Your metabolism is elevated after you eat a meal. The number of calories burned processing the food you eat is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
Some nutrition “experts” teach eating more frequently to build muscle more efficiently because it will prevent your body from going into “starvation mode”.
Since your metabolism increases after a meal, eating meals more frequently must help you melt fat off and build muscle, right?
This theory cam from an early study (1986) showing increased metabolism in dogs when meals were eaten more frequently. Follow up studies showed the same thing in humans. (1-2)
Since the study on K-9’s, there have been a lot of studies done in much more controlled conditions…. on humans.
Let’s see what the body of resarch says about the theory of higher meal frequency equating to increased gains.
Research does not support the claim that more frequent meals increase metabolism more than eating fewer big meals:
Studies estimate the number of calorie burned processing a meal (TEF) to be about 10% of the total calories consumed, no matter how many meals you eat.
Whether you eat two 1,000 calorie meals or eight 250 calorie meals (2,000 calories in each scenario), the total calories burned processing the meals is about 200 calories.
Takeaway: Thermic Effect of Food is directly proportional to the total number of calories in a meal.
(Chart courtesy of Brad “The Hypertrophy Expert” Schoenfeld)
Some studies show that spacing meals throughout the day can help suppress your appetite, making you less hungry and therefore eating less calories (10-11). There are also several studies showing that meal frequency does not effect appetite (12).
What can we make of these conflicting results?
Here’s how to interpret such conflicting results: it’s up to your personal preference how frequently you eat. Forget the dogma and B-S you’ve been fed regarding this.
Sticking to an eating pattern long enough, you can dictate and control your hunger cycles. (13) The body will adapt to whatever schedule you expose it to. Pick an eating schedule that works for you, and stick to it. Your body will adapt. Don’t worry about being tied down by the “6 meals a day” rule.
If frequency doesn’t matter, then what does make more of a difference in suppressing your appetite?
Evidence is clear that diets high in protein is the best way to help regulate hunger throughout the day on a diet. (10-12)
If you do the following three things, you’re well on your way to building muscle and burning fat:
Here’s how it works for me: I don’t eat breakfast. I eat a massive lunch. I eat a massive dinner. All meals have a protein source. I consistently see results in the mirror by doing what works for me.
Everyone is different. Eat however often works best for you. Experiment.
These two rockstars recently dug through tons of research to do a thorough review (meta-analysis) of the effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition.
Schoenfeld wrote summarized the results for people not quite as smart as himself with the following quote:
“The results of our analysis do not support a tangible benefit to eating small frequent meals on body composition as long as daily caloric intake and macronutrient content is similar.” (14)
Decide how many meals you want to eat per day based on your personal preference. Decide what works best for your schedule. Increase the amount of protein in each meal. Experiment. See what works best for you. Then stick with it.
You are now equipped with information 99% of the world has not clue about. Use it to your advantage.
Mentioned in this article: Mike Matthews, Brad Schoenfeld, and Alan Aragon.