When it comes to setting up your weight loss or muscle building diet and figuring out how many meals you should eat per day, there’s 1 common tip that you’ve definitely heard before.
And that tip is that you should eat 5 or 6 small meals per day (once every 2-3 hours) instead of the more typical diet setup of 3 large meals.
The supposed reasoning for this magical meal frequency is that it will “speed up your metabolism” and cause all sorts of other benefits that will directly cause weight loss to be easier, better and faster. Plus, eating like this would also help prevent fat gain and help with building muscle.
And you probably also heard that not eating 5-6 smaller meals would somehow slow down your metabolism or cause fat gain or do all kinds of other things that would negatively impact your ability to lose fat or build muscle. Right?
Well, here’s a funny thing about that. It’s all bullshit. Every single word of it.
And That’s Scientifically Proven Bullshit, I Might Add
I kid you not. A ton of studies and research have been done over the last couple of years looking specifically at meal frequency and whether or not scheduling your meals a certain way has more benefits than other ways. The results? There is absolutely nothing showing any sort of significant benefit whatsoever as far as “speeding up your metabolism” or any similar voodoo goes.
As long as your total calorie and nutrient intake is what it needs to be at the end of the day, how many meals you eat or how frequently you eat them really doesn’t matter at all. And the research proves it.
It doesn’t matter if you ate 5-6 small meals or 3-4 big ones. Metabolisms didn’t magically speed up or slow down. Fat wasn’t gained or lost any faster or easier. Muscle wasn’t built any differently. At the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter. Eat frequently or infrequently, eat big meals or small meals… it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever with all else (like total calorie intake) being equal.
So, if you are someone who believed this (don’t feel bad, I did too, and some of the articles I wrote for this site 10 years ago used to contain that recommendation), and you have been forced into eating every 2-3 hours even though it’s inconvenient for you, or eating 5-6 small meals per day even though you’d prefer to eat 3-4 bigger ones, or you have in some way adjusted your diet or your life to get benefits that you now know don’t actually exist… stop.
It won’t directly hurt your results in any way. You’ll still lose fat just the same. You’ll still build muscle just the same. You’ll still get your body to do whatever you want it to do just the same. It’s now a scientifically proven fact.
So Then, How Many Meals Should We Eat Per Day?
However, before you make any changes to your diet, you may have noticed my use of the word “directly” in the paragraph above. And the reason for that is because there are some indirect effects a certain meal frequency can have on certain people. Let me explain…
Let’s say you are a woman who is looking to lose a few pounds. Based on your current height/weight, activity level and genetics, it’s very possible that your calorie intake will need to be between 1200 – 2000 calories per day.
Now, let’s say you are a man looking to build muscle. Based on your current height/weight, activity level and genetics, it’s very possible that your calorie intake will need to be between 3000 – 4000 calories per day.
When Less Frequency Is Better
Now, if the woman in our first example (who has a daily calorie intake between 1200-2000) tried to eat 6 small meals per day, each meal would contain between 200-300 calories. That’s NOTHING. You’ll never feel full. You’ll never feel satisfied. You’ll always be hungry. You’ll always be checking the clock waiting for the next “meal” to come.
When your calorie intake is fairly low (which is typical for many women with any goal, and many men looking to lose weight), trying to eat 5-6 meals a day is borderline torture.
When More Frequency Is Better
On the other hand, let’s look at the guy in our second example. With a daily calorie intake between 3000-4000, trying to eat 6 small meals a day would result in 500-600 calorie meals, which sounds perfect. For someone with a higher calorie intake, a higher meal frequency makes sense. Especially when you consider what would happen if they tried to eat only 3 meals a day.
Each meal would be over 1000 calories each, and that’s pretty crazy and hard to actually pull off on a daily basis without exploding.
It All Depends On What’s Best For YOU!
So, as you can see, depending on your calorie intake (which is dependent on your gender, height, weight, activity level, genetics and goals), eating 5-6 small meals per day CAN be the right thing to do for some. For others, it would just cause too many tiny meals that would drive most people insane (and probably lead to them eating when they shouldn’t).
Similarly, 3-4 larger meals might be perfect for some, but gut-bustingly hard for others.
And for the people who have an average calorie intake that’s right in the middle (not too high, not too low), it’s really just a matter of personal preference and doing what’s easier and more convenient for you. If that’s 5-6 small meals or 3-4 bigger ones, that’s totally up to you.
However, no matter what your meal frequency ends up being in any of the above cases, it’s not going to make any difference in terms of the various voodoo I mentioned earlier. It won’t speed up or slow down your metabolism. It won’t cause you to lose fat or build muscle any slower.
The only thing you need to care about when it comes to how many meals to eat per day is doing whatever is more likely for you to stick to comfortably. You know, whatever fits your personal eating preferences and life.
Because in the end, setting up a proper diet that contains the right total amount of calories and nutrients and THEN sticking to it is all that truly matters. So, how ever many meals will make you more likely to stick to your diet… THAT’S how many meals you should eat a day.
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