I recently picked up a copy of Tyler English’s Natural Bodybuilding Bible after seeing the author speak at a seminar last month. I had to fly all the way out to Kentucky, and being a personal trainer in West Los Angeles, it’s effing far. Men’s Health teamed up with him, and they always deliver on their products so I thought I’d give it a go. I always forward to the exercise program to critique it worse than an episode of Fashion Disasters on E! I just admitted I watch Fashion Disasters, but I also admitted I’m a pretty tough judge when it comes to exercise programming, which I actually thought was legit. Strumming back to the nutrition portion (my second favorite part of a fitness book), I was really into everything he was saying. He’s big on carbohydrate cycling, balancing macronutrients, caloric control, and…eating 6 meals a day. What. The. Eff??? I was on board until the last recommendation! As I find myself having less and less time, it’s hard for me to even get 3 meals in. This made me ask around as well as research a ton on whether there is any merit to eating 5-6 meals a day vs. 3 squares.
The main proposed benefits of eating MORE frequently are:
- Decreased appetite
- Weight Loss
- Increased metabolism
- Decrease cortisol production
- Blood sugar levels stable
Here’s what the research actually says:
Blood Sugar Levels
Blood sugar levels do show to be more stable in those who eat more frequent meals. THIS study on glucose, insulin, and free fatty acid showed better control levels in a 6 meal a day vs 3 meal a day feeding schedule.
In a research study from the University of Ontario, two groups were observed over an 8 week period. One group was fed a high protein 6 meal a day format and the other a high protein 3 meal a day. Both groups were calorically restricted and macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) remained the same between groups. They found no significant difference in weight loss between the two groups.
In a review of literature by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, they measured studies of subjects consuming between 1 and 17 meals per day. What they found was small meals caused small, short metabolic boosts, and large meals caused larger, longer boosts, and by the end of each day, they balanced out in terms of total calories burned.
In a study by the University of Mizzou, amount of protein in the diet led to more satiation (feeling of fullness) than meal frequency. Meal frequency further had no affect on feelings of fullness. In a study by the University of Kansas, they found 6 meals a day provided less feelings of fullness than 3 meals a day. The research on this one is all over the place, but basically showing that eating more frequently has either a decrease in appetite or no significant difference.
So according to this research I should just eat 3 squares a day?
The psychological aspect on meal patterning is not completely understood. Personally being ranked as the “Fastest Eater on Earth,” the three meal a day works best because I have less chances of overeating. Also, as I explore Mindful Eating techniques into my life and trying to find my way back down to 175 lbs from 200 lbs, I find it easier to sit down and focus on 3 meals a day rather than 6. However, some people can nosh on small meals all day long and not overeat. If this is working FOR YOU and you are still seeing results, don’t change a thing. But, if you’re snacking and still not seeing the scale/physique change, I’d switch to a 3 meal a day frequency.