6 Meals or 3 Meals, What’s Better?

Wow, this is one big subject to tackle. The discussion of meal frequency is an intriguing one because there’s a lot of recent research going into this subject matter. Perhaps, the best way to start out by tackling this topic is to look at one of the most common myths out there…does eating more meals equal more fat loss and/or increase my metabolism?

No, not necessarily. To understand this myth, let’s first learn the word of the day- thermogenic effect of food (TEF). Thermogenic effect of food refers to the energy used by the body when processing food intake. Here’s how the science works. *For the sake of explanation, we are going to use arbitrary numbers for the following example*

Say your diet consists of only apples; let’s say one apple has 100 calories and the thermogenic effect used by your body to process that apple burns 10 calories upon consumption.
-In scenario 1, I eat 2 apples 3 times a day (6 apples for those counting at home). Through wolfram, I discovered that 6 apples (in one day) x 10 calories (of thermogenic energy used per banana)=60 calories burned through TEF for that day.
-In scenario 2, I eat 1 apple 6 times a day. This scenario would be following the logic for more frequent/smaller portioned meals. Let’s see how much we boost our metabolism with this method. I’m no math major, but I still ate 6 apples for the day x 10 calories (of thermogenic energy used per apple)=60 calories burned through TEF for that day. Wow, no difference. Science wins.


Here’s the science which puts everything together. A few brilliant, well known and respected nutritionists got together and completed a meta-analysis and pooled the data from studies on meal frequency. They went through literally ALL english language journals and searched for studies on the topic which fit certain inclusion criteria. Inclusion criteria basically helps them narrow down certain criteria for the studies to better include the studies in their analysis which hold more weight. For example, they only included studies which had a duration of at least 2 weeks. Here was their conclusion:

“Moreover, the small difference in magnitude of effect between frequencies suggests that any potential benefits, if they exist at all, have limited practical significance. Given that adherence is of primary concern with respect to nutritional prescription, the number of daily meals consumed should come down to personal choice if one’s goal is to improve body composition. There is emerging evidence that an irregular eating pattern can have negative metabolic effects, at least in the absence of formal exercise. This gives credence to the hypothesis that it may be beneficial to stay consistent with a given meal frequency throughout the week.” [1]

So what does all this mean? Well, it goes back to the original concept of IIFYM, have your meal timings accommodate into your schedule. It has not been shown that more frequent meals helps you lose any extra weight, so if you like eating only 3 meals a day, continue to do it. If you are more comfortable eating several smaller meals, that’s fine too. In either case, if you’re goal is to lose weight, you just need to eat/drink less calories. Now, we can dive deeper into this subject and talk about the lack of studies with meal frequencies and high protein intake. We could also talk about the benefit recent studies have shown of having protein throughout the day as opposed to consuming it in one or two bulk sittings. And we WILL talk about these topics…but in future posts. For now the take away should be to debunk the myth that you NEED to have smaller/frequent meals throughout the day to lose weight. What you NEED to do to lose weight is be in a caloric deficit (more calories out than in). The most efficient way to do that? Count your calories/macros to hit your target numbers so that you are at a caloric deficit and exercise more often.

References:
[1] Schoenfield J, Aragon A, and James K. “Nutrition Reviews.” Effects of Meal Frequency on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2015.

4 thoughts on “6 Meals or 3 Meals, What’s Better?

  1. Sultan Abbasi February 3, 2015 / 4:53 am

    Good read

    Like

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