Optimal Meal Frequency

Rule-2Almost a year ago, I wrote a post titled “The Top 5 Nutritional Myths.”

If you haven’t read it yet, it’s a doozy.

If you know me or have been reading this blog for quite some time, you’d know that one of the things I most hate about the fitness industry is the perpetual amount of misinformation that continues to circulate, no matter how many times proven incorrect.

One of the biggest myths out there is that in order to burn more body fat, we should all eat 6 small(er) meals per day, as opposed to 3 big(ger) ones.

The logic behind this is that since there is a “thermic effect” to eating – also know as Specific Dynamic Action (SDA) – you can increase your metabolism just by eating more often throughout the day.

Sounds legit, right?

Except that it’s not.

Being that it’s 2016 and the scientific community has studied human metabolism for quite some time now, I took some time to do some research on this topic instead of listening to the local bros at the gym.

In 1997 (1) and 2010 (2), the British Journal of Nutrition conducted studies on meal frequency and it’s effect on energy balance and metabolism.

In the first study, they concluded that with the exception of just one case, that “there is no evidence that weight loss on hypo-energetic regimens (fancy word for low calorie diet) is altered by meal frequency;” and “We conclude that any effects of meal pattern on the regulation of body weight are likely to be mediated through effects on the food intake side of the energy balance equation.”

In the second study they were a little more blunt about it: “We conclude that increasing meal frequency does not promote greater body weight loss.”

Another study (3) by The Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition came to the same conclusion: “Most of the existing research fails to support the effectiveness of increased meal frequency on the thermic effect of food, resting metabolic rate, and total energy expenditure.”

In layman’s terms: 

Eating more frequently throughout the day doesn’t do a damn thing for your metabolism; OVERALL CALORIES CONSUMED in relation to energy expenditure is the determining factor in weight loss.

Eating more often may, in fact, promote weigh GAIN.

A study (4)  by Syracuse University’s Department of Exercise Science found that people who eat more often throughout the day have have higher blood glucose levels.

While those who eat larger meals less often may have larger blood glucose “spikes,” their overall levels are much lower.

Eating frequently throughout the day may also INCREASE hunger.

A study (5)  conducted by Maastricht University’s Department of Human Biology, Nutrition, and Toxicology Research Institute found that because of the decrease in overall blood glucose levels in those who ate less often, subjects reported an improvement in satiety after meals and reduced hunger throughout the day.

I can tell you from personal experience that I have come to the same conclusion.

When I used to eat 5-6 smaller meals per day, I was ALWAYS hungry.

Once I switched to 3-4 larger meals per day, I noticed a significant and immediate increase in satiety throughout the day.

Now I know why—and so do you!

Most bodybuilders and athletes need to eat an extraordinary amount of calories throughout the day; that is the main reason they eat so regularly and often —because it’s easier to eat more that way!

Unless you intentionally want to add muscle and size (gainz) to your frame, I would avoid eating every 2-3 hours.

Lastly, eating less frequently has many well studied and documented health benefits.

I will do a separate post on this in the future, but strategic meal skipping, or Intermittent Fasting, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, stress resistance, and life span (6).

It’s also a good idea to give your gut a break from time to time.

The various mechanisms involved in proper digestion, nutrient absorption, and elimination need time do do their job and replenish for the next meal.

If you spend the entire day eating, you dilute this process and hinder your body’s ability to digest food properly.

The Takeaway:

Meal frequency is nothing more than a matter of personal preference.

The quality of food you eat and the overall amount of calories consumed in relation to energy expenditure are much more important in regards to weight loss.

The vast majority of people will feel more satiated eating 3 square meals throughout the day, as opposed to 6 small(er) meals.

They will also experience lower blood glucose levels and a steadier stream of energy.


Major Key Alert:

The fitness industry has made billions in the sales of protein shakes and bars by perpetuating this “6 meals per day” myth.

No one with a family and/or full time job can eat that many times per day without relying on supplements.

Unfortunately, personal trainers and so called health and fitness “experts” haven’t done a great job setting the record straight; some have even furthered this misinformation along themselves.

My advice:

Eat real food when you are hungry. 

Stop when satisfied. 

Repeat for life. 

Bless up! 


Author: J.J.Valdivia

I have worked in the health and fitness industry for a decade. Through my personal work with clients, and my writing, I strive to help others become more well-rounded human beings, so that they may thrive in all areas of their lives.

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