Meal Frequency – How Many Times You Should Eat in a Day | NUTRITION
Meal frequency is a topic that is often debated on by fitness gurus and fanatics. Specific purposes like building muscle, losing fat, and increasing strength all require a specific number of meals per day. Is this true?
Well, there are many individuals that do eat every 2-3 hours, or eat within a small window of time, or even only once per day! Others meanwhile, do something in between.
So, how many times should you really eat in a day?
In one of our previous post, we discussed the importance of eating regular meals. But to answer today’s question, we’ll take a look at a few studies that examined some of the claims about meal frequency we commonly know about. Through these studies, we’ll get to determine how often you should really eat to achieve your goals!
Meal Myth 1: Eating 5-6 Small Meals per Day Promotes Weight Loss
Eating 5-6 small meals in a day is general knowledge in the fitness world. It’s known to help achieve weight loss goals faster. It’s all too good to be true, right? Several studies have been conducted to shed light on this matter.
According to one particular, early study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, there was no evidence that meal frequency can speed up the rate of fat loss. This study was performed in participants who were overweight and obese.
It’s important to note however, that when daily calorie intake was matched, there was no difference in weight loss between those who eat less meals and those who ate more in a day.
The Real Deal
The number of times you eat per day doesn't have an effect on weight loss or weight maintenance if calorie intake is not altered at all. This may not make sense now, but we’ll get more into it later.
Your focus now is to consume fewer calories than your body is using up to achieve weight loss, and not to just count the number of meals you are actually consuming, which leads us to the next, related myth.
Meal Myth 2: Eating More Frequently Increases Metabolism
Yes, we often hear that we should be eating 5-6 small meals a day with protein in each because apparently this increases our metabolism. But is it true?
The short answer is no. There is no actual research that says eating more often helps to increase your metabolism. To first understand this, I think it is important to first explain what 'metabolism' means.
Basically, the word metabolism simply means the process in which your body breaks down nutrients and uses them. A 'fast' metabolism means your body does this quickly, a 'slow' metabolism means this takes a bit longer.
Meal frequency cannot really deter the speed at which your body utilises the food you just ate. In fact, a 1993 study concluded that feeding frequency had no significant effect on the body’s metabolic rate.
The Real Deal
If you start putting emphasis on food timing first, eating can actually become detrimental and may lead to self-sabotaging. Think of the food as your foundation, and instead, use 'food timing' as a tool to help build the rest of your house. Once you have this under control, you can start looking into optimal food timing.
But I do still usually get my clients eating 5 times a day.the reason being is that it can keep you full and satisfied and stop you looking for little snacks between meals to help regulate calorie intake!
Meal Myth 3: More Meals Boosts Muscle Growth
It’s believed that the optimal daily meal frequency is 3-5 meals, with protein intake evenly distributed, to most effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis rates and thus, boost muscle growth. This is backed by a 2011 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. However, the study was not done in athletes who regularly lift weights.
To really determine whether frequent meals has an effect on muscle growth, a study should be done on regularly, physically active individuals. A study at the Nagoya University in Japan, did so in 1996.
Researchers from Japan investigated the effects of meal frequency and muscle mass in physically active individuals. They found out that there was greater muscle retention for participants who ate 6 meals a day compared to those who only ate 2 meals per day.
The Real Deal
I try to emphasize that the first step is to actually be able to eat healthy food throughout the day to increase your health and energy. If you can’t do this step, or struggle with this, don't worry about food timing just yet, as the actual food is the most essential part.
Protein, in particular, throughout the day helps to sustain energy as well, and is perfect to have both pre and post workout to enhance muscle retention and recovery.
The Truth About Meal Frequency
So if meal frequency doesn’t affect weight loss, then why does my client still eat 5 times a day? There are several, valid answers:
To simply make sure they eat when they are hungry,
Stop when they are full, and
To ensure they continuously have food prepared
If they have regular meals and snacks that they have prepared and packed beforehand, they are less likely to get hungry and snack on other food. It also helps regulate blood sugar levels to keep energy stable throughout the day and stop that 3pm energy slump which often leads to chocolate, sugar of coffee binges, too.
So how often ideally?
For the average person, a 12 hour eating window is ideal. This means if your first meal is at 8am, make sure your last one is finished by 8pm. This allows a 12 hour 'fast' which give the digestive system time to rest. This eating window for some can be anywhere from 6-12 hours depending on circumstances. Meals are then spread out between those hours.
I generally recommend spreading out carbohydrates and fats evenly, and have protein in 3-5 of these meals. In some cases, for example body building, this may be different. For the average person however, this works well to keep full and satisfied, and have stable energy levels.
Conclusion - Get Help from a Qualified Nutritionist
Create a diet plan and practice meal prep once a week. Personalized diet plans are available everywhere. You can even download one from the Internet! However, it's best to get your own plan from a registered dietitian, doctor, or qualified nutritionist.
The problem with many diet plans readily available is that they come from “diet coaches” and "experts" with no real health or nutrition qualifications. As with any major lifestyle or diet change, you should consult a qualified individual before starting a weight-loss program or drastically changing your diet.
At Aussie Supps Nutrition Hub, we have an in-house qualified nutritionist that can provide you with a healthy diet plan that's personalized to your body and goals.
We use the principle of calories for all our meal plans, with some clients tracking, but most clients using simple serving sizes instead! Meaning you get to pick and choose foods you like and enjoy, but without having to track it all every day!
Remember, if your goal is to lose weight, your health matters more than a number on a scale. It's always important to maintain a holistic approach to weight loss. It should also include physical activity, stress management, quality sleep, and other important factors, such as hormones and medical issues.
For bookings and more info, check out our Contact Us page, chat with us on Facebook, or email us at email@example.com.
1. The effect of meal frequency and protein concentration on the composition of the weight lost by obese subjects
2. Frequency of feeding, weight reduction and energy metabolism
3. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation
4. Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers