Meal Frequency

December 13th, 2009 by

I see a lot of people in the fitness industry saying you have to eat 6 meals a day. Is so many meals optimal? Do I have to eat 6x/day?

This tends to be one of those long-held-to beliefs that says that the more often you eat, the more fired up your metabolism is. In that context, no, it’s not.

Metabolism is determined by the total energy intake, not by how many meals you consume those calories in.

2000 in 4 meals vs 2000 in 6 meals is still 2000 calories and your body still has to spend the energy to process that same 2000 calories.

So this one is a myth.

Higher meal meal frequency doesn’t hold any magical fat-loss benefits.

The idea however stemmed from something called the Thermic Effect of Food (one part of total metabolism), which is the energy cost to digest incoming energy (this differs for the various macronutrients). So the idea was that the more often you eat, the more TEF goes up and the more metabolism goes up.

However this is a misrepresentation of TEF, as TEF is correlated with the amount of calories in the meal, and therefore total calories at the end of the day.

Rather, it seems that an inconsistent meal frequency is what has potential negative effects.

So from a direct fat-loss standpoint, there isn’t an advantage to 6 meals vs say 4-5. There are however other potential advantages that may be applicable to you:

More stable blood sugar
Control of hunger
When calories are high (easier to get them in with more feedings rather than less)

And subsequently, nutrition compliance, which is the key to anyone’s success.

On the flip side, there’s no real disadvantage to a high meal frequency, so if you prefer it, stick with it. If you find it hard, you can cut back on the meal number and just make your meals a bit bigger.

(Note – that doesn’t mean all your calories in one meal per day.)

Meal frequency should be assessed on an individual basis and meal number for the day should be decided based on what best fits into a your lifestyle.

Ultimately what matters the most is the sustainability of your nutritional strategy. If a lower meal frequency gives you a better chance of successfully following your plan, then that’s what’s best for you.