ISSUE #54                           



-“Weight Loss: Is Meal Frequency Important?”

-“Injury Rehabilitation: Practical Tips”
-“Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness: How to Deal with the Soreness”





Over the past decade, a general belief has been swept the fitness industry. More nutritionists, personal trainers, magazine articles, etc. have recommended that we "eat more frequent, yet smaller meals to help us lose weight". In theory, this creates a greater metabolic expenditure of digestion, because we have to expend energy in order to break down food and then absorb it into the blood stream.


While several small meals may be physiologically advantageous, there is little scientific support for this theory. In fact, one study showed no difference in energy expenditure between subjects given either 2 or 6 meals per day (Hum. Nutr. Clin. Nutr. 36C: 25-39, 1982). So perhaps it is time to reconsider this “nutritional commandment”.


A review of “meal frequency studies” found that although some short-term studies suggest that the thermic effect of feeding is higher when an isoenergetic test load is divided into multiple small meals, other studies refute this, and most are neutral. The authors conclude that any effects of meal pattern on the regulation of body weight are likely to be mediated through effects on the food intake side of the energy balance equation. (Bellisle, F. et al. Meal frequency and energy balance. British Journal of Nutrition 77: s57-s70, 1997.)


Below is a link to MEDLINE and the search criteria of “Meal frequency and energy expenditure”.


And this link is to related articles.


NOTE: Some of the research found here indicated that limiting subjects to 2 meals per day might decrease vitamin absorption and impair protein metabolism. Remember that the focus of this article is meal frequency and metabolic rate!


Does an increase in meal frequency result in more favorable body composition changes? Is meal frequency less of a factor in weight loss than dieticians make it out to be? If a person consumes the same amount of calories over a day, should it not require the same metabolic effort by the body to break this food down, regardless of the number of meals consumed? Just as people are realizing that a high-carbohydrate diet may not work best for everyone, people should understand that a higher meal frequency might not be the key to weight loss in everyone.


Despite hordes of nutritional information, numerous weight-loss products on the market, and a variety of exercise techniques, over 55% of Americans are overweight (figures unknown for Canada) and some areas are showing huge increases in obesity rates.


Is a change in meal frequency really having the positive impact that it is claimed? It is likely not, and the roots of the obesity epidemic lie much deeper, most importantly being the sedentary North American lifestyle. So when you combine an inactive lifestyle with a “green light” to eat more frequently, you can see the potential for weight problems.


Losing weight is difficult, not only for the individual attempting this feat, but also for the people that are providing them with their fitness and nutritional guidance. Weight loss is frustrating because oftentimes the body is stubborn and has a great metabolic resistance against change, especially against severe weight loss.


The biggest problem with weight loss is the issue of sacrifice. You can’t lose the weight you desire without some level of sacrifice, whether it is your weekend beers, your late-night snacks, or your sedentary lifestyle. Something has to change and people don’t want to hear that.


The key to a successful weight loss program is individuality, planning around weaknesses, sacrifices, and developing the correct goal setting and reward structure. The social impact of eating can have as great an impact on weight control than meal structure and timing.


The issue of nutritional discipline needs to be addressed. Does the average population, those people that these meal recommendations are geared to, fully understand the concept of eating more frequent, yet smaller meals? In a society overwhelmed by “extra-big sized value menus”, is there any opportunity for the average North American to stick to this recommendation on a consistent basis? It is quite possible that the belief of more frequent meals has simply led to an increase in caloric intake, and thus the population has just made themselves fatter by eating more often, and eating more in total.


Furthermore, those that attempt to eat small meals often complain of being hungry within 1 hour of eating because their meals do not provide satiety (a feeling of fullness). For example, the uneducated eater may grab rice cakes as a mini-meal, but this high-glycemic carbohydrate source has proven to hold off hunger for only 30 minutes and this may contribute to overeating.


On the other hand, going back to the traditional way of eating, a hearty meal, they leave the dinner table full, and this is likely a more satisfying manner in which to eat. It doesn’t matter if you are eating 12 meals a day or 2, if you are eating the incorrect foods your ability to lose weight will be greatly impaired.


Basically, meal frequency is less of a factor in weight loss than believed and there are many other important factors. An increased meal frequency may even sabotage most diet plans. It may be easier to plan and consume 3 larger meals with a balanced nutrient profile (proper amount of carbohydrate, fat, and protein) than it is to obtain 6 balanced mini-meals. A larger meal properly proportioned in carbohydrates, fat, and protein should not lead to energy slumps later in the day...that’s just more propaganda that has not been challenged.


Brad Pilon who is finishing his nutrition degree from Guelph University had some helpful comments.

