Home Posts tagged "Tyler Simmons"

The Truth About Meal Frequency: Is Intermittent Fasting for You?

Today's guest nutrition blog comes from former Cressey Performance intern Tyler Simmons. “It’s best to eat 5 - 7 times a day." "Eating every three hours fuels your metabolism." "If you skip meals, your body goes into 'starvation mode,' you gain fat, and burn muscle for energy.” Chances are that you’ve probably heard something like the above statements if you’ve read anything about diet or exercise in the last ten years. Many of you (myself included) probably spent a lot of time preparing and eating meals, in the hopes of optimizing fat loss and better muscle gain.

What does the data really show about spacing out your meals? When I started researching the topic of meal frequency in 2010, I assumed there was ample scientific evidence to back up these nearly unanimous claims that smaller, more frequent meals were better than larger, less frequent meals. Boy, was I disappointed.

To my surprise, the scientific literature had some different things to say. My research focused on how changing meal frequency impacts two different things: 1) Metabolic Rate and 2) Weight Loss. What I found was compelling evidence that reduced meal frequency, sometimes known as Intermittent Fasting (IF), could actually help me, so I started an experiment. In the summer of 2010 I was living in Alaska doing construction and labor, as well as doing off-season training for Track and Field (sprinting, jumping, and lifting). For years I had focused on eating every 2-3 hours, but based on my new findings, I decided to limit all omy food intake to an 8-hour window, leaving 16 hours of the day as my fasting portion. Despite doing fasted, hard labor all day, then lifting, sprinting, and playing basketball, I managed to set records on all my lifts at the end of the summer. Not only was I stronger than ever, but I got leaner too. Here’s pictures from before and after, about 2 months apart:

Getting lean wasn’t even my main goal; the idea that I could be free from eating every three hours without suffering negative side effects was extremely liberating. No longer was I controlled by arbitrary meal times and tupperware meals in a lunch box. During this summer, I developed the ability to go long periods of time (18-24 hours) without food, and not get tired, cranky, our mentally slow down. So why didn’t I catabolize my muscles, drop my metabolic rate, and end up looking like skinny-fat Richard Simmons (no relation)? The Science The idea that eating several smaller meals is better came from a few pieces of information. The first was because of an association between greater meal frequency and reduced body weight in a couple of epidemiological studies, although this only shows a correlation, not causation. Breakfast eaters are more likely to engage in other health activities, such as exercise, which explains the relationship. In the most comprehensive review of relevant studies, the authors state that any epidemiological evidence for increased meal-frequency is extremely weak and “almost certainly represents an artefact” (1). The second piece is related to the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF), which is the amount of energy needed to digest and process the food you eat. Fortunately, this is dependent on total quantity of food, not on how it’s spaced, making the distinction irrelevant. So, now we can see that the supposed benefits from increased meal frequency do not hold up to closer inspection, but why would we want to purposefully wait longer in between meals? Originally, researchers thought Caloric Restriction (CR) was the bee’s knees. Preliminary research showed that CR slows aging, reduces oxidative damage, and reduces insulin and levels. All good, right? Unfortunately, these benefits come with some nasty trade-offs, including reduced metabolic rate, low energy levels, constant hunger, and low libido, pretty much what you would expect from chronically restricting food intake. These were not happy animals.

