How many meals should you eat in a day? Do you stick with the traditional three meals a day or eat every two to three hours "to boost your metabolism"? Is there any advantage of spreading out meals more frequently?
First off lets look at what current scientific literature says and then look at it more from a practical view point.-
International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency-
In a literature review and position statement by the International Society of Sports Nutrition on meal frequency. Within the confines of the current scientific literature, they assert that
1. Increasing meal frequency does not appear to favourably change body composition in sedentary populations.
2. If protein levels are adequate, increasing meal frequency during periods of hypo (lower)energetic dieting may preserve lean body mass in athletic populations.
3. Increased meal frequency appears to have a positive effect on various blood markers of health, particularly LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and insulin.
4. Increased meal frequency does not appear to significantly enhance diet induced thermogenesis, total energy expenditure or resting metabolic rate (it will NOT increase metabolism)
5. Increasing meal frequency appears to help decrease hunger and improve appetite control.
It is stated however that research to date examining the physiological effects of meal frequency in humans is somewhat limited-
There is no universal consensus regarding the effects of meal frequency on body composition, body weight, markers of health, markers of metabolism, nitrogen retention, or satiety.
I have taken this from Lyle McDonalds article on the subject of meal timing and frequency where I think he sums it up well from a practical view point.
For example, high meal frequency might not be practical for someone who is smaller or who does not need to consume a lot of calories in a day.
A 120 lb female may have a daily food intake of 1200 calories/day or less on a diet.
Imagine she tries to eat 6 times per day.
So primarily focusing here on dieting and weight/fat loss.
• If eating more frequently makes it easier to control/reduce calories, it will help you to lose weight/fat.
• If eating more frequently makes it harder to control/reduce calories, or makes you eat more, you will gain weight.
• If eating less frequently makes it harder for you to control/reduce calories (because you get hungry and binge), it will hurt your efforts to lose weight/fat.
• If eating less frequently makes it easier for you to control/reduce calories (for any number of reasons), then that will help your efforts to lose weight/fat.
So from a practical stand point. Eat whichever way is most practical and workable for YOU!
Lyle considers 3-4 meals/day a workable minimum for most, 3 meals plus a couple of snacks works just fine too. High meal frequencies may have benefits under certain conditions but are in no way mandatory.
And, in case you missed it the first time through: eating more frequently does NOT, repeats again-
Eating more frequently- DOES NOT, ‘stoke the metabolic fire’.
Jamie Miller Personal Trainer
UK Fitness Personal Training
FITNESS, NUTRITION & PERSONAL TRAINING