Small Meals And Your Metabolism-The Shocking Truth

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I’m sure one of the first things that you’ve heard about weight loss and getting six pack abs is that you need to eat 5-7 small meals a day. The theory is that since you are continually supplying nutrients to your body then you’ll be able to stay hungry and most importantly keep your metabolism high. Not to mention the fact that you’ll keep your blood sugar stable and that’s the main way to lose weight, right? While it sounds good from a distance, I’m not buying it.


Now let me stop myself and say that I enjoy eating 7-10 meals a day. I’m 6’6 and when I’m lean I’m about 235. I need to eat smaller meals so I’m not bloated, I feel full and I’m generally pleasant to be around. Also research shows us that leucine, the amino acid primarily responsible for turning on muscle growth drops about 2 hours after it was eaten. Those are two huge feathers in the cap for eating every 2-3 hours.  I wanted to point out that there’s evidence for and against eating five to seven small meals a day, you need to decide how your body responds best.

That being said, the main positive thrown out when people suggest that you eat every two to hours is the thermic effect of food (TEF). Basically everytime you eat your body will need energy (calories) to break down the food. the TEF is dependent on the food that you eat. Protein is the highest and wiill account for about 20-25%, while carbs will be 5% an fat being around 3%.

So everytime you eat, your body responds according to your food intake. The problem start with our thinking of TEF. If we’re on a 1500 calorie diet, for example, and we eat 300 calories over 5 meals (I just threw out a random calorie number here) or eat 500 calories over the course of three meals the net TEF at the days end is going to be the same. The only difference is going to be the blood sugar spike, either we spike it 3 or 5 times.

We can either give our metabolism a small or big shot. The entire theory of multiple small meals came about years ago with the though process that since you were eating 6 small meals the chances of adding bodyfat would be lower then 3 small meals.

Yes, at 3 small meals you will increase the likelihood of those nutrients being stored as fat greater then those 6 meals but you’ll have a greater chance to also burn more fat with those 3 meals versus those 6.

At the end of the day it comes down to the calories that came in versus the calories that went out and it’s not just a day by day process. I’m still recovering the day after a hard back and hamstring session and my calories will partly go towards that.

As I presented above, individuals differences do apply and everyone’s metabolism is different based on their height, muscle mass and activity level. Just don’t accept the idea that the only way you burn fat is with 6 or 7 small meals.

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Leave A Reply (14 comments so far)

  1. admin
    9 years ago

    Throwing around concept and ideas is fine. While I’ll throw additional research studies into the conversation, we can literally go forever with study point-counterpoint.

    Bellisle F et. al. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. (1997) 77 (Suppl 1):S57-70- should no difference over a 24 hour period in terms of small meals vs large meals

    So high frequency of feedings had no metabolic advantage over lower frequency of feedings. Yes,you can argue that hunger is minimized with smaller meals and I will say, as I have pointed out in the article, that is why I personally favor a more frequent feeding as well as maintaining elevated leucine levels.


    When we look at the study that you mentioned it should of slapped us in the face that 2 meals were compared to 6 meals. How fair is that? It just isn’t real. When you look at the chance that a whole food meal may maintain a anabolic state for around 4-5 hours you see that limiting one group to two meals per day isn’t realistic.

    You also look at the low frequency group that was giving a liquid (rapid digesting) protein drink. They were giving an amount of protein that couldn’t hold up to the grind of the study. That also set them up for failure.

    So that study was flawed, to say the least.

    Here’s some more evidence that more isn’t better

    Thermogenesis in humans after varying meal time frequency

    Wolfram G et al

    “The results demonstrate that the meal frequency did not influence the energy balance”

    We give our metabolism too much credit. There’s no way that we’re going to be in an insanely catabolic state if we have three meals vs six meal. We’re not going to lose muscle mass if we’ve missed a meal, our body doesn’t instantly pull amino acids from muscle tissue.

    I’m a huge bodybuilding fan but we’ve been lied to for awhile and all of us are running to have a shake should we not eat every 2 hours.

  2. John
    9 years ago

    Hi Jimmy,
    Well done for raising the issue – the 6-7 meals a day pattern shouldn’t be the “one size fits all” mantra as it seems to have become. So many of the studies people cite are with very small numbers, and many have been financed by the supplement industry.

    Even people of the same height, weight, diet and exercise patterns do not have the same metabolic patterns – and hence their body shapes and strength are not identical. There is no single “perfect” pattern of food intake!

    The daily caloric levels are the ultimate key if the total is split fairly evenly through the day’s meals – whether that be four or six – and there is not a big surplus when energy expenditure is taken into account … and a proper and well-thought out exercise program is in place.

    Thanks for making the case clearly – it’s about time somebody raised the issue!
    Best wishes,

  3. Steve Long
    9 years ago

    One of the main advantages of eating small meals more often for me and my clients is that when you are eating often you tend to overeat less because you never get starved. Also, if you can only absorb so much protein per meal. How are you going to get enough protein (or fruits and veggies for that matter) per day in only 3 sittings? I don’t have studies to post, just personal experience with hundreds of clients, but I’m pretty sure eating less more often is the way to go. Thanks for your time Jimmy, I love you sites and articles.

  4. Michael Cherry
    9 years ago

    hey Jimmy,
    I can’t say whether you are right or wrong.

