I’m sure we have all heard this..
Gotta eat every few hours to keep that metabolism chuggin along.
Well guys, this idea is FALSE.
How often you eat has no effect on muscle gaining and/or fat loss so eating more often doesn’t mean your metabolism is tickin faster either….
I’m going to introduce this post with a video I watched recently that inspired this topic. Eric Helms is featured and discusses the controversial topic of meal frequency and explains how it has no effect on metabolism. Instead, it’s more about what fits your life best. Click the video below and take a listen!
Eric Helms is a very prominent figure in the sports and exercise field. He has multiple degrees in exercise and nutrition (BS in fitness and wellness, MS in exercise science, and MS in sports nutrition), is a natural bodybuilding Pro and coach, often writes for excise and nutrition journals and even speaks at Universities and other events sharing all of his knowledge.
~No specific number of meals is associated with greater or less muscle gain/fat loss
~Studies have shown that number of daily meals MAY be associated with satiety and therefore diet adherence (which in the context of weight management is the most critical component). It appears that having less then 3 meals (the average number of meals most people eat) may be associated with greater hunger. BUT that being said, if you have way more than 3 (one study even did 14 daily feedings) that hunger was also greater.
~Tips for success: Find a number of meals around 3ish or slightly more that fits your schedule and leave you feeling the most satisfied. Spread your protein across these meals for additional satiety.
I think the message here is clear. As with many things, it’s not a specific one-size-fits-all protocol for how many meals you should eat, it’s about what will fit your lifestyle best and allow for you to reach your goals while not overthinking and becoming obsessed with food.
So lets address this well known myth that was discussed in the video:
You need to eat X number of times a day because if you don’t, your metabolism will slow down to a crawl and you will get fat.
I swear every generic personal trainer will preach and preach this like it’s going out of style. You should be eating 3 square meals and 2-3 snacks every day because if you’re not eating every 2-3 hours, your metabolism will not be running as fast as it can be.
Well ain’t that a lot of time in your day spent eating…
Well don’t worry, unless that is how you like to live your life, it ain’t necessary. You want to eat 3 times a day, do it. You want to eat 14 times a day, do you. It doesn’t matter.
Here’s some research to back up my words because I like to be accountable and prove that I ain’t just spewing iissshhhh
~An article co-written by Eric himself discussed the current research in nutrient amount, nutrient timing and meal frequency in body builders and specifically highlighted that no studies have shown that more frequent meals leads to greater thermogenesis (which is a factor that affects metabolism). Studies that have been done, which have been tightly controlled, looked at meal numbers anywhere from two to seven and found no difference.
~An early review (1997) by Bellisle et al addressed the idea that ‘nibbling’ is better for ones’ metabolism during dieting than ‘gorging,’ or, in other words, eating more frequently during the day is beneficial for greater fat loss over less frequent, larger meals. From their review, they failed to find a relationship and concluded that if any study did find a small difference that it was probably due to intake records (ie. under-reporting their nibbles during the day).
~A 2008 study by Smeets and Westerterp-Plantenga looked at the effect of having 2 vs. 3 meals on things like diet induced thermogenesis, 24-hour energy expenditure, exercise-induced thermogenesis and sleep expenditure. Overall they found no relationship between the number of meals and these outcome variables of interest.
One of their findings warrants further discussion and will conclude this discussion is this:
“The same amount of energy divided over three meals compared with over two meals increased satiety feelings over 24h”
I believe that this is the main point of this all: SATIETY! What will ultimately affect your weight management the most is whether you are satisfied or not. If you are starving trying to eat only 2 meals a day, then you are likely to go over your calories because you will over eat at some point or binge outside your 2-meal schedule. On the other hand, if ‘snacking’ your way through the day never leaves you satisfied you may find yourself picking away too much and over eating your calorie needs.
So to re-state the message a lil bit more simply…
Meal frequency means nothing. Do what works for both your schedule and satiety/sanity. If you enjoy eating large meals and 3 leaves you able to live your life and feel good than have 3 square meals. If you feel better having 3 meals and 2 snacks, than do that.
When it comes to things like this, its always about calories in and whether that is higher then your needs that will ultimately affect your weight status.
So don’t over think it, just do you.
Disclaimer: This is for the generally healthy individual. There may be some medical benefits of eating more frequently for individuals with health conditions like diabetes, although more research is needed as results are mixed. Look here (potential benefit) vs. here (no relationship)
How many meals do you eat a day?