during the day and then had some carbs/protein before workout)? So end of day calories remain the same but is the internal milieu the same and does this have any sustained impact on body comp?

I imagine the function is a lot more complicated than this and soemone would probably refer me to a physiology book but if you could break it down in bro-terms thatd be much appreciated :).

Just some food for thought.

[quote]MODOK wrote:
People look at fat tissue all wrong. Its not some “bank” where your extra calories are stored long term. Its more like a wallet. You are constantly putting fat in, taking fat out to pay for energy debts and excesses on a constant basis. Fat cells are also not some trash can where all the extra shit goes… they are very metabolically active tissue with very pronounced endocrine and paracrine hormone activity. You actually get a little “fatter” every single time you eat. You eat more calories at one sitting, you get a little more fat, but it is burned off if you are eating infrequently.

Your fat cells are really at the center of your metabolic “machinery”. [/quote]

Excellent analogy and explanation M! : )


I would love to hear your thoughts on adipose tissue blood flow (ATBF).

I’ve read that’s one reason why some fat can be ‘stubborn’ – there’s little blood flow in that particular adipose tissue.

Man, I gotta pick your brain on something major…

And thanks for the response.

Aside from having arms bigger than an average human head, MODOK is also crazy smart. That was really helpful man, thanks.