In recent times we have seen a movement in bodybuilding away from the old school approach of eating as many meals a day as possible, towards a lower frequency approach where four to five meals a day are often supplemented with BCAA's between meals. This approach is the hallmark of Dr. Layne Norton's approach to nutrition, something which was expanded upon in the interview we had with Layne earlier. By contrast, the rise of intermittent fasting in recent years, most frequently associated with the methods of the Leangains formulator Martin Berkhan, has led many trainees to adopt what would formerly have seemed an unbelievably radical approach to dieting, where no food is consumed at all for a 16 hour period of the day. Then, after this fasting phase is over, the Leangains method allows for an 8 hour window where eating is permitted.
With all these new methods of optimising our diets, not to mention the standard 5-6 meals a day approach favoured by generations of bodybuilders, we thought it would be good to look at some of the research conducted in this field as part of an on-going series discussing ways readers can look to optimise their nutritional intake to achieve a better physique.
This week we look at some research comparing distribution of food intake as well as studies conducted on breakfast and whether it is essential for fitness minded people to consume a breakfast every day. Let's start with a study comparing protein feeding patterns using milk or whey protein(1) published in August 2012 - take a look...
Research Review - Do protein feeding patterns affect results?
Can lean body mass be spared better depending on the quality and timing of protein intake?
Obese volunteers followed a 6 week diet and split into 4 groups - casein spread, casein pulse, whey spread, and whey pulse. The groups consuming casein consumed no other protein source while the whey groups only consumed whey as their protein source. The pulse groups distributed their protein in 4 meals per day in a proportion of 8/80/4/8% per meal. The spread groups consumed 25% of their protein in each of the four meals.
The subjects lost an average of 7.5kg of weight, 5.1kg of fat, and 2.2kg of lean mass. There was no difference between groups in outcome or on subjective measures of hunger perception.
Timing of protein consumption did not alter results between groups.
An inconclusive study but one which lends support to those intermittent fasting proponents who say consuming the vast majority of protein in one meal need not negatively affect lean mass. On the other hand the study failed to show superiority for either approach and with it being a study conducted on obese, non-exercising subjects it's relevance is limited at best. The same researchers also conducted a similar study on rats(2) which we will look at next.
Research Review - Can manipulating leucine intake affect muscle retention?
To determine if lean body mass can be preserved using different types and timing of protein intake.
Young, male rats were first provided a high calorie diet for 5 weeks and then an energy restricted diet for three weeks, and fed a high protein diet containing casein, whey, or a casein/whey mixture (n=9 per group). These were the rats' only source of protein for the duration of the diet. Food intake was spread over 12 hours whereas in a previous experiment rats consumed their daily food intake within a 2-3 hour timespan.
Food intake was similar in all groups while energy restriction led to a significant decrease in body weight and body fat. There was no difference between groups.
Timing of protein intake does not influence the retention of lean body mass.
Another study showing that fasting appears to be a viable approach (at least for rats).
Is nothing the breakfast of champions?
Breakfast is often considered a die-hard staple of any sound nutritional program. Given this, the avoidance of breakfast encouraged by intermittent fasting advocates is one of the more controversial aspects of their diet. We have seen in interviews with both Layne Norton and Borge Fagerli, their belief that fasting during the morning can compromise muscle gains. On the other hand Martin Berkhan has argued eloquently for why breakfast is a meal best avoided for most stating his belief that the interplay of hormones including cortisol and insulin can predispose breakfast taking individuals to fat gain. Let's examine some of the research conducted on breakfast consumptionÂ starting with a look at a recent Finnish study from 2012(3) exploring different meal patterns among adolescents.
Research Review - Is breakfast and meal frequency linked to metabolic syndrome likelihood?
Breakfast consumption and meal frequency are linked to obesity risk but their link to metabolic syndrome in the young has not been studied.
Three meal patterns on weekdays were compared - 5 meals a day including breakfast, 4 meals a day including breakfast, and 4 meals a day without breakfast taken. These meal patterns were examined for association with obesity and metabolic syndrome in adolescent Finns (n=6247).
Those adolescents eating five meals a day were at lower risk for obesity and also factors related to metabolic syndrome such as abdominal obesity and blood triglyceride levels.
Adjusting for other factors, the five meal a day pattern was linked to lower risk of obesity in both boys and girls in this study.
This study is a little more relevant to our readers in that the group studied are closer in age to most trainees and more likely to be active than the obese group mentioned in the first study. On the face of it this provides compelling evidence in favour of a dietary pattern that favours the inclusion of breakfast. We shouldn't take this analysis too far though as breakfast consumption also shows a positive correlation with income levels and education, factors which may also influence the weight and attitudes to health exhibited by people. In addition, this study relied on self reported dietary questionnaires which inevitably can lead to some inaccuracies. A study published earlier in 2012(4) echoed the sentiments of the Finnish study also showing a positive correlation between breakfast consumption and increased meal frequency with a better body composition outcome. Again, as with the Finnish study, we need to stress that these are not athletes being studied but overweight teens.
Will skipping breakfast make you dumber?
One of the arguments you will hear in favour of breakfast consumption is the need to provide the brain with the glucose it needs to work optimally. By skipping breakfast could you be compromising intellectual performance as some say, or it the case that skipping breakfast, by increasing levels of adrenaline like neurotransmitters can actually enhance mental performance?
Research Review - Eating breakfast enhances cognitive performance
Pivik's group(5) set out to test how breakfast consumption impacted on mental functions in children aged 8-11 years old. The children were either fasted or fed before performing mathematical tasks.
The researchers found that children who worked after a fast showed greater demands on working memory compared to those who consumed breakfast. Those children who ate breakfast showed a significant increase in correct responses compared to children who fasted, an effect that persisted after making adjustments for other factors that might influence results.
The results combined with the findings that neural network activity involved in processing numerical data is enhanced after breakfast, suggests greater cognitive performance in children is possible by providing them with breakfast.
An interesting study which appears to provide strong evidence supporting the pro-breakfast camp. Would a strong black coffee while fasting have overridden the benefits of a breakfast meal or offset the diminished performance in the fasting group we wonder? A natural question leading on from this study is whether or not skipping breakfast would influence physical performance as opposed to mental performance. Luckily we found a study examining just this, albeit in young children again(6)
Research Review - Swiss school children eating breakfast have better physical skills
The study set out to examine the association between eating behaviour and BMI (body mass index) and motor skills in children aged 7-10 years old.
656 schoolchildren participated in this experiment. The children were tested on five physical tests including a 20m sprint, shuttle run and long jump. Tests were conducted at four time points with each child at 8,9,10, and 11 am.
Children who ate breakfast regularly had a significantly lower BMI compared to those who ate breakfast occasionally or never. In addition, those who never had breakfast had a higher BMI than those who occasionally ate breakfast. The children who had breakfast also attained better scores on the 20m sprint, shuttle run, and long jump.
The study showed that consuming breakfast in children was linked to a better body weight and enhanced motor skills compared to missing breakfast.
This study is pretty thorough although it could be argued that dysfunctional eating patterns in the group who skipped breakfast such as eating lunch and dinner in front of their tv's may have contributed more than skipping breakfast to their poorer health and performance scores. Wrapping up the first part of this series, we have seen that the timing of protein distribution does not appear to play much role in body composition outcomes while studies conducted on feeding show that skipping breakfast can have negative effects on performance and body composition. Next week, we will go into greater detail examining the link between morning versus evening food intake and answer the question of whether carbs at night are a bad thing.
Read Parts 2 & 3 Now:
1. Adechian S, et.al (2012): Protein feeding pattern, casein feeding or milk soluble protein feeding did not change the evolution of body composition during a short-term weight loss program.
2. Adechian S, et.al (2011): Spreading intake of a leucine-rich fast protein in energy-restricted overweight rats does not improve protein mass.
3. Jaaskelainen A, et.al (2012): Associations of meal frequency and breakfast with obesity and metabolic syndrome traits in adolescents of Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986.
4. Antonogeorgos G, et.al (2012): Breakfast consumption and meal frequency interaction with childhood obesity.
5. Pivik RT et.al (2012): Eating breakfast enhances the efficiency of neural networks engaged during mental arithmetic in school-aged children.
6. Baldinger N, et.al (2012): Swiss children consuming breakfast regularly have better motor functional skills and are less overweight than breakfast skippers.