For the most part, we are used to having three meals a day. This eating schedule was engrained in us by our parents and grandparents. The three-meals-a-day culture has firmly rooted in our everyday life. For no reason at all.
The fact that your, say, grandfather did not gain any extra kilos while having three meals a day is not an indicator of a perfect eating regimen. You and me, we should:
- have a meal once every three hours;
- have equal portions of food with every meal;
- only include complex carbohydrates (aka slow, aka those with a low glycemic index).
In order to understand why we actually should follow these recommendations, we need to get a closer acquaintance with one of the main hormones in our body, his Highness the Insulin.
Let us remind you that the hormones are biologically active substances, which are released or, as they say, are secreted by special glands and control the functioning of our entire body. Insulin is one of the most important hormones. It is the insulin which can stop the fat burning and trigger fat depositing. It is the insulin that delivers energy to the cells of our body and builds muscle.
That is, insulin is neither bad nor good. It can harm you and it can help you, which means we need to know as much about it as possible. In other words, it’s worth bringing my favorite quotation from Paracelsus “everything is a cure, and everything is a poison, the dose is the only thing to make something a cure or a poison”.
To make sure that you never forget how the process of energy reserves distribution and formation takes place, we have prepared one association for you. Insulin is like an incredibly strong, dumb and permanently drunk loader.
His task is to carry. He carries glucose, carries lots of it, and he carries it non-stop. He is strong, yet the problem is that he is dumb and drunk. It is impossible to specify exactly when and where to carry it. As soon as he has something to carry, he jumps up, grabs a wheelbarrow and starts working with excessive zeal.
As you probably know, glucose is the energy for our body. And we get it from carbohydrates.
So, insulin is a hormone, which is produced by the pancreas. Its task is to maintain blood glucose levels lower than a certain level. When there is too much glucose, you can develop hyperglycemic coma, so the pancreas begins to secrete insulin in a very active manner once glucose gets into your blood. Insulin removes excess glucose from the blood. If we get back to our metaphor, it carries the glucose to warehouses.
And we have three warehouses in our body:
- glycogen storage in theliver;
- glycogen storage in muscles;
- fat deposits.
As a matter of fact, glycogen is the glucose, which is simply packed in a different way for easy storage. We really need the first two stores, since glycogen is used for our muscles work. However, we don’t need the third store – fat deposits.
But the insulin is right here, and being constantly buzzed, there is no way to explain the correct direction to him. He carries glucose to where, in his drunken opinion, it is needed more.
The problem is compounded by the fact that our glycogen stores are finite, i.e. about three hundred grams in the liver, and three hundred grams in muscles; while fat stores, on the contrary, are almost dimensionless.
They can be loaded non-stop, day and night, and they only expand. That’s how we gain excess fat – all excess food we consume is directly transferred by the insulin into fat. And that’s not all! Read our articles to learn how we spend our fat deposits, and to make you curious, here’s a small secret: insulin tries to block completely the lipolysis (first phase of fat burning).
What does insulin do?
- Insulin replenishes glycogen stores of our body.
- When there is a need for protein synthesis,inulin contributes to this. That is, it builds up our muscles.
- Insulin prevents muscle breakdown.
Why is insulin bad?
Without getting deep into biochemical details:
- Insulin turns excess glucose into fat.
- It completely inhibits lipolysis.
- While there is insulin, the body burns glucose instead of oxidizing fatty acid (another phase of fat burning).
So, now we know more about insulin. It’s not that easy to live with him, and you can’t live without it, as well. So what should we do? There is a way out, and it’s the one we can use. We have to control loader by creating such eating, training conditions and regimen, which will stimulate him to “carry” exactly what we need, when and where we need.
These are the conditions, under which the insulin will help us build muscle tissue and won’t interfere with spending our fat reserves for satisfying our body needs. That’s why we need to have a meal every three hours, and meals should be approximately equal in portions, with an approximately equal amount of carbs in them.
Now, it’s high time to remember about the carbs, namely that there are simple carbs and complex carbs. The simple ones consist of a small number of “bricks” – sugars, and complex – of a big number of “bricks”.
So, how does our body work? Once we eat something, which contains carbs, our body begins to break them down to these very saccharides. A section of biochemistry has a whole chapter called “Transformation of sugars”, and it is important for us to keep in mind just one conclusion:
Not a single carbohydrate may be digested by a human body until it ultimately transforms into glucose.
So, all the carbohydrates that we get with food, whether quickly or slowly, do turn into glucose. Until the moment that all the carbs that we consume turn into glucose, our body is incapable to absorb them.
When its level in our blood rises, the pancreas begins excreting insulin to prevent hyperglycemia. So, our body ensures that the glucose level does not exceed a certain critical, dangerous value. The faster the blood sugar level rises, the faster the pancreas secretes insulin.
Why is it important for us to know this?
First, because this is the reason for our choice in favor of complex carbohydrates. Our body needs time to disassemble them into “bricks” and convert them to glucose. Respectively, while it is doing it, the blood sugar level rises slowly. And, accordingly, insulin level rises slowly, as well.
However, if we have a piece of cake or a sweet roll, that is, a carbohydrate, which contains few saccharides, our body will cope with this task much faster. This is exactly why these carbohydrates are called fast. Since the blood sugar level rises quickly, the pancreas begins producing insulin very quickly and in large quantities, so as to lower the glucose level and save our body from possible harm.
It turns out that if we eat fast carbs, which have a high glycemic index, the sugar level rises quickly, which is followed by a fast rise of the insulin level. And we already know that high insulin levels block fat burning. That is, if consume a little more carbs than we should, our boneheaded “loader” quickly carries all this glucose into our fat deposits.
So, what do we do to ensure that the insulin level does not exceed the critical value? Let’s do the following thought experiment.
Imagine that we decided to have just one meal a day. We take a lot of porridge, pasta, and other food that we are supposed to eat during the day. And we have all these in one sitting. Yes, the carbs chosen are of the slow kind, but their amount is rather large, so the blood sugar level, albeit slowly but inexorably, is rising without even thinking to stop.
It happens because we have consumed the entire daily norm at a time. The insulin does not cease to be produced. There comes a moment, when its level is so high that it blocks the fat burning and begins to transfer excess glucose, which will not be needed soon, to fat deposits. Obviously, this is not the best and not the smartest option for anyone, who wants to lose weight or maintain their current weight at the same level.
Now let’s see how we should eat. This rather large portion of carbohydrates should be distributed throughout the day between several meals (about four or five), except the last one. In the end, we will consume the same amount, yet it will come into the body in equal and small portions.
Proceeding like this, we eat five times less in three hours, compared to having it all in a single meal. The glucose level rises in the blood, but not extremely high. Respectively, the level of insulin does not rise much and does not interfere with our fat burning process; it does not carry excess to the deposits, because there is no excess!
There is another controversial point regarding the way, in which split meals regimen affects the so-called metabolic rate. There are many theories on this subject. Modern studies say that split meals regimen has no effect on the metabolic rate, that is, roughly speaking, on the rate of expenditure of energy received from food per unit time.
However, the experience of many many people suggests that in some people, who have never been physically active and have not watched their diet, the transition to split meals regimen, as odd as it may sound, does increase the metabolic rate and facilitate the weight loss process. Up to the point that it was the transition to split meals that became a turning point, after which their attempt to lose weight turned into a success.