Timing of meals matters

When it comes to diet, we don't hear a lot about the timing of meals. Is it better to eat before or after working out? Won't I lose weight faster if I skip meals?

Although there are no "one size fits all" answers to these questions, most experts agree that consuming small, frequent, well-balanced meals is the best way to achieve weight loss and/or maintain a healthy weight.

One school of thought when it comes to diet and exercise says that in order to burn optimal amounts of body fat, it's best to not eat for several hours before exercise. The rationale is that if carbohydrate stores are near depletion, you will force your body to burn higher amounts of fat for fuel.

One problem with this scenario, however, is that muscles require carbohydrate energy for optimal performance. Diminish exercise performance, and you diminish number of calories burned.

To deliberately deprive the body of carbohydrate at a time when it needs it the most also lowers blood sugar throughout the workout, setting the stage for additional problems. It is also more likely that you may overeat with other meals.

Studies have shown that those who skip meals are more likely to binge on junk food, and also perform less efficiently at work. People who skip breakfast have 10 to 15 percent lower metabolism than those who eat a high complex carbohydrate, moderate-protein, low-fat breakfast.

Remember that the body always burns a combination of carbohydrate and fat for energy. Starving the body of carbohydrate initiates a process where it begins to go into survival mode, converting protein, including muscle, to the energy needed to function properly, including fueling the brain.

This starvation process sets the stage for an increase in fat stores over time as muscle is lost and the body begins to learn to conserve calories rather than burn them efficiently.

To keep the metabolism revved and stay energized, think about how active you plan to be, and size meals accordingly. The greater the predicted energy expenditure, the greater the caloric intake in the meal beforehand.

Be sure to allow time for proper digestion before starting the workout. Experts generally recommend waiting anywhere from 90 minutes to 2½ hours, depending on amount and type of food consumed. Carbohydrates are burned most quickly and easily, while protein and fats take longer to digest.

Figuring out the types, amounts and benefits of different foods is key to health and well-being. A registered dietitian or sports nutritionist can help further your knowledge of how to make food work for you and not against you.

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