“We now know that one pathway—the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway—is the major nutrient-sensitive regulator of growth in animals and plays a central role in physiology, metabolism, the aging process, and common diseases. ”
Our cells, much like our fat cells, are essentially binary in respect to their opposing states of growth or maintenance/autophagy/repair. Growth is excellent, in fact, a key to longevity is the ability to make new muscles and tissues, however, if we continually send the body growth signals the cleanup and maintenance phases can’t be utilized.
While mTOR is incredibly complex, we can pull out a few actionable insights from the 25+ years of research.
“Ultimately, growth control is the process of linking the availability of nutrients in the environment to biomass production, so for me, the most fascinating aspect of mTORC1 has always been that it is regulated by nutrients.”
Specifically, mTOR is most reactive during exposure to glucose, insulin, and amino acids. In fact it seems very responsive:
More excitingly, he and others in the laboratory found that within minutes of starving cells for amino acids or glucose, mTOR left the punctate structures and became diffuse throughout the cytoplasm (53, 55)
Within minutes, cellular changes happen when glucose and amino acids are restricted. Let’s put that in terms of the often recommended 4-6 small meals per day, how would mTOR respond to that signaling? Constant growth signaling. Yet despite this understanding, on the CDC’s website for developing Lifestyle Coaches, the following appears:
Key messages to reinforce
- Skipping meals can lead to extreme hunger and uncontrolled eating, resulting in an intake of more fat and calories than a regular meal.
- The best approach to meals is to eat four to five smaller meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and one or two snacks) throughout the day that include a variety of nutritious, low-fat, and low-calorie foods.
- Research shows that people who skip breakfast tend to be heavier than those who eat a proper breakfast.
- For the main meal, include low-fat protein, whole grains, and plenty of vegetables.
- To improve your snack choices, make a plan. Take steps to avoid situations or feelings that make you want to snack on unhealthy choices.
With this advice there is constant mTOR signaling; proteins and carbs from whole grains, from dawn to bed. How has this strategy worked so far?
It is desirable to have periods of growth unquestionably, however it is also critical to reduce this growth signaling to allow cells to repair. There are a number of ways to go about this, but probably the easiest is Time Restricted Eating (TRE). Consuming all your food during a smaller window, say 6-12 hours, allows your cells to operate in the repair mode. Other strategies such as every other day fasting and the like also accomplish some relief from mTOR signaling.
The same logic is found when we are advised to turn off the Air conditioning while heading up a mountain pass. It is not the most effective for your car to be at maximum power climbing a mountain pass and at the same time trying to divert energy to keep the inside temp at precisely 69 degrees.
Understanding the growth signals utilized, we can apply this logic to maximizing when we would want to call for growth. After a workout? Exercise stimulates growth, but that can be enhanced with added quality protein after the workout. Taking a physical signal from the muscle breakdown, and combining it with a nutrient signal to leverage growth opportunity. Keeping in mind it isn’t desirable to be in a growth state in perpetuity, scheduling in recovery and low nutrient signaling is helpful.
Heavily scientific terms such as mTOR can be intimidating. However, the good news is there tends to be a way to put them in terms that are understandable and actionable. It may be years before mTOR is fully understood. For us know, what we can glean from the work of the researcher’s work product so far is that we can influence our body in profound ways, some of which we still don’t know entirely, by strategies as simple as meal timing. Our metrics data collection takes into account meal timing, and we can correlate how different eating windows impacts your energy level and sleep quality.