Do Frequent Meals Raise Your Metabolism?


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Many people say that you should eat every 2 or 3 hours to “keep your metabolic rate high” and to “enhance fat loss”.

But does your metabolism really go up when you split the same amount of food into regular mini-meals?

In this report, we examine the scientific literature to find out whether this claim is true or not. Prepare to be surprised!

Grab “Do Frequent Meals Raise Your Metabolism?” below:

 

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Conveniently download this 24-page science report. Contains links to extra reading materials and scientific references.

Topics covered in this report:

  1. A typical scenario to consider
  2. The risks of giving blanket advice
  3. The meal frequency dilemma
  4. What do intervention studies say?
  5. More recent evidence
  6. Back to the basics of metabolism
  7. The 24-hour metabolic formula
  8. Basal metabolic rate and fat-free mass go hand-in-hand
  9. Can increasing meal frequency raise your basal metabolic rate?
  10. What happens to your metabolism when you skip meals?
  11. Understanding the thermic effect of food
  12. Can frequent meals increase the thermic effect of food?
  13. Other supporting evidence
  14. Your key takeaways
  15. Learn more
  16. References and resources

 

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The-Health-Sciences-Academy-Alejandra-Ruani-small1-right
Alex Ruani leads the research division at The Health Sciences Academy, where she and her team make sense of complex scientific literature and translate it into easy-to-understand practical concepts for students. She is a Harvard-trained scientific researcher who specialises in cravings and appetite neurobiology, nutrition biochemistry, and nutrigenomics. Besides investigating and teaching the latest advances in health and nutrition science, Alex makes it easier to be smarter with her free Science Catch-ups every other Thursday.
Connect with Alex via email.


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35 Comments

  • Lisa Scott

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Very interesting!! Thank you for this, I was always under the assumption that eating small amounts often would help with weight loss and that skipping breakfast was not good!!!

  • Alan

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Hi Alex, very interesting report with some great source material referenced, thank you.

    I have a couple of observations and comments though, and this is from a non biased perspective of someone very interested in fitness and nutrition rather than a practitioner or trainer.

    Are there really people that believe that changing meal frequency alone will lead to weight loss??!! Surely not, and if your personal trainer is telling you that they are most probably only measuring your BMI and weight as well and you should ditch them immediately and go to someone who knows what they are talking about.

    What I would find really interesting is if a change in meal frequency, composition of each meal, supplementation and a carefully designed training programme based around the meal plan would assist with raising your metabolism or, is it like most things, so personal to the individuals journey that any large scale study would be inconclusive?

    You mentioned a perceived persistent belief in bodybuilding circles. Could that be because, at the upper levels of “non assisted” bodybuilding it takes a lot of discipline, dedication and “cause and effect” testing of you body to find out what works for you and meal frequency forms part of an overall integrated plan?

    I would also be interested to hear your views on whether there may be a placebo affect to an individual if they have embarked on a well structured weight loss programme, which includes more frequent meals and they start seeing some excellent results?

    Look forward to your comments

    Alan

    • Sam

      Reply Reply February 19, 2015

      What a great read!

      I am a PT and we measure body composition at our gym and most of the trainers still prescribe splitting your food into several mini meals saying it speeds up your metabolism and fat loss.

      It’s one of those things that isn’t going away.

      I’m printing this PDF and will hang it on the wall of our body comp office!!!!!

      • Alex

        Reply Reply February 19, 2015

        Sam – great idea! :-)

    • Sam

      Reply Reply February 19, 2015

      Alan you make good points and from someone who is in this circle the answer is yes most trainers still believe this, including those with great credentials and do full body comp analyses including body fat, muscle mass, etc. with calipers ad so on.

      • Alan

        Reply Reply February 19, 2015

        Hi Sam

        Very interesting and thanks for your insiders “insight”!! :-)

        I must admit, since going on my nutrition and fitness journey for the last 6 months I have “cleaned up” my food intake, gone from the traditional 3 to 5/6 meals a day, have doubled my calorific intake, I adjust my carb intake for non training days and have reduced callipered body fat from 16.8 to 11.4 and lost 11lbs. Ive have got visibly leaner and feel much better. This has, of course, been supplemented with a targeted weights programme 5x per week and no cardio.

        I couldn’t imagine going back to 3 meals a day hence the questions about whether there are benefits combined to a “holistic” approach or whether it could just be a placebo affect!!