    But I will say for me 3 meals a day works better then 5-6 small meals
    Based on my last year of training:
    I have been back and forth on this trying both (3 mos each) and I lose more weight and body fat (approx 25%) on 3 meals a day with a late night protein shake then with 5-6 small meals.

    I also respond better when I maintain a 40/30/30 pro/carb fat ratio and have some carbs before bed.

    Thanks for your continued research into all things muscle building/fat loss

  5. Diane
    9 years ago

    It’s also important to consider what works for each individual. Eating often means smaller meals, and less likely to feel full each time. If you’re not full after a meal, it is more tempting to keep eating, so it’s important to consider the personality. That effect of burning more by eating often may be ruined by temptation. Does that make sense?

  6. Austin
    9 years ago

    Ive got a few of my own ideas but more than that since im not as smart when it comes to jimmy (probably) nor other personal trainers i am fairly good at anylizing material….what ever the info what ever the topic its still gotta make sense. so a few of the responses didnt read them all said things like “This study shows, or that study shows,….bla bla studys are fine but more often than not they are bias.. if i own a Pork farm and i pay the FDA money to do a study on pork to see how much worse or better it is in comparison to other meats….guess what ill flip a coin here and if its heads i win but if its tails you lose. get my drift. so if you didnt do the study and you dont know how the study was conducted then maybe its not such a good argument. im not going to agree or disagree i think jimmy makes a solid point it depends. I will say that if a person likes to ad sugary stuff to their diet like pop and sugar tea and cookies and such i would highly recommend going to agave. its good to me. i really like it. and the glycemic index is lower than any other natural sweetner i know of. fake sugars are no nos regaurdless. so theres my tid bit.

  7. Linda
    9 years ago

    I go by hunger. I like eating 6 times a day but if I don’t need to I don’t. Jack Lalanne says to eat three times a day and no snacking between meals so I think the point is to listen to your body and don’t eat 6 times a day whether you need to or not.

  8. Mike T Nelson
    9 years ago


    What data were you looking at that stated leucine levels dropped after only 2 hours?

    The more recent data I\’ve seen showed that leucine levels stayed elevated LONGER than 2 hours, but protein synthesis started to DROP despite higher leucine levels. These data would actually point to a greater effect of bigger, farther spaced out meals (if the acute data translates into chronic effects, which is NOT always true). Let the levels drop before spiking them up again vs keeping them elevated constantly. This fits in nicely with \"newer\" thinking about physiology—variability is important.

    Mike T Nelson
    PhD(c), CSCS

  9. admin
    9 years ago

    Work by both Kimball et al and Bohe et al have shown that the duration of maximum protein synthesis by both leucine or EAA lasts approximately 2 hours in humans. If recent research has gone out that MPS is longer than 2 hours I’d love to see it. As far as your thoughts on letting them spike vs keeping it constantly elevated, we don’t know which is better yet. It can be possibly due to reduce intramuscular leucine but it’s all speculation right now. That’s when you take the “person” into account and factor in training intensity, duration, age, muscularity etc etc, you know?

  10. Mike T Nelson
    9 years ago

    “Plasma Leu increased at 45 min and remained elevated through 180 min. MPS peaked at 45–90 min and returned to baseline by 180 min.”

    J. Nutr. (April 29, 2009). doi:10.3945/jn.108.103853

    Nutrient Physiology, Metabolism, and Nutrient-Nutrient Interactions

    The Leucine Content of a Complete Meal Directs Peak Activation but Not Duration of Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Mammalian Target of Rapamycin Signaling in Rats1,2

    Layne E. Norton3,*, Donald K. Layman3, Piyawan Bunpo5, Tracy G. Anthony5, Diego V. Brana4 and Peter J. Garlick3,4

    Which study by Bohe? I believe in that one they did an infusion of EAAs for 6 hours to get a MPS for 2 hours. So you are correct on the MPS for 2 hours, but this was despite a constant infusion!

    Mike T Nelson

  11. Augie
    9 years ago

    Essentially 3 meals vs. 6-7 isn’t going to make a big difference with your metabolic rate. However from a practicality perspective more frequent, smaller meals tend to work better. I take in about 3,000 cals/day and I’d hate to get those in three 1,000 cal meals. I’d feel like crap afterward.

  12. Sebbie
    9 years ago

    Dude, thanx for the article. Gotta say everybody skipped one thing you were trying to say – experiment and see what works best on you.

    I tried both approaches and never got really satisfied until I got annoyed and forgot about those points. Then as I left science aside, I started having more fun, the time I wasn’t spending reading studies I was using it moving my butt. I ended up eating about 4 meals/day just coz I enjoy it and just only watch protein intake. I don’t care about carbs or fats.

    And surprise… Did I start training harder or else. Dont know but I haven’t been that lean in over 10 years, feel greater energy and everything feels quite easy. 😉

  13. admin
    9 years ago

    That’s the big thing. Everyone looks for one diet yet dieting is really about experimenting and seeing what works for you.

  14. Chris
    9 years ago

    Martin Berkhan has been saying the same stuff for ages and got tons of clients + competitors getting great results with three meals a day…so this aint nothing new…but it’s good you brought it up because a lot of folks just dont know this

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