Intermittent Fasting vs. Frequent Smaller Meals
We know that what we eat affects the way our bodies function, but research has shown that when we eat can also have an impact.
Intermittent fasting (IF) has become a popular diet strategy, and has been shown to be effective for both weight loss and muscle growth.
There are several different types of intermittent fasting techniques, but essentially it boils down to limiting your eating to a window of time – usually 6 hours – and fasting the remainder of the day. Because of the drastic difference between IF and the traditional recommendation of eating 4-6 small meals throughout the day, many people are unsure which program is better for them.
This article will examine how each strategy effects both weight loss and muscle growth, as well as your personal lifestyle.
Both IF and a frequent eating schedule can result in weight loss, but the hormonal response from fasting appears to be more effective. When we fast, our bodies decrease production of insulin, the hormone that stores sugar in our fat cells. By reducing insulin, our bodies burn that sugar for fuel instead of storing it. More here.
On the other hand, when we eat throughout the day, our bodies continue producing insulin, which naturally results in more fat storage. Weight loss is still entirely possible by eating frequent meals, but if shedding pounds is your goal, intermittent fasting will likely produce faster results.
Several factors contribute to muscle growth, but few are more important than the level of growth hormones (GH) produced by our bodies. Growth hormones are primarily secreted while we sleep, but studies have shown that this is due to insulin interrupting our bodies GH production when we’re awake (and eating). That means that the reduced insulin caused by IF can also result in higher growth hormone levels.
On the contrary, spreading out your meals doesn’t increase GH. While it doesn’t decrease muscle growth, it can limit your results. There are other ways to increase GH production (like getting more quality sleep) but when it comes to meal timing, fasting is the winner.
Starting an IF routine may sound like an intense lifestyle change, but depending on your current daily routine, it could come more naturally than you think. The simplicity of eating once a day can be convenient for people who don’t have time to eat multiple meals a day, like truck drivers or police officers.
On the other hand, the flexibility of frequent meals might be more convenient for others – but generally requires more work. Instead of having one meal to think about, you are planning four or more. Unless you’re preparing the majority of your meals in advance, you may end up spending a lot of time cooking (or spending more money ordering!)
Keep in mind, the type of foods you eat are of greater important to when. If you fast all day and then eat an entire box of pizza, you are not going to get the results you’re hoping for. Timing is only a piece of the puzzle. You also need to eat quality nutritional food that fits with your overall diet goals (for example: peanut butter for muscle gaining vs. rice cakes for leaning).
Both intermittent fasting and eating frequent meals can be effective diet strategies. Depending on your lifestyle and personal preference, either can help you achieve your goals, from weight loss to muscle gain. Step 1 is to decide what you want to achieve, and step 2 is to strategize a diet plan that will help get you there. And no matter what you eat, EXERCISE!