There are a lot of terrible magazine articles out there. They might say something like, “Eat meals more frequently throughout the day to elevate your metabolism more than eating fewer big meals.”
At first glance, this seems to make a lot of sense. But really it’s a bunch of B-S… like most other things you see in the fitness industry.
Your metabolism is elevated after you eat a meal, this is true. As a matter of fact, there’s even a term for this. The number of calories burned processing the food you eat is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
These terrible magazine articles even say eating more frequent meals is beneficial for building muscle because eating small meals more frequently 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 claim is not substantiated by evidence either.
This false understanding came from early studies (1986) showing increased metabolism in dogs when meals were eaten more frequently. Follow up studies even showed the same thing in humans. (1-2)
Since the groundbreaking study done on K-9’s (sarcasm), there have been a lot of studies done in much better designed studies, with controlled conditions…. on humans.
Meal Frequency and Metabolic Rate
I hate to break it to all the magazine editors, but research does not support the claim that more frequent meals increase metabolism more than eating fewer big meals:
Whether you eat two 1,000 calorie meals or eight 250 calorie meals (that’s 2,000 calories in each scenario), the total calories burned processing the meals is about 200 calories.
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.
The Thermic Effect of Food is directly proportional to the caloric content of the meal.
(Chart courtesy of rockstar Brad “The Hypertrophy Expert” Schoenfeld)
Meal frequency and appetite
There are some studies showing that spacing meals throughout the day can make you less hungry. There are also some that show that it doesn’t make a difference.
It’s pretty clear that high protein diets help regulate hunger throughout the day. (10-12)
However, some studies show that meal frequency doesn’t help control hunger (10-11), while others show that it did help control hunger on a calorie restricted diet. (12)
This means it’s up to your personal preference how frequently you eat. Forget the dogma and B-S you’ve been fed regarding this. It’s up to what works best for you.
You can even change your eating pattern if you’d like. Sticking to an eating pattern long enough, we can dictate and control our hunger cycles. (13) The body will adapt to whatever schedule you expose it to.
Figure out what works best for you psychologically.
I don’t eat breakfast. I eat a pretty small lunch. This leaves room in my caloric budget to eat a massive dinner. It’s what works best for me. I love my big meals at the end of the day.
Everyone is different. Eat however frequently works best for you. Experiment. Find out what works best for you.
Of course expert coaching also helps.
Meal Frequency, Weight Loss, and Body Composition
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 up for people not quite as smart as himself:
“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)
In layman terms, as long as you monitor the total number of calories you eat, there aren’t any advantages to eating more often unless it helps you personally control your hunger so you don’t binge.
The Bottom Line On Meal Frequency.
Decide how many meals you want to eat per day based on your personal preference. Decide what works best for your schedule. Experiment. See what works best for you. Then stick with it.
If your trainer has ever given you any of this false information, you can now feel great that you know more about this subject than him/her.
This is simple stuff. But it’s not necessarily easy to put into practice, especially with the consistency needed to see results.
If you’re looking for help and guidance yourself, we’ll soon be taking a group of new clients looking for expert support, all as part of Nutrition ProCoaching.
We accept a very small number of new clients every 2 months, and the spots in the program fill up quickly.
However, those motivated enough to put themselves on the presale list get to register 24 hours before everyone else. Plus, you’ll receive a big discount at registration.
So put your name on the list below – because, as always, spots are first come, first served, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
Mentioned in this article: Mike Matthews, Brad Schoenfeld, and Alan Aragon.
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