Meal timing is something that’s hotly debated in the fitness and nutrition industry. Does meal timing really matter? Must you eat at certain points during the day or risk lack of diet progress? Will eating before bed cause you to rapidly pack fat onto your thighs and lower abs? It’s time to clear up the confusion. Meal timing really doesn’t need to be nearly as complicated as it’s made out to be as long as you remember a few key facts. Let’s look into five meal timing myths and put the record straight.
5 meal timing myths you need to know
1. You must eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking
The first myth to know is the breakfast myth. People have been told that they must consume food, usually within 30 minutes of waking, in order to ensure they charge up their metabolisms and get fat-burning going. This, however, isn’t accurate.
Remember that your body is not going to shut down overnight, so your metabolic rate is still humming along when you wake up. It isn’t going to be like you don’t burn any calories in the morning if you don’t eat, so put that notion out of your mind. Some people naturally are not hungry at all first thing in the day and in those cases, it’s fine to eat an hour or even two hours after you wake up.
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This said, you do need to know your body. Some people who do skip breakfast tend to find they get ravenous later on in the day and will binge eat at night because of it. If that’s you, it is smarter to eat something as soon as you get up in the morning. Learn what works best for you and your body, but know that there is no hard and fast rule that you absolutely must eat a healthy breakfast right after you wake up.
2. Your body will break down muscle if you don’t eat within 3 hours
Another common myth that’s spread around, especially in those who are actively looking to build muscle, is that you must consume food at least every three hours or you will risk muscle mass loss. The notion here is that if you go longer than three hours without eating, your body may begin to use muscle tissue as a fuel source.
Relax, this isn’t accurate. Your body takes hours to digest a meal, so after three hours, provided you are eating a reasonable calorie intake each day, you will still have fuel being provided to the body. It takes a lot more than three hours without eating to put you into a catabolic state, so don’t stress if it’s four hours or even five before your next meal. Schedule your meals each day in a way that works with your lifestyle. Some people are simply too busy to eat every three hours and that’s fine. As long as you get your nutrients in by day’s end, that’s what really matters.
3. Bedtime eating will lead to rapid fat gain
Now we come to the myth that everyone’s heard at least once – eating before bed sets you up for rapid fat gain. Again, this isn’t accurate. Sure, eating chips, cake, cookies, pizza, or other high-calorie, high-fat or sugary foods can put you at a higher risk of gaining body fat. The act of eating alone does not, however.
The big reason why people tend to lose weight when they choose to cut out their evening snack is simply due to what they were snacking on in the first place. If you plan to eat a healthy snack and also make sure that you account for the snack in your total daily calorie intake, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t going to gain weight from it. In fact, having a light protein-based snack before bed can be good as it’ll prevent you from waking up hungry part-way through the night. Limit this snack to around 200-250 calories and you’ll be all set.
4. Frequent meals boost your metabolism
Another common myth is the metabolic boosting myth. Think that eating six mini-meals per day means a lightning-fast metabolic rate? If so, you’ve been misled. The thing to note about meal frequency and your metabolic rate is that it is true that you will experience a metabolic boost when you consume food after a meal. But, that boost is directly related to the total calorie content of the food that you consume. So a smaller meal produces a smaller metabolic boost and a larger meal produces a larger one.
So, whether you have six ‘smaller boosts’ or three ‘larger boosts’, at the end of the day, provided your calorie intake stays the same in either scenario, the total metabolic enhancement will also be the same. Frequent eating doesn't mean your metabolic rate will be on fire. While it may help you control hunger better by eating more often, it will not impact your metabolic rate.
5. Nibbling is the best weight control strategy
Finally, the last meal timing myth that you need to know about is the nibbling myth. Some people believe that by nibbling or ‘grazing’ all day long, they can see greater fat loss results. Again, this isn’t the case. The problem here is that often these people will lose count of how much ‘nibbling’ they're doing and actually take in quite a high-calorie intake while doing so. What’s more, they never really feel fully satisfied as they aren’t eating a large meal complete with all the food groups. While a snack here and there is fine, don’t neglect eating full, balanced meals. It’s key to nutrition success.
Are you falling for any of these meal timing myths? If so, make some changes in how you view your nutrition plan to ensure you stay on track to success.
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