Fad diets and binge eating have proven time and time again, that our bodies will respond to the frequency and amount of food we give it. Starve your body and you will lose weight, feed it and you’ll gain it back. This is the function of metabolism; metabolism is a set of reactions and processes within the body that facilitate growth, maintenance and general operation of our bodies. Metabolism regulates absorption of nutrients, expulsion of waste (or storage of wastes for later use), tissue growth and development; it interacts with the nervous system, sending messages for hunger, satiation, deficiencies and surpluses of the various elements needed for efficient operation. Some would say it is an autonomic process, something we have no control over and are at the mercy of; those of us with fast metabolism are said to be blessed and those with slower metabolism are curse...though to the surprise of many, this is simply not the case.
Anyone’s metabolic rate can be manipulated and controlled. Did you get that? I'll say it again...anyone's metabolic rate can be manipulated and controlled. That’s right, there is no resignation to the curse of slower metabolism for the overweight, and likewise, there is no mistaken blessing for those bodybuilders with faster metabolism than is conducive to weight gain.
So how is this black magic of the body done? Well…since your metabolism regulates those processes in the body which relate to food, it would stand to reason that food is the key to controlling your metabolism; though I suspect some may be surprised to find out that quite often the process works backwards.
It is true that prolonged starvation will eventually cause severe atrophy of the muscles and a cannibalization of pretty much all tissues in the body, until of course, death occurs. This is extreme, but it is an example of metabolic manipulation; the utilization of muscle and connective tissues over times of starvation is precisely what your metabolism is for…it keeps you alive until you can find food.
In a more realistic setting, you metabolism does exactly the same thing, though on a much less severe scale. As you go about your day, snacking at times and at other times eating nothing for several hours; your body is constantly monitoring the gas tank, and making adjustments to the rate at which you burn energy (both stored energy and fresh nutrients). You can imagine a race car with two fuel tanks; one full to the brim with regular stored fuel and the other with only a small amount of racing fuel in the bottom. In this scenario, the car wouldn’t get very far on the race fuel, but it can be used for short bursts of speed at strategic times. This car must rely on the regular stored fuel from the first tank to keep going. As the race goes on, the pit crew for this car continually keeps that first tank full by storing more regular fuel there; this is because they know they’re going to need it. Why they don’t just put more race fuel in might be a good question.
The race fuel isn’t readily available, because the supplier isn't reliable; but what happens when they change suppliers and can use race fuel all the time? Well, obviously, the car goes faster, but more than that, they no longer need the first tank full of regular fuel, which means they can stop refilling it.
Your body works just like the race car, start feeding it regularly and consistently with good quality "race fuel" food and it will slow down on the storage of the "regular fuel" (fat). Alternatively, eating inconsistently throughout the day simply confuses your metabolism; when you go from meal to meal with long periods in between, you force your metabolism to constantly switch gears, going from race fuel to regular fuel between meals. If you increase the frequency of your meals, you allow you body to run on the more efficient and now readily available "race fuel".
In the end, increasing the number of meals you consume in a day will allow you manipulate the efficiency of your metabolism; it will give you more energy, allow you to concentrate better and give you more stamina for life. What it was also do, and this is important to the bodybuilder, is allow your body to run on complex carbohydrates, which take longer to process and provide better, longer lasting energy (providing you’ve made smart choices for those meals), leaving virtually all of your protein intake for muscle repair, and in turn enhancing your ability to gain lean muscle mass.
Now to the nitty gritty of it all; how many meals should you eat in a day? The text book answer is somewhere between six and eight meals per day; this should be sufficient to increase and maintain a higher metabolic level. But this begs the question, what is defined as a meal?
No one is suggesting that you should force down eight full course meals in a day, and quite frankly, I’d like to see you try. Common sense dictates that eating more often allows you to eat smaller meals; on the whole, your caloric consumption will have increased dramatically, but each meal will be small enough to simply satisfy, not stuff.
For most people six meals a day is more practical than eight, when you consider prep time, works schedules, food costs and simple eating time, eight can be overkill and might be best reserved for the professional bodybuilder who can dedicate their full attention to those matters.
A sample bodybuilding meal plan might look like this:
-Meal 1 – Breakfast; consisting of a small bowl of oatmeal, a glass of juice, a protein shake and daily vitamins
-Meal 2 – Mid Morning Snack; consisting of one can of fresh tuna mixed with light mayonnaise for flavor and a bottle of water
-Meal 3 – Lunch; consisting of one, to one and a half chicken breasts (cooked as preferred), with a quarter cup of boiled white or brown rice and a protein shake
-Meal 4 – Pre-Workout Snack; consisting of one can of fresh tuna mixed with light mayonnaise for flavor, a natural granola bar or an apple and a bottle of water (or low carb energy drink)
-Meal 5 – Post-Workout Meal; consisting of two eggs (poached or boiled), a half to one whole chicken breast and a bottle of water
-Meal 6 – Bed time Snack; consisting of one chicken breast and a protein shake
When reviewing the above meal plan, take note of the progression throughout the day, from meals higher in carbohydrates at breakfast to the final meal with no carbs whatsoever. This is to ensure that you have consumed enough complex carbohydrates to fuel your day, but haven’t provided your body with an excess of carbs to be stored as fat overnight.
While this plan may seem somewhat bland and even sparse compared to a more colorful day of brown bag bologna sandwich and McDonald’s take out dinner; in practice, these meals, spaced two to three hours apart, will not only satisfy any sense of hunger you might usually feel, but will provide you with far more energy than the regular work week diet.
It’s important to be flexible with any diet plan, restricting caloric intake and instilling a strict no cheating attitude will only set you up for failure; try to use a meal plan as a general guide for your overall diet, mix in other choices for carbohydrates and try different recipes to avoid becoming bored, and your body will adapt to this new, healthier way of looking at food in no time.
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