Recent research has shown that Intermittent Fasting or reduced meal frequency can convey many of the benefits of CR while avoiding the negative side effects. Some of these benefits include:
  • Favorable changes to blood lipids
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Decreased markers of inflammation
  • Reduction in oxidative stress
  • Increased Growth Hormone release
  • Greater thermogenesis/elevated metabolic rate
  • Improved fat burning
  • Improved appetite control
Some of these effects may be secondary to the reduction of calories due to improved appetite control, or they may be primary effects of IF, the research is not conclusive on this yet. One of the most interesting findings was that contrary to conventional wisdom, reduced meal frequency actually causes an increase in thermogenesis (metabolic rate), which is mediated through the increase of catecholamines (stress hormones), such as adrenaline and norepinephrine (1,2). Yep, you read that right: instead of slowing your metabolism down, it speeds it up. Catecholamines also help with the liberation of fatty acids from fat cells, making them available to be burned as energy. That’s the “why” and the “how” for some of the effects of IF. Whatever the mechanism for it, IF seems to be effective for at least some people, myself included. But before you rush off to go start fasting 16 hours a day, here are some tips and caveats. Important Considerations Many people ask me if IF is good or bad, but as with most things, it depends. IF is not appropriate in certain situations. It can be good or bad, depending on who you are (your current health status/lifestyle) and what your goals are. IF is a stressor on the body; one of the primary effects is an increase in stress hormones. If you’re lacking sleep, eating low quality foods, stressed out about your job, and excessively exercising then don’t start an IF protocol. It will backfire and you will end up fat and tired! Only experiment with an IF program if you are getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night, eating a high quality diet, appropriately recovering from exercise, and don’t have too many mental/emotional stressors.

As far as what goals this works for, common sense applies here. IF is generally best for people who are already moderately lean and are trying to get leaner. If you’re trying to put on 30 pounds of mass, don’t start IF. If you’re an athlete with a very heavy training load, don’t try IF. For those of you who fit the criteria of goals and health status, I suggest experimenting with the 8-hour fed/16-hour fasted periods. Eat quality foods to satiation in your eating window, especially focusing on the post-training period. Keep in mind that IF is not for everyone, but it can be a powerful tool at certain times.  Most importantly, even if IF isn’t for you, remember that you shouldn’t stress out if you miss a meal occasionally! Additional Note/Addendum Many readers have noted that this is similar to what Martin Berkhan does in his LeanGeans protocol. Martin Berkhan was certainly influential in the thought process behind this, and I don’t mean to take anything away from him. To be clear, LeanGains is much more complex than a 16:8 fasting:eating period. LeanGains involves calculating calorie intake, fluctuating calorie intake +20% on training day/ -20% on off days, macronutrient cycling (high carb/low carb), supplementing with BCAA's, etc. I didn’t use any of these techniques during my ten week experiment, I just ate to satiety during an 8-hour window. Martin is a great resource for people that want to learn more, especially on the body composition side of things. His website is leangains.com. About the Author Tyler Simmons is the owner and head Nutrition/Strength & Conditioning Coach at Evolutionary Health Systems. He has his bachelors in Kinesiology with a focus in Exercise Science and Exercise Nutrition from Humboldt State University. A former collegiate athlete, Tyler specializes in designing training and nutrition programs for athletes of all levels, as well as general population. Learn more at EvolutionaryHealthSystems.com. Related Posts Why You Should Never Take Nutrition Advice from Your Government Anabolic Cooking: Why You Don't Have to Gag to Eat Healthy References 1. Bellisle, F., & McDevitt, R. (1997). Meal frequency and energy balance. British Journal of Nutrition, 77, 57-70. 2. Mansell, P., & Fellows, I. (1990). Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans. The American Journal of Physiology, 258, 87-93. 3. Staten, M., Matthews, D., & Cryer, P. (1987). Physiological increments in epinephrine stimulate metabolic rate in humans. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, 253, 322-330. Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!
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Healthy Food Options? Why You Should Never Take Nutrition Advice from Your Government

Today's post is a guest blog from current Cressey Performance intern, Tyler Simmons.  I had a super busy week, so when Tyler brought up this topic at CP the other day, I jumped at the opportunity to get him to write about it.  You won't be disappointed.   Many people don’t know this, but before 1979, there were no public health guidelines for what foods our citizens should eat. So where would we be now without a food pyramid? In the 1950s, a researcher named Ancel Keys developed a theory that certain dietary fats were a major cause of heart disease. Although the support for this theory was weak, it would eventually become the basis of nutritional recommendations for the entire country. This eventually morphed in to the theory that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat cause heart disease, and for the public it was easy to make the jump that these also cause weight gain and obesity. So the US government decided to step in for the benefit of the uneducated masses and save us from imminent death and obesity. The result?  Since 1979, when the McGovern Committee made the first “Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” we’ve been encouraged to eat less animal fat, less cholesterol, and more grains. And, we were pretty successful at it; Americans adopted our new food guidelines and embraced a low-fat way of eating for the last 30 years. Here’s a chart of how are diets have changed over the last 100 years:

