We’ve all probably read or heard somewhere that if you’re trying to boost your metabolism, lose weight, and get in shape that you should ditch the decades’ old practice of eating three meals per day and start eating much smaller, much more frequent meals throughout the day.
(The most commonly recommended number is six meals a day – small ones, of course.) Many of us are unclear about how or why this is supposed to help us reach our goals. How do we know it will help us reach our goals at all? Let’s take a look at the facts and see if we can’t find out.
The general idea we commonly hear presented to back up the recommendation for eating six smaller, more frequent meals a day is this. Supposedly doing this helps keep the metabolic fires burning, resulting in more fat being burned and more pounds ultimately lost. It is also supposed to help keep blood sugar levels even, thus reducing food cravings. That revolves around a little concept called the thermic effect of food (or TEF), which is an essential factor in assessing what your metabolic rate will be for a given period.
TEF refers to the small spike in metabolism that occurs each time you sit down and consume a meal, whether it’s big or small. All foods cost your body to expend energy just through the simple act of digesting and processing them, and this process is where the metabolic spike comes from. Different types of food require different amounts of energy to process them. (Proteins require the most energy to digest, while fats and carbohydrates require the least, which is one of several reasons why a diet high in protein and low in carbs or fats is recommended for loss of body fat.)
So a 2000 calorie diet consumed in 6 or 7 sittings is not going to amount to more energy expended through TEF than it would if it were consumed over three sessions. That makes some of what is commonly believed about eating more frequent meals a myth.
However, there are other benefits to eating smaller, more frequent meals. It helps keep blood sugar levels more even, which can help you maintain a more consistent energy level.
It’s a more efficient way to tackle diets that require the consumption of an unusually high number of calories, such as the ones that bodybuilders or athletes need to maintain their weights and energy levels. However, making time to sit down that many times a day is often inconvenient for the average person. If this is the case, stick with three meals a day, or whatever works best for you.
When it comes to maintaining optimal fat burning levels, the focus is more effectively placed on the types of food consumed, as previously mentioned. Make sure that, however, many meals a day you consume, that protein intake is emphasized over that of fats, carbs, or sugars.