It’s been several years now since I’ve freed myself from the chains of the flawed belief that I had to feed my body every two or three hours to keep my metabolism stoked and muscles fed. Nevertheless, I still get in heated exchanges with frequent eating zealots every so often.
It’s annoying, for sure, and I’m not one for swaying anyone away from something they feel is working for them. But the point I make with such people isn’t that frequent eating is ineffective.
It has worked for me in the past and it can work well for anyone who enjoys eating every few hours and doesn’t mind the additional time commitment involved with preparing five or six meals each day.
I, however, loathed the time required each week preparing and eating 6 meals every day. I cooked meals in bulk and pre-portioned them, which certainly helped, but it was still an overbearing commitment.
For years I simply viewed this as a necessary evil in order to keep my metabolic engine running in high gear and ensure that my muscles were never without the nutrition they needed to recover and grow. It wasn’t long after I came to terms with the truth that all the effort I was expending towards eating every 2 or 3 hours wasn’t helping to enhance my metabolism or prevent muscle atrophy that I abandoned ship.
It wasn’t enhancing my results and the stress it was placing on my life was entirely unnecessary. This is what I intend to convince you of before the end of this article.
Again, if you enjoy eating frequent meals and it’s working for you, don’t change anything. On the other hand, for those of you struggling with the onerous demands of a frequent eating schedule (like I was), you’re about to be freed from your burdens.
Your diet should be structured around your lifestyle, not the other way around. Never forget that any diet that doesn’t mesh with your lifestyle is destined for failure.
Eating Frequent Meals Does Nothing to Enhance Your Metabolism… Or Fat Loss
It’s interesting how so many health and fitness professionals will parrot a claim as fact that’s incredibly easy to refute with nothing more than a little common sense.
It’s a fact that ingesting calories increases caloric expenditure. This fact alone, though, doesn’t necessarily equate frequent eating with providing greater metabolically-induced caloric expenditure than other eating schedules.
And this is where the flaw in the claim that frequent eating increases one’s metabolic rate can be exposed. While consuming food directly leads to caloric expenditure, the net calories burned via digestion are virtually identical regardless of whether food is ingested six times or two in a given day.
In fact, the number of calories burned is directly tied to the thermogenic effect of the macronutrients consumed. For every 100 calories ingested that come from proteins, approximately 30 calories will be expended digesting them. The thermogenic caloric expenditures per 100 calories consumed for carbohydrates and fats are 8 and 4, respectively.
There are a number of independent studies that have found the claim that eating five or more meals a day enhances caloric expenditure to be completely lacking.
This study found that there were no significant differences measured in body fat changes between those who ate 3 meals per day and those who ate 3 meals and 3 snacks, with each group maintaining the same number of calories.
Then there’s this study that directly contradicts the myth that the body enters starvation mode when not frequently fed. Starvation mode describes the mythical condition advocates of frequent eating describe as the body’s natural metabolic deceleration response after several hours of not being fed.
The researchers discovered no such thing (or unicorns, either). In fact, metabolic rates didn’t just fail to slow after a prolonged period of fasting, they were actually higher among the test subjects after 36 hours of fasting than their metabolic rates measured closer to their previous meals. What was that about starvation mode again?
Then there’s another study that compared the difference of various health markers between those consuming 3 meals per day and those consuming 14. The group eating 3 meals per day had similar or more favorable outcomes on every metric taken: lower glucose, better protein oxidation, superior feelings of satiety after meals, and reduced hunger overall.
Finally, Canadian researchers decided to compare three meals per day to six meals per day, breaking the six feedings into three main meals and three snacks. The results?
There was no significant difference in weight loss, but the people who ate three meals per day were more satisfied and felt less hunger.1
Frequent Eating & Muscle Gains
Eating frequently does nothing to accelerate the metabolism or fat loss in general. But surely consuming protein every couple of hours, keeping the muscles fed with essential amino acids, is beneficial for muscle growth.
It would be; except that it isn’t.
To think that 3 hours after eating a 5 ounce sirloin steak the body has already digested it and assimilated all the essential amino acids is absurd.
The digestive processes required to break proteins down into usable amino acids takes time, sometimes days. Because the digestive efficiency of individuals can vary by significant degrees, the research conducted on digestion rates isn’t exactly straightforward.
Depending on the combination of foods ingested, one’s overall health, and their digestive health in particular, it takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to fully digest red meat. 2
Even faster digesting proteins like eggs, milk, and my favorite whey protein, can take 3-6 hours for digestion and assimilation to occur. And this process is slowed considerably if these proteins are consumed in combination with fibrous foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables.
What you need to know is that it’s highly unlikely for most people, under most conditions, to be at risk of prohibiting muscle growth due to lack of nutrition, provided they’re consuming adequate amounts of protein per day and aren’t fasting for durations greater than 16-24 hours.
I can verify this through personal experience, as well. I’ve experienced significant muscle gains while fasting for 16 hours each and every day.
What I want you to get out of this posting isn’t that you should follow an intermittent fasting diet like I do. Dramatic physique transformations aren’t dependent upon eating frequency.
When it comes to your diet I want you to instead put the emphasis where it belongs.
Eat when it’s most convenient for you, consume an amount of protein that’s sufficient for your body weight, maintain a number of daily calories that’s consistent with your goals, eat clean as often as possible, and stop sweating the inconsequential details.
If you’re interested in learning more about eating less frequently while optimizing fat loss, simply enter your email address in the signup form below to receive instant access to my ebook that explains everything you need to know in perfect detail.
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2 Can The Human Body Digest Red Meat?
3 How Long Does It Take To Digest Meat?
4 Featured Image Credit – You Don’t Need to Eat 6 Times a Day to Stay Lean