How many meals a day are necessary to build muscle and lose fat? Scientific evidence shows that having five or more meals a day is a waste of time. This approach won’t boost your metabolism nor help you shed pounds faster. It’s just a myth. But that’s good news. How many hours are you spending weighing your food and counting your macros at every meal? Of course, if you want to consume smaller, more frequent meals because you prefer this approach, go ahead and do it. But you don’t have to.
Meal Frequency and Metabolism
We’ve all heard that eating several small meals a day increases metabolism, reduces hunger, and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. Those who don’t do it will eventually get fat and lose muscle. How many times have you heard or read these things? Research indicates that there’s no significant difference between having small, frequent meals and big meals as long as what you eat fits into your daily macros.
Whether you eat six smaller, more frequent meals or three big meals, your metabolism will stay the same as long as the food you take in fits meets your daily macronutrient and calorie needs.
In other words, how many times you eat a day is a matter of personal choice. However, if your goal is to build muscle, meal timing is critical. Your muscles need a constant flow of protein and other nutrients to grow and recover. But that’s another story. Now we’re talking about meal frequency and metabolism. The health benefits of eating frequent small meals compared to fewer large meals have not been scientifically proven.
Big Meals vs. Small Meals
There is no such thing as optimal meal frequency. The idea that you should eat six meals a day came from a few pieces of information that are quite irrelevant, such as the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
Recent studies have proven the health benefits of intermittent fasting or reduced meal frequency. It seems that eating three big meals that fit into your daily macros is far more beneficial than having frequent, smaller meals. Here are some potential benefits:
- Better appetite control
- Decreased blood pressure
- Higher metabolic rate
- Favorable changes to blood lipids
- Increased production of HGH (human growth hormone)
- Reduction of oxidative stress
- Fewer markers of inflammation
Instead of slowing your metabolism, reduced meal frequency has the opposite effect. It not only increases your metabolic rate and stimulates thermogenesis, but also improves body composition. As a result, you will burn fat more efficiently and enjoy better health. Additionally, you’ll spend less time cooking and eating. Forget about carrying your food everywhere you go and planning your snacks in advance.
Meal Frequency in Bodybuilding
The above statements about meal frequency and metabolism apply to the average person who wants to stay in shape or lose weight. Athletes and bodybuilders should eat at least five times a day and space those meals two or three hours apart.
On the other hand, many health experts claim that eating less frequent meals (as a bodybuilder) helps “re-sensitize” muscle to the anabolic effects of amino acids. This topic has been extensively covered by Lyle McDonald and Layne Norton.
Meal frequency for mass gains is a controversial topic. In general, it’s recommended to take three or four meals plus protein shakes before or after working out. Determine your daily macronutrient and calorie intake, prepare your meals ahead of time, and try different approaches.
When it comes to meal frequency in bodybuilding, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It all depends on what’s best for you.