Before going on to read this let me emphasis that with diet, each individual is different to the next. This article looks at research based on the majority of results and does NOT prove that one method of varying meal frequency over the other is better, but it shows what the evidence says about the two and that neither one is better than the other but both can be manipulated to suit each person’s different preferences, with diet control and goals.
Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance
Why Not Fill Out Your Own Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance
How Many Meals Should You Be Eating Per Day?
The answer would be considerably influenced by your goals e.g. bulking or cutting. However there is no evidence to suggest that the advice of eating every 2-3 hours is better and will give you better results. That is a myth. Yes eating every 2-3 hours for guys on a bulking diet will be advantages to them as getting the necessary calories in may be difficult if they are only eating 3-4 meals a day instead of 5, 6, or 7 meals a day.
We all have come to believe that eating 6, 7, 8, or 9 meals a day is far superior to just eating anything smaller than 6 meals a day when trying to achieve your ideal physique, when in reality the only actual benefit to eating this many times a day is to suppress someone’s hunger.
I’m not saying this is wrong but that there is no evidence to show this benefits your physique any more than eating less but slightly larger meals during the day. It is massively important that you get the right macro nutrients for your body whether it be eating over your calorie maintenance to bulk or under to cut weight. There is nothing wrong with eating more than 3-4 meals a day but like I mentioned in the opening paragraph it is the importance of meal frequency, and the evidence suggests that it does not have or play a greater importance than eating fewer meals during the day so long as the macro nutrients are being consumed to suit your physique goals.
In a study undertaken in 1197 (Meal frequency and energy balance), it found that there were no effects of varying meal frequency on weight loss or metabolic rate. No increase in metabolic rate, no increase in weight loss, no nothing. They concluded that earlier studies finding an effect of meal frequency on weight gain (or loss) had more to do with changes in appetite or food intake, not from a direct impact on metabolic rate.
If we were to believe the common belief that a 20-30 g dose of protein yields a maximal anabolic effect, then it follows that any excess beyond this dose would be wasted. On the contrary, the body is smarter than that. Further evidence shows this in a study undertaken by Arnal and colleagues who conducted a 14-day trial, and found no difference in fat-free mass or nitrogen retention between consuming 79% of the day’s protein needs (roughly 54 g) in one meal, versus the same amount spread across four meals.
If you are eating the same amount of macro nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats) there is no evidence to suggest varying meal frequency has any effect on weight gain or weight loss e.g. having more than 3-4 meals a day.
Also based on the available evidence, it is not true to believe the body can only utilise certain amounts of protein in one sitting. Studies examining short-term effects have provided hints towards what might be an optimal protein dose for maximising anabolism, but tests conducted over longer periods haven’t supported this idea. This further shows the lack of importance for meal frequency.
So, is there a limit to how much protein per meal can be effectively used? Yes there is, but this limit is likely similar to the amount that’s maximally effective in an entire day.
This evidence is not condemning spreading meals throughout the day. I for example prefer to get 6 meals in a day excluding post workout protein and find this works best for me. Trial and error for your own body and the different goals you have throughout the year will allow you to find what works best for you.
Bellisle F et. al. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. (1997) 77 (Suppl 1):S57-70.
Lyle McDonald – Talking about research paper
Campbell B, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8.
Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. 2004 Jan;22(1):65-79.
Is there a limit to how much protein the body can use in a single meal? Alan Aragon
Arnal MA, et al. Protein feeding pattern does not affect protein retention in young women. J Nutr. 2000 Jul;130(7):1700-4.
The Truth About Meal Frequency: You Don’t Need to Eat Every 2-3 Hours -Slyvon Blanco