Eating five or six meals would be great for stoking your metabolic furnace, if you had one. You don’t. What you have is hormones. The key for proper fat metabolism is to adopt meal spacing that takes advantage of them. Here is how and why.
This is an excerpt from my Fat Loss Biology book, which I provide a link to at the bottom of this page.
Hormone Response to Meal Spacing
Why is meal spacing perhaps the the most important component of your eating style, more so than what or how much you eat? The answer centers on what happens to hormones when you have a meal. The two most crucial hormones are insulin and human growth hormone (hGH). Here is what scientists have known since 1963, summarized in the following graph:
Insulin, of course, is the famous protein hormone that most people know as the key to metabolizing blood sugar (glucose). It is secreted from the pancreas, starting as soon as a meal is anticipated and spiking within the first hour of eating. Insulin, however, is much more versatile that most people realize. It is the most important starting point for understanding what you must do for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
The reason that insulin occupies such a central role in a healthy metabolism is because it guides glucose into the liver, into skeletal muscles, and into fat tissue. It is like a ‘master decision maker’ on where glucose goes. It has to remove excess glucose from the blood, which would otherwise become toxic. In doing so, it has to put that glucose somewhere. Wouldn’t you just love to know how to control what your insulin decides so that you get more glucose into muscle tissue and less into your fat cells or your liver? BINGO! That’s like saying, “OK, insulin…today I want you to build more muscle for me.”
Ideal Meal Spacing
That is exactly what you do, in effect, when you follow the right eating pattern. This is because of the relationship between insulin and another of the key protein hormones, hGH. As the graph above shows, response to a meal can be viewed in three phases. The first phase, which is well-known to the public, sees a rise in blood sugar and a responding spike in insulin over a time span of about 2 hours after the meal.
During the second phase, from about 2 to 4 hours after the meal, levels of blood sugar and insulin start to drop and levels of hGH start to increase. This is the period of time after a meal when the combination of insulin and hGH acts to build up muscle protein.
The third, or fasting, phase begins about 4 hours after the meal. During this phase hGH remains at a high level, while insulin almost disappears. This is the phase when hGH acts solely to direct the metabolism of fat as fuel.
Spacing meals to include a fasting period that starts at about 4 hours after you eat is crucial for taking advantage of the anabolic (muscle-building) effects of insulin and the anabolic and fat-metabolizing effects of hGH. The ideal strategy is to allow 5-6 hours between meals. Do not snack.
If you do a little math here, you may immediately realize that spacing meals that far apart doesn’t always provide for enough time in the day for three meals. Surprise! Human physiology is not adapted for handling three meals per day. The whole notion that you should eat three meals per day is a modern creation. Moreover, it is a false premise.
Isn’t it interesting that the entire mega-industry built on breakfast cereals and other non-foods is based on this false premise? Once again we have a common belief – that is, you must eat three meals per day – that is fueled by the sales and marketing departments of food manufacturers. This concept is designed to benefit their financial bottom line, not your waistline … or any other aspect of your good health, for that matter.
Keep in mind that several other hormones besides insulin and hGH are also put into play once you have a meal. The graph and explanation above about what happens when you eat is just a starting point for understanding what to do for a healthy metabolism.
Eating Too Often
By the way, guess what happens when you follow the common advice to eat several small meals per day, supposedly to ‘fuel your fat-burning furnace’? Just take a look at the graph again and you will see that a high-frequency of meals will interrupt the muscle-building phase (phase 2) that you should be getting from the combination of insulin and hGH. And you will never reach the fasting phase when hGH directs the metabolism of fat, at least not during waking hours. The typical recommendation to eat breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and an evening snack is a recipe for a metabolic disaster.
Also consider a further negative impact of eating too often. When you eat sporadically throughout the day or eat a series of small meals, your liver has no time to use its stored glycogen (glucose storage polymer) to generate energy. The resulting state of prolonged insulin response completely shuts off the metabolism of fat (i.e., puts you into permanent fat storage mode) and stops weight loss in its tracks.
This is also a fast track to insulin resistance and diabetes. Furthermore, one of the responses of such an overburdened liver is the synthesis of excess amounts of cholesterol, even when the diet contains no cholesterol.
Good Old-Fashioned Human Biology
Old science sometimes gets lost in all the modern hoopla about dieting. It is somehow superbly satisfying, though, to see that what we knew way back in 1963 still tells us something about our biology that is beneficial to our health in the 21st century.
You might be pleasantly surprised by how many other benefits we can get from knowing the right stuff about our own biology. One of my favorites is understanding why the dogma of ‘eat less, exercise more’ could not possibly be effective for weight loss or proper fat metabolism. Losing weight by eating less and/or exercising more is just plain bad advice.
This is one of the many interesting discoveries that I made in delving into the real biology of fat metabolism. You can see what other topics I came with in my new book, linked here: FatLossBiology.com. See what I mean by taking a look at the table of contents that is posted at that link.
For good meal spacing,