A lot of hype and confusion has been created when it comest to meal frequency and its effect on muscle gain and fat loss. Within this article i will try and address these issues and clear up any lingering doubts.
Now there have been quite a number of papers written on this very topic and it’s really important for us to take a birds eye view of the literature as a whole and come to some sound conclusions. Whether you want to be a coach, a personal trainer or an athlete, the following information might be useful to you in order to get a better perspective over this particular topic.
Meal frequency and body composition:
Now before we go on, its important to understand research on a basic level, as it will aid you in the long term decipher information and hopefully apply it to yourself or clients. With that being said, a recent meta analysis explored this topic of ‘the effects of meal frequency on body composition”
(A meta-analysis is when they take a whole lot of studies on the same topic, collect the data together to get more statistical power and subsequently make a conclusion on the findings.)
Under this they take a look at the effect of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition. They had a total of 15 studies and they combined it. Basically they looked at all the subjects and all the studies combined to see if there was any effect of higher or lower meal frequencies on body composition or weight loss.
Overall what they found when they tried to equalise all studies and taking out any outliers, removing their data set to see if there was just that one study that was causing the effect was that it didn’t seem to have any significant effect ranging from 1 to 5+ meals a day on body composition change, fat free mass retention, body fat loss or even weight loss in general.
The major limitations for this study being Appetite control that is our next subject for discussion.
Meal frequency and Appetite control
With that said we have to consider the next factor that contributes immensely to weight control i.e. appetite control. That is because adherence to a nutrition plan is the most basic thing that will decide the outcome of that particular program.
E.g. If you are eating 3 meals a day but still feel hungry and miserable, the chances are you won’t be able to maintain it for a long period of time and eventually slack off at some point causing you to binge or eat over and above your TDEE.
In that case it would be advisable to increase the frequency of your meals OR look at specifics such as meal volume, protein intake,fibre and water intake. All of which help and aid you in keeping fuller for longer.
But again, with the popularity of Intermittent Fasting over last few years, the idea of eating just 1-2 meals has again created a lot of debate on the effectiveness of low meal frequency (3 meals being taken at the centre of the spectrum, 1 meal being the lowest and 8 meals being the highest)
But again the same pattern continues. If you are someone who can control their appetite or feel satisfied in 1-2 meals, definitely stick to it as long as you hit your macros, but if you are someone who has these crazy binges quite often on the low meal frequency, you should definitely look to make some adjustments in order to make your diet plan a lifestyle and not a to do list because chances are, you will not be able to maintain it for long term.
- It doesn’t matter how many meals you want to eat but staying consistent is important. Changing the eating pattern all the time has shown to be detrimental in reaching your fitness goals. As far as body composition is concerned, there is no to little difference when it comes to meal frequency.
- Between 3-6 Meals, appetite control is more or less the same. There is no advantage (when it comes to hunger) of going below 3 meals per day and no advantage of going above 6 in general.
Again there might be individuals who consider themselves as exceptions i.e. they find better hunger control with more than 6 meals per day or just 2 meals per day. In that case, be instinctive and just go with it.