Eating less and moving more has become the ultimate cliche of weight loss. However, as most research on long-term weight loss has shown, the simple approach of decreasing food intake and increasing exercise is only useful for short-term results.
For long-term results a sustainable improvement in diet and exercise is key, and the biggest obstacle to improving diet is hunger and cravings, and one of the biggest obstacles to sustaining exercise is a lack of results from the exercise program given.
Fortunately, both of these factors could be improved simultaneously by simply improving the quality of the food eaten as part of the diet and timing certain nutrients to maximize progress from training.
By adding certain types of food to the diet, prioritizing mixed meals over simple snacks, and if you’re a more experienced athlete, utilizing protein and carbohydrate timing; long-term weight and fat loss can be achieved and training progress can continue to improve.
MIXED MEALS AND THE THERMIC EFFECT OF FEEDING
The Thermic Effect of Food or Feeding (TEF) is a well-researched effect in health science, which basically explains how the food that is eaten costs a certain amount of calories for the body to digest and absorb the nutrients. As such, the amount of calories it takes to digest a meal depends on how much fat, carbohydrates or protein is in the meal.
However, there is a small exception to this rule. When eating a relatively large meal with a mix of fats, carbohydrates, and protein, the amount of calories the body uses to digest this meal is larger than the sum of the calories needed that would be needed to digest each nutrient individually. Thus, mixed meals can actually help increase calories burned.
Many times when looking at a diet, whether it is overall caloric intake or individual nutrient intake, most individuals focus solely on how much is eaten. In regards to nutrient timing, the research shows little difference for weight loss - BUT there is a significant impact on strength, endurance and muscle mass, that can be made by regulating when certain nutrients are eaten, particularly for more experienced athletes.
This is one of the most researched nutrients in terms of timed intake. Research has shown that there is an increased potential for muscle protein synthesis after a session, compared to the rest of the day. This increased potential for muscle protein synthesis after training is known as the ‘anabolic window’ - there’s lots of evidence both ways for this anabolic window, but simply it just means you should eat something containing protein or have a protein shake after training.
Therefore timing high protein meals for immediately before or after a resistance training session could help increase muscle growth, strength and fat loss.
Just like there is an increased potential for protein use after a strength session, there is also increased sensitivity to carbohydrates in the working muscles. This increased sensitivity helps regulate blood glucose and helps make sure that carbohydrates are utilized instead of stored as fat.
This is particularly beneficial after completing a high-intensity cardiovascular session, as these tend to use more carbohydrates for fuel than fat.
The replacement of these carbohydrates can help reduce muscle breakdown and improve recovery. For endurance athletes, or those looking to protect their muscle mass after a strenuous cardio session, timing a mixed meal with carbohydrates after a cardio workout can help.
Unlike carbohydrates or protein, very little research has been done on the effects of timing fats at different times of the day. However, supplementing omega-3 fats has been shown to be beneficial for muscle growth. There is evidence that timing carbohydrates later in the day, in the afternoon, proved more beneficial for fat loss and muscle growth - so timing fat intake, particularly omega-3 fats, in the morning may further help improve fat loss, muscle growth, and health.