HOW MANY MEALS SHOULD I EAT PER DAY?
I continue to hear a lot of talk (and get a lot of questions) regarding how often one should eat for various fitness goals.
The first thing we need to get out of the way is the fact that multiple scientific studies have shown that there is no evidence that eating more meals per day aids in protein synthesis (building muscle), fat loss, increase in metabolism or any other fitness goal as long as the calorie intake is equal. Three meals vs six meals, one meal vs eight meals...as long as the number of calories consumed is equal there is no significant difference in the results.
That being said, there are situations where spreading calorie intake over multiple meals is beneficial.
- The Hard Gainer (someone who has difficulty gaining either muscle or fat). Usually classified as an Ectomorph body type. In order to consume enough calories and nutrients to gain muscle, the Ectomorph may have difficulty reaching his or her goal eating only three meals a day. There is only so much that can be consumed at one sitting. Spreading the food intake over five or more meals per day will usually allow the hard gainer to consume more calories.
Note that very few people would be classified as a "pure" Ectomorph or Mesomorph or Endomorph.
Almost everyone will fall somewhere in between the body type classifications. Regardless of body type, the above paragraph could apply. There are a lot of people who subscribe to the process of "bulking and cutting" phases of training.( I am definitely NOT one of them).
- Fat Loss. Spreading a reduced number of calories over more meals to lose weight won't alter the outcome. However, one of the major difficulties with weight loss is staving off hunger. If the client gets hungry between regular meals they are much more likely to give in to their cravings. Cravings usually involve sweet or salty or fatty foods. Even if they get past the cravings they are much more likely to binge at the regular meals. Spreading the prescribed calorie intake over more meals (including healthy snacks) usually helps with cravings and binging.
In other words, there is no one best meal frequency. Total calories and macronutrient composition seem to play a greater role in fat loss and muscle growth. Find a meal frequency that works for you!
For those interested, many of the studies are listed below.
- Taylor, M. A., & Garrow, J. S. (2001). Compared with nibbling, neither gorging nor a morning fast affect short-term energy balance in obese patients in a chamber calorimeter. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity,25(4), 519-528.
- Garrow, J. S., Durrant, M., Blaza, S., Wilkins, D., Royston, P., & Sunkin, S. (1981). The effect of meal frequency and protein concentration on the composition of the weight lost by obese subjects. British Journal of Nutrition,45(01), 5-15.
- Verboeket-Van De Venne, W. P., & Westerterp, K. R. (1993). Frequency of feeding, weight reduction and energy metabolism. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 17(1), 31-36.
- Verboeket-Van De Venne, W. P., Westerterp, K. R., & Kester, A. D. (1993). Effect of the pattern of food intake on human energy metabolism. British Journal of Nutrition, 70(01), 103-115.
- Bortz, W. M., Wroldsen, A., Issekutz Jr, B., & Rodahl, K. (1966). Weight loss and frequency of feeding. New England Journal of Medicine, 274(7), 376-379.
- Finkelstein, B., & Fryer, B. A. (1971). Meal frequency and weight reduction of young women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 24(4), 465-468.
- Cameron, J. D., Cyr, M. J., & Doucet, E. (2010). Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. British Journal of Nutrition, 103(08), 1098-1101.
- Stote, K. S., Baer, D. J., Spears, K., Paul, D. R., Harris, G. K., Rumpler, W. V., ... & Mattson, M. P. (2007). A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(4), 981-988.
- Swindells, Y. E., Holmes, S. A., & Robinson, M. F. (1968). The metabolic response of young women to changes in the frequency of meals. British Journal of Nutrition, 22(04), 667-680.
- Wolfram, G., Kirchgessner, M., Müller, H. L., & Hollomey, S. (1986). Thermogenesis in humans after varying meal time frequency. Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism, 31(2), 88-97.
- Phillips, S. M., & Van Loon, L. J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), S29-S38.
- Norton, L., & Wilson, G. J. (2009). Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis. AgroFood Industry Hi-Tech, 20, 54-57.
- Soeters, M. R., Lammers, N. M., Dubbelhuis, P. F., Ackermans, M., Jonkers-Schuitema, C. F., Fliers, E., ... & Serlie, M. J. (2009). Intermittent fasting does not affect whole-body glucose, lipid, or protein metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(5), 1244-1251.
- Arnal, M. A., Mosoni, L., Boirie, Y., Houlier, M. L., Morin, L., Verdier, E., ... & Mirand, P. P. (2000). Protein feeding pattern does not affect protein retention in young women. The Journal of Nutrition, 130(7), 1700-1704.
- Arnal, M. A., Mosoni, L., Boirie, Y., Houlier, M. L., Morin, L., Verdier, E., ... & Mirand, P. P. (1999). Protein pulse feeding improves protein retention in elderly women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 69(6), 1202-1208.
- Iwao, S., Mori, K., & Sato, Y. (1996). Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 6(5), 265-272.
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