Meal Plans

Beginner's Nutrition Tips: Eating Order

If your goal is to get big and lean, does it matter what order you eat the food items on your plate?

Beginner's Nutrition Tips: Eating Order

Question: I've got a chicken breast, a salad and a sweet potato on my plate. Does the order of the food I eat affect my body composition? Does it affect how the foods are absorbed? –David P., Arvada, CO, via e-mail

Answer: In the bigger picture of things, yes, eating protein off your plate first can affect your body composition. This is because protein is a very potent stimulator of insulin. In addition, one of the least known functions of insulin is its ability to suppress appetite as has been demonstrated in studies published in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research. Thus, the reduction of appetite brings with it the consumption of fewer calories by default. So consuming protein first causes you to eat less calories in a meal so the result of consuming less calories overall can cause weight loss.

Storage Wars

But let’s get a little deeper than that. The oxidation (breakdown) of the foods (macronutrients) you eat is dependent on the storage space in your body. To elucidate on this, the order of storage size for your body from most to least goes fat, carbohydrates, then protein. The body gives priority to the macronutrient which has the least amount of room for storage. For all intents and purposes, the body has little to no room to store protein and up to 2.3 grams per pound of bodyweight is the limit for the amount of carbohydrates that can be stored (50 grams of it in the liver). Fat has an infinite amount of stores in your body because the body can always create more space if it runs out through a process known as lipogenesis.

To simplify, this means protein will always be broken down (oxidized) first because there’s no room to store it while the rate of oxidation for carbohydrates and fats will diminish and so stored in the presence of protein. In the same vein, it means the more carbohydrates you eat the more time the body will spend oxidizing it and less the body will spend oxidizing fat. Yes, this means most dietary fat in the presence of carbohydrates (and protein) will be stored in your body. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: After all is said and done, “calories in, calories out” is still what it comes down to in regards to weight management. In other words, the order you eat matters but holds little significance when compared to the total calories (and quality of those calories) that you consume daily.

Kelechi Opara is a lifetime natural athlete with over 15 years experience in the fitness field. He's the creator of the iPhone/Android app Nutritionist, the revolutionary app that's transforming lives around the world. He's also an Optimum Nutrition athlete where he helps in the formulation of their supplements. In addition, he's an internationally published cover model and a former United States Marine.