We have all heard this one time and time again but where did the notion of meal frequency come from? Better yet does it actually have any scientific merit for application or is it simply just another fitness faux pas to go along with the long list of other theories without proof?
Well that is why I am here… to dispel the myths of dieting, fat loss and all things nutrition.
So you ask…
- Does 6 meals melt the fat away by stoking the metabolic fire?
- Does eating smaller more frequent meals increase your metabolism?
- Does breakfast really need to be eaten the moment you wake up?
- What happens to your metabolism if you miss a meal?
No wonder people get confused about nutrition, fat loss and how to eat on a daily basis. For something that is inherently quite a simple function we do on a daily basis, food and how we eat it has been over complicated far too often and its time to dispel the myths behind your metabolism and meal frequency once and for all.
The amount of calories you require each day are based on the following attributes:
- The amount of calories you burn from day to day movement (NEAT)
- The amount of calories you burn from digesting & assimilating food (TEF)
- The amount of calories you burn from specified activity (PAL)
- The amount of calories you burn based on your age, sex & height (RMR)
So as you can see, out of the 7 major categories responsible for your daily calorie intake requirements only 1 of them relates to food and the amount of food you eat. Of which, TEF, which refers to the Thermic Effect of Food (how many calories you burn digesting and using that food) only accounts for 10% of total caloric intake for the day, however there are some factors that change this.
Now when we compare that to your BMR/RMR, which equates to approximately 50-70% of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and your NEAT which can vary in excess of 500-2000kcal a day depending on the persons lifestyle, a measly 10% calorie burn from TEF is marginal in comparison to the primary factors for determining metabolic rate.
In a nutshell… the amount of food you eat in a day is not something we can really manipulate all that much and it shouldn’t be over complicated with meal frequency manipulations for the purpose of metabolic enhancement.
TEF – What effects it?
Of the 3 macronutrients protein has the highest thermic effect at 20-35% of calories being eaten are used in the process of digestion and assimilation. Carbohydrates come in 2nd at 5-15% and fats at 0-5% of calories being burned for the calories consumed.
Knowing this, you can see why it may be advantageous to consume a high protein diet during a fat loss phase, however as mentioned before, worrying solely about TEF for the purpose of burning calories is simply micromanaging an issues that shouldn’t be.
And that’s it!
There is realistically only 1 significant factor that effects the thermic effect of food.
Of which despite their being a large variance between protein to carbohydrates and fats, at the end of the day we all average out to approximately 10% of Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT), meaning a person who eats 2000kcal a day is only achieving a 200kcal energy burn via digestion and the meal frequency to achieve those calories has zero impact on metabolic rate.
Whether you eat a macronutrient balanced diet of 3000kcal a day via 6 meals at 500kcal each or 3 large meals at 1000kcal each and the same macronutrients, the effect that food has on manipulating Diet Induced Thermogenesis is zero.
One of the primary determinants for dietary success in improving fat loss or muscle growth is adherence and your ability to remain compliant to your goal.
So instead of micromanaging a diet to fit a theoretical concept with no scientific backing, eat a diet that suits your lifestyle, control your daily energy intake and enjoy the process.
You can not ‘stoke the metabolic fire’ with increased meal frequency.
Glickman, N. “The total specific dynamic action of high protein and high carbohydrate diets on human subjects.” The Journal of Nutrition 36(1) (1948): 41-57. Web.
Halton, Thomas L. and Frank B. Hu. "The Effects Of High Protein Diets On Thermogenesis, Satiety And Weight Loss: A Critical Review". Journal of the American College of Nutrition 23.5 (2004): 373-385. Web.
Cameron, Jameason D., Marie-Josée Cyr, and Éric Doucet. "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 (2009): 1. Web.