        Alan

        • Alex

          Reply Reply February 19, 2015

          Alan – thank you for sharing :-) Trainers often confuse “meal timing” with “meal frequency”, which are two very different things. Elite athletes and bodybuilders would usually “time” their meals (with personalised macro grams, ratios, dosages, cals, etc.) around their training sessions to manipulate body composition adaptations or gain a competitive edge, and this is indeed possible. It’s not so much about meal frequency but more about working out the exact timing and intake tactics based on athletic status, metabolic expenditure, training type, intensity, length, volume, frequency, amongst other factors.

          • Tom

            Reply Reply February 19, 2015

            this is perfect, it’s about when/how and not how often.. i’m learning all about meal timing and how to tailor macros etc etc in my advanced sports and exercise nutrition course with you, terrific stuff

            this report is such a treat and having answers like this one definitely puts me ahead of other coaches

            like Jo, I also enjoy geeking out with the extra references, txs!!

  • joseph agba

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    I love your works. It increases my knowledge capacity.

  • Jo Marchant

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Another great read. I mix up my days depending on what I’m doing. Sometimes fewer bigger meals, sometimes more smaller meals and snacks, sometimes a period of fasting. I tend to do what my body feels like it needs that day…but I still make sure I’m not going over total calories. These reports & the course study guides are so easy to read and make the science part fun. I enjoy going off on tangents and reading the extra references and resources. Thanks!

    • Alex

      Reply Reply February 19, 2015

      Jo – great to hear you enjoy exploring the reference materials too!

  • julia woodman

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Thanks for helping to clarify that, but what about energy used from thinking? If I’m learning new stuff for example it seems to burn as many calories as exercising, or do we just put exercising the brain into the overall category of exercise?

  • Laura Sterland

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Hello Alex! Thank you for all that info! I have been struggling with a question and thought maybe you could help….

    Example: If I eat lunch (a normal size and complete meal balance) then don’t eat anything(accept to drink water)until dinner, it’s almost torture to eat anything. I guess this might sound really weird, but if I eat anything on a super empty stomach my whole stomach is in knots and I have to lay down and wait for it to start digesting properly…. Somebody told me to simply make sure I eat more often, but that can get pretty inconvenient… Just was hoping you may have some insight, or maybe I just have a strange gut system! Thank you! :-)

    • Alex

      Reply Reply February 19, 2015

      Laura – digestive symptoms are unique to each person and stomach cramps aren’t pleasant but you can keep a detailed diary to find out exactly which foods, drinks, timings or combinations could trigger them and a gastroenterologist can also help with this and investigate all possible causes. We’ll be touching on gut microbiome next week and more on digestive health soon. In the meantime, have a look at this handy medical resource: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/abdominal-pain-leaflet

  • Claire PT

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    I’m a new reader and the findings in this PDF surprised me I must admit! I will be more careful about advising my gym clients.. they ask way too many questions and assume we know it all but I don’t always have the answer so I stick to what I know or hear other PTs say but I see that we need to be careful. Your courses look fantastic and will consider furthering my studies with you..a very exciting discovery. Tksssss!

  • Changxin Jin

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    I learnt, thank u Alex for this. I don’t need to eat all time ;-)

  • Joumana

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Interesting read. Something I have always wondered about. We are often bombarded with rules regarding our bodies and how to treat it. The answer lies within ourselves. Our bodies have a magical way of teaching us; if we can only learn to listen. Excited to be a part of this course and look forward to upcoming reads :)

  • Gino

    Reply Reply February 19, 2015

    Very interesting. I, as a personal trainer do still prescribe splitting meals up, not for the effect on the metabolism, (that’s taken care of by the exercise), but for two other reasons: 1. Most people are overeaters and it is well established that the body can only use a certain amount of protein, carb and fat in one meal so the overeaters will have more of an opportunity to store and create body fat. Secondly, in order to control blood sugar levels more effectively, given the fact that most people eat too much at one sitting.
    Just my thoughts,
    Gino

    • Ed

      Reply Reply February 19, 2015

      Gino yes I’m learning this in my Advanced Sports&Exercise Nutrion course, such as protein uptake at about 20-30g at a time. Problem with overeaters though is that they can’t stop at small meals and from my experience end up eating 6 large meals. So what’s more important right? Not an easy one when portion control doesnt work for the person. Food for thought!

  • Joolia Cappleman

    Reply Reply February 20, 2015

    Great enlightening article. Thank you. I think people have got very mixed up in there heads between 3 meals a day and 2 snacks and eating 5 or 6 small meals a day. Often the word “small” is expandable!!!!

  • Richie

    Reply Reply February 20, 2015

    Hi Alex I really thought splitting my meals in half from 3 to 6 a day helped me speed up my metabolism
    wow I didn’t realise this wasn’t the case as I lost a nice bit after body fat in the duration I also noticed an increase in appetite, maybe I lost it through. Motivation as I probably increased my workouts also
    great read
    thank you.
    Richie.

