You may have heard that some diets recommend eating several small meals throughout the day instead of three larger meals. Some diets boast significant health benefits with eating smaller meals throughout the day. The International Society of Sports Nutrition published their position stand on meal frequency in 2011. Here are the findings:
- Body composition
Increased meal frequency does not play a significant role in decreasing body weight or improving body composition. Studies of overweight and normal weight individuals found that calories consumed in one meal versus three or five meals did not make a difference in body composition. At the end of the day, weight loss or weight gain depends entirely on caloric balance.
- Blood markers of health
Blood pressure, total and LDL cholesterol, and fasting glucose levels significantly decrease with increased meal consumption. Additionally, serum insulin levels are decreased, which may decrease body fat deposition.
Even though there is an increase in thermogenesis and fat utilization with the consumption of smaller, more frequent meals, increasing meal frequency does not statistically elevate resting metabolic rate. However, additional calories are burned in the actual consumption and digestion of additional meals.
- Hunger or satiety
Increased meal frequency does decrease feelings of hunger and, consequently, may result in decreased calories consumed in subsequent meals.
- Protein metabolism
Protein content of meals is more important in preserving muscle mass than the number of meals consumed in a day. Research suggests that skeletal muscle mass preservation is optimized at 20-30 grams of high quality protein or 10-15 grams of essential amino acids, per meal. It is also important to spread protein consumption evenly throughout the day.
La Bounty, et al. (2011) International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 8:4.
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