Humans have been eating three meals a day since the 1700s. However, recently, eating only one meal a day has become a popular health trend. But which is correct? Is there folk wisdom in eating three balanced, sensibly sized meals daily, or – in today’s increasingly obese culture – is intermittent fasting the smartest course of action?
The Science of Intermittent Fasting vs. 3 Meals a Day: Weight Loss, Metabolism and Health Impacts
Like anything else in life, restricting your meals has likely benefits and hazards.
Some research shows intermittent fasting may provide health benefits like improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, better heart health, and weight loss. However, other studies have found potential downsides like loss of muscle mass, increased stress hormones, and overeating.
One scientific theory about the benefits of fasting is that when your body is released from its relentless burden of having to digest food, it can then focus on other vital matters, such as cell restoration.
This is no small matter, as optimal cellular health is what helps the human body live longer and with a higher quality of life.
On the other hand, another current theory about the hazard of fasting is that, for people who exercise regularly or have physically strenuous jobs, muscle loss might occur as a result of fasting.
Taxed muscles soak up macronutrients like dry, thirsty sponges. Going too long without nourishing the muscle fibers could make them less likely to repair. Studies show that fasting periods can lead to loss of muscle mass if protein intake is insufficient during feeding periods.
This is significant because, as one ages, muscle plays a crucial role in preventing frailty.
Research shows that loss of muscle mass is directly correlated with physical frailty and risk of falls in the elderly.
Another potential downside to intermittent fasting is that the body is often pounded with too much digestive responsibility within too short of a time period.
For example, if you’re an athlete who is supposed to have 3,000 calories a day, it might be asking a lot from your body to process all of those 3,000 calories within a narrow window of time – especially if it’s done every day, week after week, month after month.
Of course, individual genetic differences play a role:
- Some people are uber-durable and have the strong digestion of an ox.
- Other people have sensitive digestion, and packing too much food into the stomach in too condensed a time period might create intestinal permeability.
Responding to the notion that fasting is ideal for muscle tissue, health coach Eric Bach responds plainly: “No way.”
For muscle, Bach explains, it’s essential to eat frequently. “And yes, that includes carbs,” he quips. ” It doesn’t mean you need to eat 8 meals a day. Three complete meals and a couple of protein shakes over the course of a 24-hour period will be plenty.”
Generally, it’s believed that younger athletes benefit from having 500 extra calories daily over maintenance for optimal muscle development. However, one study found that intermittent fasting may impair muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition, posing a challenge for athletes.
However, the older you are, the more careful you have to be with that calorie surplus – and the more on-point your nutrition must be to garner positive results.
For example, a 60-year-old fitness enthusiast might carefully keep their calorie surplus at 100 daily to develop muscle tone without simultaneously adding subcutaneous adipose tissue. And to prevent the build-up of visceral fat between the organs, most of those calories must be obtained from anti-inflammatory foods.
The Research Comparing Intermittent Fasting vs. 3 Meals a Day
One recent research study – conducted by the University of Tennessee and the University of Iowa – analyzed data from 24,011 US adults over the age of 40.
The results showed that those who regularly ate fewer than three meals a day were at a higher risk of dying from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.
Intermittent Fasting and Health: Separating Fact from Fiction
More specifically, the study demonstrated that skipping breakfast was associated with a greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease while skipping lunch or dinner was associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality.
More specifically, the study demonstrated that skipping breakfast was associated with a greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (a 55% higher risk), while skipping lunch or dinner was associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality (10-13% higher risk).
The study also found that even those who ate all three meals but had them too close together were at an increased risk of death. Eating two adjacent meals within 4.5 hours of each other was also linked to increased all-cause death risk.
The study discovered certain demographic groups were more likely to skip meals. For example, those who were younger, male, with less education and a lower family income were more likely to skip meals.
Additionally, meal-skipping was more prevalent among those who smoked more, drank more alcohol, ate less nutritious food, and had more snacks.
It’s important to note that the study is observational and cannot determine causality; however, the researchers did adjust their findings to account for variations in numerous dietary and lifestyle factors, including smoking, alcohol use, physical activity levels, energy intake, diet quality, and food insecurity – and the link was still there.
Which is Better: 1 Large Meal or 3 Sensibly-Sized Meals Daily?
The study also points out the potential negative consequences of intermittent fasting, a popular trend in which individuals restrict their eating to certain periods of the day or week.
The study’s findings suggest that skipping meals or having them too close together can negatively affect the body’s metabolism and regulation of glucose, leading to an increased risk of death.
It’s worth noting that the study’s sample population is limited:
- to adults over the age of 40, so it’s unclear if the findings would apply to younger individuals or if the results would be similar in other populations.
- The study also doesn’t consider other factors contributing to the association between meal skipping and mortality, such as stress, sleep patterns, and overall health.
- The study didn’t take into account the type of food that the participants were eating.
However, the study provides valuable information on the importance of regular and balanced meals for well-being and overall health. It highlights the need for individuals to be mindful of their eating habits and ensure they fuel their bodies with nutritious and balanced meals throughout the day.
Are You Eating the Right Amount of Meals?
It’s important to note that the study is observational and cannot determine causality; however, the researchers did adjust their findings to account for variations in numerous dietary and lifestyle factors. Even after adjusting for smoking, alcohol use, physical activity levels, calories, diet quality, socioeconomic, and more, skipping meals was still associated with higher mortality risk.
Currently, many longevity enthusiasts believe skipping meals can actually be beneficial for weight loss and overall health – the idea being that it can lead to a reduction in overall calorie intake and promote fat burning. However, this idea is not fully supported by scientific research, as some studies have consistently shown that skipping meals is associated with an increased risk of obesity and other health problems.
Additionally, skipping meals can sometimes disrupt the body’s metabolism, leading to imbalances in glucose regulation and other metabolic issues.
It’s wise to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet – especially if you have a medical condition or are on a weight loss program.
Consistent and spread-out meals seem to be important for the body, and skipping meals or having them too close together might negatively impact the body’s metabolism and glucose regulation, leading to a possible increased risk of death, particularly in mature adults.
Additional Sources on Meal-Timing:
Eric Bach on Eating and Training Intelligently – https://www.t-nation.com/author/eric-bach/ • Frequent meals are important for muscle growth, according to strength coach Eric Bach.
History of the Timing of Meals – https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20243692
Why Muscle is the Organ of Longevity – https://themovementparadigm.com/muscle-is-the-organ-of-longevity/
Can Eating Too Much at Once Overstretch the Stomach or Intestines? – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191114115918.htm