How Many Meals a Day? The truth about Meal frequency and metabolism
You’ve probably heard that eating frequently boosts your metabolism and therefore encourages weight loss. Spoiler: this is a myth. Let’s see why.
Does Eating More Smaller Meals Encourage Faster Metabolism?
It is a fact that your body burns calories every time you are digesting a meal due to the thermic effect of food (TEF). However, saying that eating more often boosts your metabolism is a myth.
The TEF is related to the total number of calories being consumed, not the number of meals. Whether you eat 3 normal meals or 6 smaller meals you’re getting pretty much the same net thermic effect. We tend to say that it’s around 10% of your total calorie intake.
Several studies have indeed proven that meal frequency doesn’t have any impact on the metabolic rate. Therefore, there is no correlation between the number of meals you eat and the energy required to digest them.
Quite simply when it comes to fat loss, muscle building or maintenance, what you eat and how much you eat are far more important than how many meals you have per day. Focus on meeting your nutritional needs instead of counting your meals.
So How to Figure Out How Many Meals You Should Have Per Day?
It really depends on your appetite, your digestion and your lifestyle.
You might prefer eating smaller meals more often if:
You find yourself hungry every few hours. In that case you might want to have a small mid-morning and mid-afternoon meal in addition to your breakfast, lunch and dinner.
You have long and active days. For instance if you’re a nurse and on your feet all day every day then you might benefit from the smaller meals approach.
You’re trying to gain weight and are in a calorie surplus but struggle to eat big meals then you should spread your calories between 6 smaller meals.
You’re an athlete with specific needs then of course your meals are going to be planned around your schedule and you’ll most likely eat at least 5 times a day.
You will be better off eating 3 “larger” meals per day if:
A small meal leaves you unsatisfied and makes you think about food all day. This can happen if you’re on a diet.
You don’t have time to sit down and eat more than 3 times per day
You have digestive issues: taking a long break between each meal can help you reduce them by making your digestive system work less frequently.
As you’ve probably understood by now, there is no universal answer. Everyone is different but one thing is sure: eating more often will not help you lose weight by burning more calories. The ideal number of meals is the one that you can stick to most days and that allows you to meet your needs.