Think being a keto-warrior is the only way to eat? Or are you someone who swears by intermittent fasting? Well, despite being told that in today’s world we need to have at least three square meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, with extra snacks thrown in for those who are looking to pack on some muscle – it could be possible to get all the calories and nutrients you need from just one meal a day.
Think we sound crazy? Hear us out.
The controversial revelation was first brought to our attention on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience podcast (episode #1670), which saw host Joe sit down with Australian biologist David Sinclair. David is the professor of genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School.
Watch David Sinclair talk about intermittent fasting
Talking about longevity, which David claims isn’t to do with living longer but rather “being healthier for longer,” he claims he “skips meals,” adding, “it’s not that hard, I now feel weird if I have a meal for breakfast or lunch, and I try not to snack too.”
“This idea of nutritionists’, thee meals a day plus snacks, never be hungry, is killing us.”
“We know that if you do these things to animals [restrict eating], in controlled settings, they live longer, a lot longer, sometimes 20-30 per cent longer because they’re healthier. They don’t get cancer or heart disease or dementia.”
“I don’t know why we don’t all do that, I think we just like to sit around and eat.”
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To further understand exactly what David is claiming, Joe asks him if eating one meal a day helps you live longer because it is less taxing on your digestive system, or if there is some “sort of mechanism that leads to decay of the human body due to overconsumption?”
David says it’s more of the latter.
“Overconsumption, or just consumption in general, makes your body complacent, and we know this in great detail at the molecular level. There are genes that respond to how much you’re eating and what you’re eating, and whether you’re exercising, and these are called longevity genes, and they give our body resilience.”
Later in the podcast, Joe circles back to the one meal a day topic. He asks David, “supposing you have your one meal that comprises 2,000 calories and you have this meal at 6 p.m. and you fast for 24 hours until you eat again at 6 p.m., if you have this one meal a day, why is better to do that, than to have smaller meals of 500 calories multiple times per day?”
David answers, “Going back 6 million years our bodies were designed, or evolved, to respond to adversity, and we’ve removed that from our lives, because it feels good.”
“But we need adversity to be resilient and to fight disease. So what I’m saying is that period of hunger – and it’s not even hunger these days, I don’t even feel hungry if I don’t eat – and it takes a few weeks, so if anyone was going to start, give it some time.”
“But what’s happening in the body is you’re turning on these adversity hormesis response genes, we call them longevity genes. And they make the body fight ageing and diseases.”
“So by eating throughout the day – first of all, it’s not true that you need to be full or fed to think clearly, it’s clear that people who fasting have as good, or if not better mental capabilities – but if you’re always satiated, or fed, your body’s saying ‘hey, I just killed a mammoth, no problem, don’t need to worry about survival and screw my long term survival’. It’s all about long term survival, by making the body freak out and think there are tough times.”
“Trust me, the data is very clear that this is the way to go if you want to be healthy in your 80s and 90s.”
To find out if we really should be heeding David’s advice and cutting out the majority of our daily meals entirely, DMARGE spoke exclusively to Jessica Spendlove, sports dietician at Health & Performance Collective.
Jessica agrees that “millions of year ago our ancestors did eat this way.”
“But it is important to consider that a lot has changed since then, including life expectancy and the way we live our lives. Our ancestors used to hunt for their food, for example, which was a necessity for survival.”
As for whether one meal can be genuinely beneficial, Jessica says “different strategies can certainly work for different people.”
“While there is research supporting the benefits of fasting with some health outcomes and ageing, it is also important to consider the individual, their medical background, their life and what works for them, rather than having a blanket stand point or one size fits all approach, which is why working with individuals and considering all of the factors is so important.”
If you’re someone who is regularly active, whether it be an athlete or a gym-goer, we’re always told we need to keep eating in order to put on muscle and drop body fat. So how does the one meal a day idea fall into place here?
Jessica claims, “With the types of clients I see and work with, which is active inidividuals, I sit in the camp of regular feeding throughout the fay, but with intentionality.”
“Quality and quantity of nutrients is very important, it isn’t just about sitting there and grabbing all day and the type of food definitely matters.”
“A predominantly plant-based whole food, high fibre diet, with good quality proteins which is minimally processed is a very different way of eating to an over-processed, poor quality, westernised diet which a lot of people consume.”
As for those wishing to build muscle, Jessica adds, “the research is very clear that to optimise muscle growth, the process of muscle protein synthesis requires frequent boluses of high quality protein in the realm of 20-40 grams three to five times per day, in addition to resistance training.”
“While in theory you could consume the right amount of calories and nutrients in one meal (potentially the application of that may be difficult), the piece of the puzzle this would not solve is the frequent and regular distribution.”
And, as for whether fasting, no matter the time frame, has its benefits over regular snacking, Jessica sits somewhere in the middle.
“This is very dependent on the person. If I consider the active person or athlete, there is so much research supporting the benefit of regular eating from a fuelling and recovery standpoint. There is a lot of research showing the role of nutrition in immune support and function, as well as injury prevention and management.”
“While there may be a place for fasting in some people, anyone training for results or performance, would need to be very strategic about when they were deciding to fast.”