Shining a Light
The fitness industry is rather corrupt and money oriented. Supplement companies and trainers after their own agendas take advantage of the unknowledgeable consumers. They take bits and pieces of information and piece them together how they see fit. The way they see fit is to sell you a product. They’ll sell you a training program, supplement, or anything really. I hope this blog will shine a light on the fitness ‘bro science’ malarkey.
I think it’s key that we start with protein as it will debunk several myths at once.
Your body can only digest about 20-30g of protein at one time. The rest is just wasted.
This does hold some truth. However, it’s cherry picked information and spiced up to sell you a fancy labeled bottle of whey protein but I digress. Typically, the rate of digestion for any whole food meal is anywhere between 3-6 g/ hour. It depends on the macronutrient content but it’s a good estimate. Anybody that’s taken a high school level anatomy class in the last century should have a basic knowledge on how long digestion takes. (That seems to go out the window for everybody when they start relating to health and fitness for some odd reason.) And furthermore, your whey protein that’s so vitally necessary in your “anabolic window” is digested and absorbed at a rate of…. 10 g / hour. So that 30 grams of whey isolate protein will be absorbed in 3 hours. Dang sir, you are screwed!! In your 1-hour window, you’re only getting 10 g of protein. I’m sure you’ll be losing all kinds of muscle. Here is a great article that I highly recommend. Great, non-biased info that gives you both sides of the coin. It states how research is decidedly mixed on nutrient intake and timing.
Here is another great study about the absorption of a standard meal. I like this study, it correlates to a real world situation albeit not entirely but more so than others. It finds that after 5 hours of a mixed meal (carbs, protein, fats) digestion is still incomplete. So if digestion is still incomplete that must mean there is still nutrients (amino acids) trickling into your blood stream. If amino acids are still in your blood stream, you, my friend, are still in an anabolic state. Better known as muscle building or GAINZZZZ. The truth is more protein is not wasted; it just takes longer to fully digest and releases amino acids over a longer period of time.
Whenever you start to question things about the body and how it functions and adapts, it’s good to look back to our primitive state. Our great ancestors dealt with hardships, disease, and famines. The latter is of particular interest to us. They didn’t have the conveniences like we do now. They ate when they had food. They only had food when they hunted. Some hunts were better than others. Catch my drift?
Did they refrain from eating until they were satisfied because their body could only absorb so much? Of course not, those good hunts led to a feast. Which I’m sure led them to eating copious amounts of food and protein in one sitting.
They knew they better get while the gettin’s good so they had their fill because those bad hunts yielded no food. They went days with no food and if the above myth were to be true that would mean the big juicy bison with a 100g of protein would only give them 30 g and the rest wasted. That doesn’t even satisfy the RDA’s daily allowance, which is significantly low in itself. The body could not sustain itself on 30g of protein very long. Humans, as a species, wouldn’t have survived. They weren’t getting protein every 2-3 hours. Leads to the conclusion that your body must be more efficient than we give it credit for.
Bottom Line: Your body is much more efficient than most give it credit for. The more protein you ingest at one given time will not lead to more waste but rather a longer absorption time. You’re body will use the same amount of protein from 100g whether it’s dispersed between 5 meals or a single meal.
Eat every 2 hours to keep metabolism going for better body composition.
To pick up off where the last myth stopped, we know that protein absorption is much slower than the typical person thinks. Therefore, we have nutrients released several hours after a meal. However, if we’re interested in modern day things, such as ‘fitting in my skinny jeans,’ that’s not based on survival, we can spread out our meals to keep metabolism going all day long. This should yield better body composition, right?
Again, back to the basics. In low to moderate intensity levels, your body is burning fat. Yes, your body is a fat burning machine. On the low end of the intensity scale, would be sleep. Something such as walking on an incline to increase heart rate 20-40 bpm, relatively speaking based on age, gender, etc, above baseline would still be considered low intensity. Your body burns fat even sitting at a desk all day but don’t get too crazy, it’s not much.