“You must know when you are hungry, and you must recognize when you are full. By following these guidelines, if you were to eat 6 small meals or 3 larger meals you should still get to the exact same end total at the end of the day.”


Brad sees the problem as completely separate from how many meals you eat in a day. Some people may not be able to properly control their caloric intake on these plans. Perhaps asking people to be disciplined 6 times in a day is more difficult and self-destructing then asking them to be disciplined 3 times per day.


Brad has another good point on overeating, “People don't eat for hunger/satiety any more. People eat for taste, or to pass time (like at their desk), or other weird reasons (ever want to see a friend so you suggest coffee- you end up eating just as a way to meet with people). Also, because of fast food, we are given portion sizes, and we don’t want to “waste” any food we get, so we try and eat that portion.


For example, while physiologically you only need the caloric equivalent of an 8-inch ham sub, the market offers only smaller and larger sizes. Since a 6-inch sub won’t do the job, you get a foot-long sub and eat the whole thing because, hey, you don’t want to waste the money or the food! Brad believes it the mentality with which we approach eating may be more important in weight control than physiological or biochemical significance of meal spacing.


Three regular meals, in combination with the correct resistance training and aerobic exercise program, can be an effective weight loss regimen. You should not feel forced to consume 6 meals a day. In comparison, eating 6 meals a day may lead to improper nutrition, and may foil even the strictest adherence to a great workout program. Regardless, neither meal plan is perfect. Your success is more dependent on food composition, activity level, and portion control! Future articles will deal with more specific nutritional tips for weight loss and weight gain programs.


With more and more experience in training and nutrition it becomes clearer that there are no perfect programs or nutritional plans. Not only do you have to match the program correctly to one’s physiology and anatomical make-up, but also to their social and psychological traits as well.


One will not succeed on a program that is greater in sacrifices then it is in rewards. This article really goes against the grain and you likely won’t see this recommendation anywhere else. The point is to get people to think for themselves and determine what meal plan will best suit them in their weight loss goals.


First and foremost, it is crucial to consult a health care professional to accurately diagnose your injury.

Make a warm-up part of your workout. Put the ego aside and properly prepare the area for work. Perform this routine and follow with light stretching prior to attacking the muscle group. In the warm-up and during the warm-up set that you should perform for each exercise, you will be able to identify any biomechanical concerns.

If something does not feel right in warm-up, you should know not to go forward with heavier training. Don't worry about prematurely ending a workout. After all, you can miss a couple of days now, or you can train haphazardly and miss a couple of months in the future.

Next, if it hurts, don't do it. Real words of wisdom, huh? While this seems obvious, time and again people are trying to train through pain, or "slightly" around it. If it hurts in training or the next day, don't train with that exercise again until you have rehabbed the joint or muscle! If you are sore or inflamed the next day, go through the proper procedure of applying ice or a cold pack for 15 minute intervals to help reduce the swelling and irritation.

Pay attention to your injuries outside of the gym. Don't aggravate injuries by moving carelessly at work and adjust your sleeping patterns to accommodate for any injuries.


What is the best way to recover after a soreness-induced workout? Remember that muscle soreness in this sense is meant only as a reflection of muscle damage and not a reflection of a muscle strain or connective tissue tear. For example, heavy eccentric exercise, such as negative biceps curls, cause intense muscle soreness and loss of force production.


This excessive and sometimes unbearable soreness is likely due to tissue damage and inflammation caused by a novel training stimulus. Muscle soreness is almost 100% prevalent in trainees that are beginning a program or whenever a trainee adds a new component to their training regime.


In fact, Dr. Martin Gibala from McMaster University found that even well trained subjects have greater muscle damage following eccentric contractions in comparison to concentric contractions at the same load (Gibala, M.J. et al. Can. J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 78: 656-661, 2000). However, this damage was less than that found in untrained individuals after a similar training program, so the researchers concluded, “training attenuates the severity of muscle damage”. Furthermore, the damage was repaired within 5 days of inactivity in these men.


Other researchers have studied the ability of different recovery techniques to return force to normal and found that both light exercise performed by the damaged muscle group (i.e. light biceps curls) and complete muscle immobilization helped recover force production at a greater rate. In addition, the greatest reductions in muscle soreness occurred with light exercise, but soreness was greatest in the immobilized arm (Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 32: 1587-1592, 2000.).


Therefore while muscle-specific light intensity exercise appears to be the best recovery mode, the mechanisms behind this are not clear. Therefore, if you are an experienced weight-trainer, you will require 5 days between training sessions for the same body part (if your program contains a focus on eccentric contractions) but you may be able to speed this recovery by incorporating light training for the damaged body part.

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