  • Lyne

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    Another great read. It’s absolutely great to find out the truth about this one, tks Alex

  • (Katie) Kathryn Stanback

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    WOW, this was very interesting. I have always been told that eating smaller meals through out the day rather than eating 3 large meals was better for you. I am very excited to have this new information. I cannot wait to see what else there is to learn.

  • Liang

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    Hi Alex! Thanks for your articles and great insights!
    I just start the Nutritional Therapy course, but have been trying to eat well due to my coeliac condition.
    I am very interested to know more about fasting and health. I originally from Indonesia and many of my friend fast during Ramadan. I understand about the benefit of fasting but am not sure about not having any liquid too.

    Do you have any advice?

    Many thanks!

  • Natalie

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    Hi Alex an interesting report. A couple of questions. At what point would a client fall into the category of a competitive athlete, where timing, dosing and ratios do come into play?
    Putting to one side the affects of BMR, TEF, EEx, NEAT and CT on body composition. What is your view on a client with diabetes splitting their daily calorific intake into 3 meals a day as opposed to 5-6 meals/snacks?

    • Maria (Research Analyst)

      Reply Reply February 22, 2015

      Thanks, Natalie! For the purposes of sports nutrition, an “athlete” is someone undertaking an intensive structured training programme of over 5 hours weekly. The word “competitive” means that you’re preparing to compete in an event, such as an ultra-marathon, triathlon, team sports tournament, track-and-field athletics competition, etc. Each type of training, sport, intensity and duration has different requirements and desired metabolic adaptations, which our students learn in our Advanced Sports and Exercise Nutritional Advisor. In terms of diabetes (pre-, type 1 and type 2) it’s very important to follow the advice of a medical doctor who if familiar with the person’s condition and can help track their biomarkers. Thanks again for sharing and commenting :-) Maria (Research Analyst)

  • Catriona

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    Read it. It was really helpful, thank you. This kind of ‘common sense’ advice is exactly what I need to work with m clients.

    Very pleased to have decided to enrol with the Health Sciences Academy when I first started to learn about nutrition. Still learning!

    Cat

  • Jane

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    Thank you for this…I have never believed in frequent eating. In fact, I eat when I am hungry. I have always found that if I eat when I am not hungry I eat more all day…. I am so glad to be able to let people know the myth of frequent meals is not supported by evidence. If people would just listen to their bodies they will settle into a habit of eating when their bodies need it.
    Thank you,

    Jane

  • Jane M

    Reply Reply February 23, 2015

    Thanks for the report. I knew that eating more small meals did not increase the BMR but all the information about the other effects on metabolism was very informative also all the comments from other people has given me a new insight. It’s so useful having a report on this laid out in an orderly way with the different points addressed and the science behind it. Thanks again.
    Jane M

  • Alex S

    Reply Reply March 6, 2015

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article! I am a personal trainer and a registered dietitian. I have often told people that it doesn’t really matter if you consume 3 meals + 2 snacks or 6 small meals per day, as long as your total caloric intake doesn’t exceed your desired caloric zone: weight loss, maintenance or gain. Whatever works best for the client. In my experience, I’ve found that 6 small meals can help to control appetite and decrease the sense of anxiety that some dieters experience when embarking on portion control for the first time. I’m curious if the take home message of this article would have been any different if meal composition had also been factored in? With regard to food, if TEF is our best bet for influencing 24EE, would it stand to reason that metabolism may vary if comparing subjects who are consuming high carb, high fat and high protein meals (in all the same circumstances that were looked at for this particular article)? I would love to know your thoughts on this, Alex & Team!

    • Hi Alex – nice to hear you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing! You will want to test your hypothesis by running a couple of scenarios on excel – e.g. 24-hour meal frequency A vs. 24-hour meal frequency B, whereby: 1) the 24-hour caloric intake is the same for A and B, and 2) the 24-hour macronutrient ratio is also the same for A and B (i.e. isometric 24-hour TEF). This way you isolate meal frequency as the only changing factor between A and B, which is what we’re really testing here. Hope this makes sense, Alex! Maria (Research Analyst)

      • Alex S

        Reply Reply March 6, 2015

        As soon as I read your response I said, “duh.” If metabolic rate changed as a result of high protein meal composition, it would be due to the macronutrient distribution and not the frequency. That would be the next question to answer (or one of the next). If frequency doesn’t impact TEF, does meal composition or the addition of known thermogenics have a statistically significant impact? Actually, that sounds like 2 questions. My wheels are turning! Mahalo for your response, Maria!

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