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3 or 6 Meals a Day? Which is Better for Fat Loss

3 or 6 Meals a Day? Which is Better for Fat Loss

by: Robbie Durand

Meal frequency has been the big debate among prep coaches and all the diet gurus. a hot topic in for many years, especially when dieting. If you ask any personal trainer or anyone that competes, they advocate 5 – 6 meals per day for weight loss in order to keep metabolic rate high. Other reasons for recommending small, frequent meals is to keep small, consistent consumption of protein as opposed to three large doses over the day, and finally, small frequent meals may be better for appetite control, all of which is conducive for fat loss. The other side of the equation for the ‘keep the metabolic fire stoked’ implies that the metabolic rate can become depressed during periods of ‘not eating’. Large-scale survey research does tend to show a correlation between eating frequency and obesity, with the ‘nibbling’ approach inversely correlated with BMI (fat people seem to eat less often, thin people tend to eat more frequently). These studies do not look at muscle mass per se, but at BMI; there does seem to be a trend that more meals per day increases body weight and BMI. There is limited counter-evidence, and is confounded with high activity levels Studies investigating meal frequencies have so far provided conflicting reports, but a recent meta-analysis of all the studies suggest some shocking results. The researchers compared groups of healthy humans eating with different meal frequencies (<3 meals per day and >3 meals per day) and their respective effects on fat loss. The researchers initially identified 327 potentially relevant studies but reduced this to 46 that were screened on the basis of full texts. The researchers found that the mean change in body mass out of the 15 relevant studies was 4.41 ± 0.76 kg. Meal frequency had no effect on body mass changes. The researchers found that the mean change in fat mass out of the 10 relevant studies was 3.55 ± 1.12kg. Meal frequency does not affect the amount of weight lost during dieting phases. It might affect the amount of fat lost and lean mass retained, with higher meal frequencies being more beneficial. However, this is currently very uncertain so personal preference for the meal frequency that leads to the best adherence to overall calorie targets are currently to be recommended. Meal frequency should be a choice that feels most comfortable for the person dieting, some people can eat more frequently whereas other prefer to have their meals spaced out further apart.

Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis, by Schoenfeld, Aragon & Krieger, in Nutrition Reviews (2015)

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