I still often hear fitness professionals advising people they need to be consuming 6 small meals a day for fat loss and if you don’t, your body will go into “starvation mode” and store calories as fat.
Now I’m not going to judge because at the start of my career I to preached this.
I am pretty sure my pitch was along the lines of “when you don’t eat 6 meals a day your body worries when it’s going to get it’s next food supply so it stores those calories as fat. When you eat 6 meals it’s kind of like shit!! where’s all this food coming from I need to burn it off”.
Which is obviously total bollocks but hey, you live and you learn.
A study by Ohkawara et al. (2013) compared the effect of 3 vs 6 meals per day over the course of 4 days. The calories for the participants were the same despite the number of meals. Protein was 15%, fats 30% and carbs 55%. The participants were a diverse group of men and women which were questioned before and after every meal to assess their appetite.
Participants rated their hunger levels 14% higher eating 6 meals compared to those eating 3 meals.
Now for you to be able to follow any nutritional plan effectively you need to manage your hunger levels.
Your hunger levels are determined by a hormone called ghrelin which sends a signal to your brain informing it that satiety is low and that you need to eat.
The participants following the 6 meals per day didn’t feel the same amount of satisfaction and fullness. Therefor the researches predicted those participants would end up consuming more calories as time went on.
During another study by Munsters and Saris (2012) they found the reverse effects of the popular myth that 6 meals burning more fat. The participants who ate 3 meals per day burned 6% more calories compared to those who ate 6.
I always practice what I preach so in my early years of training I ate 6 meals a day and let me tell you from first hand experience I was hungry most of the time.
Now I have 3 big meals a day and 1 or 2 snacks I feel a lot more satisfied and I’m rarely as hungry.
Also trying to cook and eat 6 meals everyday was such a pain in the ass.
I personally don’t want to spend my entire day prepping and eating food. Don’t get me wrong I love food but there are other things I’d rather do than eat all day.
I much prefer having less frequent but bigger meals that fill me up, than having to stop every 2 hours to try and eat.
Maybe that’s why the participants on 3 meals during Munster and Saris (2012) burned 6% more calories, because they weren’t sitting down to eat as often. (That’s my own speculation I’m unsure of the answer).
So where did this notion come from that you need 6 meals a day to burn fat in the first place?
It stemmed from bodybuilders, bodybuilders are some of the most muscular and leanest people around especially when it’s competition time. Because of this people started to speculate that it’s due to their eating habits why they’re so lean.
Bodybuilders typically ate around 6 meals a day so people took that and ran with it thinking they’d get the same response. However as you know bodybuilders are huge, they burn plenty of calories and most train twice per day.
Bodybuilders need a lot of calories and protein per day so it was more comfortable fitting the amount of calories spread across 6 meals as apposed to cramming them in to 3.
They’re also athletes eating for optimal results so because they train twice per day they need to eat differently to the average person for optimal recovery, performance and growth.
Most of the population aren’t athletes so eating this way isn’t necessary.
We all need to stop trying to copy other peoples nutritional habits, everyones nutrition is specific to them. Specific for their life, family, job, activity level, time of their life, the list goes on.
My eating habits right now suit me and this time of my life, however I am pretty sure they will change umpteen times throughout different parts of my life.
The best meal frequency for burning fat is one that suits you best, that fits your lifestyle, that you enjoy and that keeps you fuller for longer.
You already have a diet and nutritional habits, sure they need work and minor tweaking but they don’t need complete changing.
Make small sustainable changes and eat the frequency that suits you best.
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