As soon as you eat food, your body puts a halt on fat oxidation (burning) in order to process the recently ingested food. Say you ate dinner at 8 PM the previous evening and awake and eat breakfast at 7 AM the following morning. After initial digestion is through, your body turns back to utilizing fat stores for energy. We’ll ballpark it at around 12 AM. That gives us a 7 hour ‘fat-burning’ window, where your body is using stored body fat to sustain itself. However, it will be minuscule due to the fact that you’re probably horizontal for most of it.
Now, hypothetically, let’s say you commit a mortal sin against the laws of health and fitness and skip breakfast. Assuming that you escape the arms of death, your body will continue to be in a fat burning state. And, lookie here, you’re gonna be more active than you were while sleeping. Thus, yielding a better fat utilization as your body is more active and requires more energy. Now, there is a point of diminishing returns. You have to eat to sustain life of course. (Breaking the fast, AKA breakfast: this is covered in my video blog.) Now, you have a whole new window of fat burning. You’re body is not worried about digestion but rather utilizing stored energy (fat) to complete daily tasks. Now, low to moderate intensities will keep the fat burning going so don’t go out and do anything crazy. If you workout in the morning, you’ll have to tweak it but I’m getting off track. More info about this is available on the video blogs.
So how did this myth come about anyway?
Well in part, it correlates to the 1st myth above as your body can digest only 20-30 g of protein in one sitting (this time table is not standardized by the way). By eating every 2-3 hours, this would keep your body anabolic by a continues supply of amino acids but we’ve busted that. Another big issue is the Thermogenic Effect of Food (TEF). As previously stated, when you ingest food, your body inhibits fat oxidation and focuses on the food coming in. Your body doesn’t stop burning calories but rather stops burning stored calories and turns it’s attention to the ingested food. Some foods will yield better TEF than others. For example, protein takes much more energy to digest than carbs and fat. This is one, of the many, reasons I recommend a high protein intake. (More on that in video blogs. Go check it out!).
This myth stems from that. By eating more often, you’re raising your body’s caloric expenditure due to the energy it needs to digest and absorb. This argument collapses on itself pretty quickly if you ask me. It doesn’t really account for which calories are being burned but rather that calories are being burned. Yes, you’re body is burning more calories when you eat but it’s part of the calories that have just come in rather than your stored energy.
Not to mention, you can’t trick your body into burning more calories by eating more frequently. Given the same 1,000 calories have the same macronutrient profiles, they will burn (due to the TEF) the same amount whether ingested in 8 meals or 1 meal. Once again, underestimating the body. In this regard, the intelligence.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
I think it’s good to expound on this after hitting on it in the above myth cracking. This is probably the least credible one out there but has become health and fitness dogma somehow. More than likely through repetition. There is definitely not much scientific backing on this one and in fact we can get into some nitty gritty details about it but they will have to be an entire blog post in itself. The studies show that eating breakfast is beneficial but if you dig a little deeper it’s clear why. People who eat breakfast tend to have better eating habits overall as compared to those who do not eat breakfast. They seem to place a priority on health (nutrition first thing) while those who skip seem to eat (over-eat, might I add) conveniently.
“OB impairs fasting lipids and postprandial insulin sensitivity and could lead to weight gain if the observed higher energy intake was sustained.” This was the conclusion of this study. (OB = omitting breakfast). Hmmm. So OB could lead to weight gain if higher energy intake was sustained. Sounds pretty conclusive, ay? Basically what it concluded that weight gain coming from those who OB was due to a higher energy intake (calories). Isn’t that a Nobel Prize winning find. The more you eat the more likely you are to gain weight. I think we’ve stumbled on some profound shit right there. The study found that people who eat breakfast were more likely to have a lower energy intake than those who skipped breakfast. The group that ate breakfast was more likely to be more active as well. So this study yields no direct correlation to the benefits of eating breakfast.
This study’s conclusion is pretty laughable as well. “This analysis provides evidence that skipping breakfast is not an effective way to manage weight. Eating cereal (ready-to-eat or cooked cereal) or quick breads for breakfast is associated with significantly lower body mass index compared to skipping breakfast or eating meats and/or eggs for breakfast.” Again, this goes back to what I previously stated about the breakfast eater being more responsible (in general) with energy intake than those who skip. The comparison tool they used was the Body Mass Index (BMI).
