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Eating 6 Times a Day Enhances Health, Speeds Fat Loss, New Research Shows

Study: More Frequent Eating Speeds the Metabolism, Reduces Abdominal Fat


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Health FoodIf you’ve been following the typical nutrition advice of cutting back on calories and consuming no more than “three square meals” a day in hopes of shifting your fat-burning efforts into high gear, you may actually be throwing the whole process into reverse.

According to new research from scientists at Georgia State University, active folks who skimp on calories and eat infrequently (only three times a day) may be training their bodies to get by on less energy and therefore more readily storing unburned calories as bodyfat.

In the study, published last March in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Dan Benardot, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., and colleagues evaluated eating frequency, energy balance, and body composition in 62 elite-level athletes (42 gymnasts and 20 runners).

The researchers had the athletes recall everything they had eaten and what exercises they had performed. The data were then analyzed using a leading-edge procedure called Computer Time-Line Energy Analysis (CTLEA) to determine whether the athletes had stored more calories as fat than they burned or were burning more calories than they had stored.

Researchers discovered that the athletes who ate infrequently were almost always the ones with the higher percentages of bodyfat. But, those who fed their bodies every few hours tended to be leaner.

According to Dr. Benardot, the findings suggest that the body responds to consistent energy (i.e., calorie) deficits during the day by holding onto its resources, causing a reduction in the metabolic rate (the rate at which the body burns calories).

This concurs with previous research, indicating that energy restriction may cause a reduction in the metabolic rate and a relative increase in bodyfat storage.

Although intense exercise usually helps maintain or increase the metabolic rate, Dr. Benardot says these findings suggest that when coupled with an energy deficit state, the metabolic rate may well be reduced.

“This apparent reduction is evidenced even in highly active runners and gymnasts, who have increased bodyfat percentages when energy deficits are present,” says Dr. Benardot.

The leaner athletes in this study, suggests Dr. Benardot, may be sharing with other athletes and everyday exercisers a lesson in the value of eating smaller, more frequent meals—ideally six relatively low-fat, protein- and carbohydrate-balanced meals—throughout the day.

“The idea that ‘three square meals is best,’ I have come to believe, is downright wrong,” says Dr. Benardot.

“For instance, the calories typically consumed at a large breakfast could be cut in half, with the first half eaten at breakfast and the second half eaten at midmorning.

Similarly, half of the calories consumed during lunch could be put off for midafternoon,” he says. As a practical conclusion, the study’s authors suggest exercisers should become more aware of the relationship between eating frequency and bodyfat.

Write the researchers, “dietary restriction resulting in energy intake below estimated energy needs should be avoided, not only because inadequate energy impairs performance but also because bodyfat stores are increased.”

They continue, “It appears clear from these data that consuming sufficient energy is better than not getting enough, and getting energy frequently (every two to three hours throughout the day) to prevent an energy deficit state [is optimal to maintain low bodyfat percentages].”


Study: Salmon Twice a Week Reduces Bodyfat; Protects Heart


A study published this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon and other oily fish, reduces bodyfat in healthy men and women.

As an added benefit, a report published in the most recent edition of The New England Journal of Medicine shows that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can reduce the risk of sudden death among men who have had heart attacks by about 80 percent.

What This Means to You: “This supports what the American Heart Association has already recommended,” says lead study author Dr. Christine Albert of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“People should eat two meals of fish a week as part of a heart-healthy diet.”

Milk: It Really Does Do a Body Good

Milk drinkers are far less likely to develop insulin resistance, a forerunner of diabetes and unwanted body fat accumulation, according to a decade-long study recently published in the respected Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among the more than 3,000 people ages 18 to 30 who were followed for 10 years, those who consumed the most dairy products (milk, cottage cheese and yogurt) had a 72 percent lower incidence of insulin resistance than those with the lowest intake.

What This Means to You: Milk—skim milk—really does do your body good. And although it does contain milk sugars, lead investigator Dr. Mark Pereira, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, notes these are complex sugars and much healthier than those found in soda and candy.

“They are converted to blood sugar at a lower rate,” he says. What’s more, milk contains a good deal of protein, he notes, which means it is more filling than soda.

“People who drink milk are less likely to eat too much because it is more filling.”

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