One of the more commonly debated topics is whether eating many small meals throughout the day is better for weight loss.
For me, this is one of those details that is extremely small on the scale of importance in this whole fitness and dieting thing.
When you start to worry about meal timing and portion sizes, it should only be done after understanding how to track calories and macros.
Maybe you heard from some “expert” out on Internetland that you need to eat small meals to accelerate the fat burning process.
Or, perhaps you feel that many meals throughout the day is better to control your hunger. This is something you’ll hear about in the mainstream fitness world. And, there might even be some truth to that.
But, is it a big enough detail to worry about in the big picture of weight loss? Highly unlikely. After all, if you’re eating too many calories, you’ll never lose weight no matter how small each meal is.
And, if you’re not tracking your food correctly, you’ll have very inconsistent weight loss results. You could be eating too many fats and carbs while going too low on your protein. Not a good idea if you’re trying to build a lean physique.
At the end of the day, making your diet as easy as possible should be your goal. If you’re constantly hungry and craving foods, you need to change up your diet.
It’s not fun to lose weight when you’re constantly hungry. You’ll cheat often and struggle to lose any weight.
Whether you’re eating big meals or small ones, you will lose weight as long as you track your calories on a daily basis.
Losing weight is all about consistent eating habits over a period of several weeks. At the end of the day, your caloric intake will determine fat loss.
Get this part right and you’ll burn fat (no matter how many meals you eat per day).
Do Small Meals Boost Your Metabolism?
The common belief you’ll here from people is the talk that small meals keep your metabolism “firing” throughout the day.
Proteins, carbohydrates and fats require energy to be broken down and processed by the body. Therefore, the assumption is that small meals throughout the day will boost the metabolism and use more daily energy.
What’s wrong about this assumption is that larger meals take a lot of energy for the body to break down.
Have you ever gorged yourself on a big meal? You probably found yourself on the couch 30 minutes later ready to take a fat nap. This is because your body is using much more energy than normal to break down all that food you ate.
So, over a 24 hour day, do smaller meals throughout the day use more energy than bigger meals? If this was true, then it would be an absolute no-brainer to stick to small meals.
Luckily for us, there have been studies on meal frequency. This study in particular didn’t find any difference whatsoever in small meals and large meals over a period of time.
In fact, as I stated above, the study found that large meals use a lot more energy than smaller meals. The amount of energy burned throughout the day is dependent on total caloric intake.
This continues to tie into everything we know about calories and weight loss: at the end of the day, if you’re burning more calories than your body is taking in, you will lose weight and burn fat (if your training is on point).
I’m one of the “outliers” in this fitness world in that I don’t believe it’s all about calories. I’ve worked with people who under-eat at 800-1200 calories per day and struggle to lose weight.
What’s going on here?
First of all, this is usually people who are older. Second, they’ve been eating this way for so long that their metabolism has slowed to a crawl.
Thirdly, and most importantly in my opinion, protein intake is incredibly low. Their diet is mainly carbs and fats. I would guess only 10-15% of total calories per day is protein.
Fourth, and equally as important as the third, is that they aren’t performing any type of weight training. Walking daily isn’t enough to maintain lean muscle mass.
As a result, the bodies of these clients has lost most of their lean muscle mass. It’s easy to blame it on age, but I believe it’s much more than that.
I believe the American diet is so messed up that it’s normal to be “skinny fat” regardless of age. I was skinny fat throughout my 20’s because my diet sucked (even though I was weight lifting).
Nowadays, I lose weight fast if I eat a high-protein diet with 1700-1800 calories per day. And, I have found the same to be true when I put clients on a diet like this.
They’re usually eating way more food than they normally eat. And yet, they lose weight. Why?
Because protein does not get converted to body fat unlike carbs and fats.
Therefore, you can take in more calories per day with a higher protein diet and boost your metabolism at the same time.
As a result, your body will actually burn more fat and begin to rebuild the lean mass that you once had. Fixing your diet is much more important that lifting weights.
You could lift weights for years and get terrible results if your diet is wack. I speak from personal experience as well as from coaching men and women.
Add More Protein To Your Meals
As stated above, adding more protein and lowering the carbs in your meals will improve your chances of weight loss.
This study proves this very statement. It’s why I encourage you to focus on what you’re actually putting into your body instead of little details like how many meals you should be eating.
Getting lost on small details like this is what makes weight loss and burning fat difficult. You spend all this mental energy trying on the wrong things.
Instead, focus on improving the your diet. Protein takes longer to digest, and thus you’ll feel less hungry throughout the day. This is great news if you’re on a diet.
When you’re constantly eating small meals throughout the day, you may find yourself feeling less and less full. This can lead to over-eating the wrong types of foods.
It is much easier to focus on eating bigger meals. Have a small breakfast followed by a decent sized lunch and a big dinner. Not only will you save time in the kitchen, but you’ll feel more full despite being in a caloric deficit.
But, at the end of the day you should do what works best for you. I am simply passing on my experiences.
If several small meals throughout the day is easiest for you, then do that. Stick to what’s most convenient because you’ll be able to diet for a longer period of time.
The battle will always be with the mind. The enemy of dieting is always within you. It wants you to give up and go back to your old habits.
This is NOT the way of the warrior. You must battle daily against your cravings, against that little voice in your head that wants you to fail.
By changing your diet to one that is high in protein, you’ll shed a lot of body fat quickly because your metabolism will skyrocket.
If you’re like most overweight individuals, your body is used to the high-carb diet. When you replace most of these carbs with proteins, your body has no choice but to shed weight.
How Many Meals Per Day?
Like I said above, it’s ultimately going to come down to your own decision. At the end of the day, what matters is that you’re hitting your marcos.
Protein is the most important macro in any diet. Make sure you’re getting enough protein every single day. The more protein you eat per day, the less room for carbs and fats you’ll have.
Your daily calories are made up of the macros you eat. Therefore, make sure you’re eating healthy foods while keeping your daily calories low enough to encourage weight loss.
Whole foods are more filling than sugary, processed foods. Therefore, avoid as much of these “empty” foods as you can. It’s much more filling, and lower in calories, to eat a bowl of broccoli than a bowl of Lucky Charms.
Whether you eat a big meal or small, make sure all your meals consist of protein. I aim for around 30-40 grams of protein per meal on average. That’s a good place to start.
You’ll want to have a protein shake everyday to make it easier to hit your protein goal.
As for carbs and fats, it simply depends on how your body responds. Some people do great on a high carb diet, while others respond better to high fat.
You can’t do both high carb and high fat so pick one and try it out for a week or two. See how you feel.
Make sure you’re weighing your food and tracking by the gram. Use the MyFitnessPal app to make this easy. Get in the habit of recording every meal. It’s really easy when you get used to it.
I never meal prep. But, meal prepping works for a lot of people. Feel free to set aside one day per week to prep all your meals if needed.
At the end of the day, meal frequency isn’t an important detail to stress out about. What really matters is how many calories you’re consuming in a 24 hour period.
Whether you get all these calories in 2 meals or 8 won’t make a difference.
What’s your opinion about meal frequency? How many meals per day works for you?