The BMI reading is a very skewed measure of progress. It dates back to the 1800’s and more than likely it’s the most used tool today because it’s easy to use. But easy doesn’t always mean best. BMI takes only your height and weight into account and standardizes it fit a scale. You can have two people of equal weight, say 200 lbs. One of them is 6’ and the other is 5’5.” The six-footer is at a lean body fat percentage of 6% while the shorter one is overweight at 35% body fat. The crazy stat: they have could have the same BMI.
The study does no further comparison on body composition.
For the serious weight lifters who fear liver glycogen depletion after an overnight fast check this study out. It basically says that liver glycogen is minimally decreased and doesn’t completely decrease for at least a 24 hour period. The study takes it one further and says liver glycogen levels were low, not completely depleted, even after 9 additional days of a carbohydrate poor diet.
Don’t believe me? Refuse to check out the studies on your own even though all you have to do is click the hyperlinks? No problem. Check this out.
Eat smaller meals to keep blood sugar in check.
Your body is fair more capable of regulating blood sugar than most people think. Trust me, I’ve learned from my own personal experiments. Trying to get blood sugar to spike post workout was dang near impossible for me. And when I say spike, I don’t mean 20-30mmol increase. (Disclaimer: all things are relative) I was looking for 80-100. I tried everything from pop-tarts (which were one of the least effective) to straight up dextrose. Dextrose is supposedly the best thing to use to spike blood sugar.
The theory behind raising blood sugar post workout would be to take advantage of the insulin spike. As we know insulin is a storage hormone, so therefore everything ingested along with a blood sugar spike should go to the muscles I’ve just trained and bringing with it size and strength.
I began with a small dose about 3 teaspoons of dextrose which yielded 12 g of sweet, sweet sugar. It made my post workout shake taste great but that’s about it, as blood sugar was untouched. I checked blood sugar pre & post workout, and every hour afterward for about 6 hours. I gradually proceeded to increase the amounts eventually reaching about 40 g of straight corn sugar dextrose. Again, checking blood sugar pre & post and every hour afterward. I was worried about stomach problems with this high of an intake but my body responded real well. When 40 g didn’t do the trick, I knew it was time to go to the extreme. 80 g of natural, sweetie goodness was to be added to my post workout shake. I checked blood sugar as I had done before and within the first hour it was 40mmol higher than it was post workout.
I was giddy with excitement and hardly able to wait until the next hour to check again.
Finally, the hour had rolled around and it was time to check. I was severely disappointed when it had actually started to begin going back down. I waited for the next hour only to be further let down as it read almost identical to the post workout reading. The next hour it was back to normal. Very disappointing. I decided to call it quits as the 6 weeks of finger pricking was getting old.
I said all that to say this, your body places blood sugar on top of the priority list and it has a very effective way of regulating it. The body has and will develop efficient pathways that help regulate blood sugar even in extreme conditions. Of course, some variation will occur among the population. But, don’t let me have all the fun! Feel free to experiment for yourself as it is quite enjoyable ingesting nothing but straight sugar. Brings back the pixie stix days of my childhood.
Side note: this was at a time when I was a firm believer of the ‘anabolic window’ post workout. Now, it’s nothing for me to go to the gym and not bring a shake, get done and go home and proceed to cook my food, not sitting down to actually eat for about an hour.
Disclaimer: if you are trying to lose body fat and gain better overall body composition, I do not recommend that you attempt the above experiment unless of course you just want to for the heck of it. Go for it, I don’t care! YOLO
Where do the small meals come in? Well, take a glance at my ‘experiment’ (for lack of a better term). 80g of dextrose would yield 320 calories. It coincided with a whey protein isolate shake that consisted of 290 calories (60g protein, trace carbs and fat). That could be considered a high calorie meal (610 cal) and most certainly a meal high on the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL). Such a meal would have popular opinion talking about blood sugar spike and the like. The argument of eating small meals is not only relative (to what one might consider a small meal) but also invalid.
In conclusion, “small” meals have no significant relevance on maintaining blood sugar as your body can adapt to any meal pattern you choose.
…Alright. That’s enough for now, assuming you made it this far. Stay tuned for further myth cracking in the future…
Graphic Courtesy of Positive Health Wellness.