When and How Often Should I Eat?

When and how often you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Especially for people with metabolic syndrome, timing your meals properly can make all the difference between being lean and being overweight, being fatigued and being energized.

Eat First Thing

Everyone has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is true and for several reasons. Your metabolism slows as you're sleeping; with no physical activity required by the body, energy is focused on digestion and cell regeneration. By eating as soon as possible (within an hour) after getting up, you get your metabolism running again.

Also, your blood sugar levels are pretty much bottomed out first thing in the morning. You've gone several hours without eating and your body requires fuel for energy-primarily carbohydrates. By eating a balanced meal that combines protein, low GI carbohydrates (preferably whole grains and fiber) and healthy fats, you'll get the energy boost you need, but one that will keep you steady for hours.

Another issue with skipping breakfast is that it will stimulate the release of cortisol in your bloodstream. Your body perceives an empty stomach as a sign of famine. It releases cortisol, which then stimulates the storage of abdominal fat. This means that much of the food you eat later in the day will go toward fat storage rather than energy.

Eat All Day Long

To keep your metabolism running at full speed, your energy level high and your blood sugar steady, you need to eat many small meals throughout the day, rather than just two or three large meals.

This pattern of eating will help you avoid the cortisol cycle, but also prevents or reverses insulin resistance, keeps hunger pangs and their cravings at bay, aids efficient digestion and gives you the energy you need.

Ideally, you should eat at least every two hours. A small meal should contain at least two of the macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) to ensure proper digestion, a good energy boost and the satiety you need to avoid temptations. Examples of healthy mini-meals include an apple and a stick of low-fat mozzarella, a cup of Greek yogurt and a slice of watermelon or a slice of leftover turkey breast and a salad. A combination of fruit and a handful of raw walnuts is an excellent snack that may help you avoid those cravings for a midday candy bar.

Eat to Boost Performance and Results

It's also important to eat properly before and after your workouts. Remember that food is fuel; your body needs fueling especially when you're requiring it to work harder.

You'll want to have a healthy serving of carbs before a cardio or strength training workout, to give you the energy you need to work out effectively. Make sure to include a little protein in this meal, to get a steady stream of energy rather than a spike that will drop just as suddenly. Try to eat at least an hour before working out, preferably two. This will ensure that the insulin released after eating has dissipated, allowing you to burn fat during your workout rather than carbs.

A good dose of protein should follow a strength training workout. Building muscle is all about breaking down and then building up muscle tissue. In order to do this effectively, your body needs a ready source of protein at hand. Otherwise, you'll be breaking down that muscle tissue without the supplies you need to rebuild it. People with metabolic syndrome need to add glucose-using muscle mass, not lose the muscle they have.

If you'll choose the right foods to eat and the right times to eat them, you'll be well on the way to a leaner body, a healthier lifestyle and a whole new quality of life.

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