Source: Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62. We did a pretty good job. We’ve eaten less fat, less beef, less pork, and less dairy (fear the butter!) At the same time, we’ve eaten more chicken, more shortening, and drastically more soy oil (healthy fat right?). Let’s check out this next graph to see what incredible health benefits we’ve gained as a result of this magnificent advice and our stellar compliance:

Source: 2010 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Advisory Committee Who can tell me when it the obesity rate really starts to rise? Oh wow, 1980...but that’s when we got all the good advice to eat less animal fat, more grains, and more vegetable oil. So what can we take away from this? A couple of things: 1. Eating more soy oil was a bad idea. 2. “Healthy whole grains” may not be so healthy after all. 3. Maybe the animal fat and red meat wasn’t actually the problem after all. Numbers two and three here could span several articles in their own right. But for now, let’s just look at one, the soy oil. You’ve probably heard about the “heart-healthy” fats called polyunsaturated fatty acids a.k.a. PUFAs. These include soy oil, canola oil, corn oil, and peanut oil. The high intake of omega-6 PUFAs is one of the most dramatic shifts in the American diet since 1909 with an especially large jump after 1970. I think that the evidence shows that eating soy oil is about as smart as playing in traffic. The graphs above suggest that PUFA’s aren’t particularly good for us and that we’ve been tricked in to becoming obese. What we’re looking at is epidemiological data, which can only show associations. We can see that eating at the same time we started eating way more PUFAs, we saw a striking increase in obesity. This is just association; it doesn’t show cause and effect. So let’s look at a couple pieces of more direct evidence for why we should avoid PUFAs in our diet if we want to get jacked, stay lean, and rock a six-pack into old age. Studies on rodent and humans demonstrate that the more omega-6 PUFA you eat, the more fat you gain. In a rodent study, three groups of rats ate diets with identical amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrate, differing only in the type of fat they were eating. One group had beef tallow (low omega-6), the second had olive oil (moderate omega-6), and the third had safflower oil (tons of omega-6). Compared to the beef tallow group, the olive oil rats gained 7.5% in total body weight, and the safflower oil grouped gained 12.3% total body weight. The more omega-6, the fatter they got. In another study, 782 men were split in to two groups that ate isocaloric diets (they ate the same amount of calories) for 5 years. The only difference between the two groups was that one ate animal fats and the other ate vegetable oils (very high in omega-6). Compared to the animal fat group, the vegetable oil group had consistent increases in body fat and body weight. By the end of the study the vegetable oil group weighed 5% more on average.

I have found that when working with athletes and people who just want to look better, modifying omega-6 intake is a critical factor in fat loss. Keep in mind that fat gain is mult-faceted in its causes. I’m not suggesting that omega-6 is the sole reason for fat gain, just that it is a significant factor. There are a variety of reasons to eat less omega-6 fats beyond the fat gaining characteristics, so limit the vegetable/seed oils and don’t be scared of animal fats. And be skeptical of any advice you get from the government. Tyler Simmons is completing his degree in Exercise Science with a focus in Nutrition at Humboldt State University. He designs individualized nutrition programs for athletes and people working to look, feel, and perform better. He can be reached at simmons.tyler@gmail.com or at www.evolutionaryhealthsystems.blogspot.com. Related Posts Metabolic Cooking: Making it Easier to Eat Clean with Health Food Options Precision Nutrition's Travel Strategies for Eating on the Road Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a deadlift technique tutorial!
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