You know what I am going to touch on in this blog, just from reading the title, right? We’ve been told time and time again, “Eat 5-7 meals per day because this will help you lose more fat and increase your metabolic rate.” Now although it sounds pretty appealing, there has yet to be any evidence or research supporting this “idea”. In the fitness industry, we have a terrible cycle of “the blind leading the blind”. Kids go up to the guy or gal in the gym that looks the best, with the most ripped physique and muscles, and asks them, “How did you get like that?” Whatever answers that person tells the young kid, that young kid will then go do. Even if he/she were told to go eat grass and dirt for 6 meals per day to build muscle, they would go do it! That’s the problem we have; people believing what they are told, but not going to do the research themselves to ensure that what they were told is actually fact, not fiction.
Now, I am no doctor, but there are many studies that have been done concluding that, “there is no evidence that weight loss on hypoenergetic regimens is altered by meal frequency.” These studies support the fact that meal frequency, or the amount of times you eat per day, does not influence the amount of weight loss you experience. However, it is the total amount of food eaten, not the pattern in which it is ingested, that has a major influence on weight loss and energy balance. There was a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition that found that there was no weight loss difference between dieters who ate their calories in three meals a day versus six meals a day. Another review done in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that there was no real weight loss advantage to eating six meals a day.
Meal frequency hasn’t only been touted as a weight loss advantage, but also that multiple meals helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable, rather than 3 big meals. Also sounds appealing, but still, little science backing this claim up. Hypoglycemia, which is a deficiency of glucose in the bloodstream, has been seen and noted. However, if you are not a diabetic, your body is most likely very efficient at regulating blood sugar all by itself. People don’t believe it, but we can actually go a very long time without eating. If you have ingested a reasonable meal, in terms of caloric intake and fiber, you can likely go 4-5 hours without eating. Nothing dramatic will happen with your blood sugar levels and you certainly won’t experience a hypoglycemic event, assuming that you don’t have a problem with your blood sugar already.
TEF. It stands for the thermic effect of food and you have likely heard of it before. Supporters of meal frequency use TEF as their backbone. The thermic effect of food comes into play every time you eat. For your body to digest the food you recently ingested, it needs energy to do so (calories). The idea is that you burn many more calories per day by eating more meals, since your body is going through the digestion process more frequently. However, the thermic effect of food, only accounts for about 6-10% of your total calories expended; a very minimal amount. The majority of your caloric expenditure will come from your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which accounts for about 70%, and then the energy you expend during physical activity, which accounts for about 20%.
One reason I would definitely support eating 5-7 times per day, is if you have an extremely high caloric intake. If you are eating 5,000 calories per day, I wouldn’t advise eating 2 or 3 meals to get in that many calories. Splitting them up into 5-1,000 calorie meals or 7-714 calorie meals will be much better, most likely not leaving you bloated and tired. If, along with the high calorie intake, you also have a higher protein intake, I would advise splitting your meals up into multiple times per day, as well. Not because you won’t absorb all the protein you eat at the meal, but because you will most likely be stuffed to your gills if you take in 80-100 grams of protein in one meal. This is just my personal preference and advice, but do as you wish; you know your body best!
Now don’t get me twisted, there’s nothing wrong with eating multiple times per day, say, 5-7 times. The problem lies in thinking you are getting an advantage by doing so. Before believing everything you hear, be sure to go out on your own and do some thorough research yourself. Things are constantly changing within the fitness industry, especially the nutrition side. A few years ago, we were told that whole eggs were bad for us because they raised “bad” LDL cholesterol; now we know that’s completely false. Many years ago we were told to stay away from fat due to it’s artery clogging effects; now we know that fat, specifically monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, is essential for life, brain function, and hormone regulation (especially important if you are trying to build muscle and burn fat).
The take home message is this: eat however many times per day that you want; three, five, six, eight… it’s all up to you! But, do remember, fat loss is not governed by multiple feedings; rather, the total amount of calories you eat within the day that is most important. If you eat fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you expend, you will gain weight. If you eat the same amount of calories that you expend, you will maintain your weight. Just basic science and thermodynamics.
Train hard; train smart.
NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, Fourth Edition