The Meal Frequency Myth Takes a Karate Chop to the Throat

C’mon Batman.  Even the NY Times got this one right.

A recurring theme in this blog is that the body often acts in counterintuitive ways.  Sometimes the very thing you think is helping you with your goals is taking you the other way (if I see any of you loyal newsletter readers doing side bends to “tone” your love handles, I wouldn’t yell at you.  But I might burst into tears and sob wildly with disappointment).

One of the biggest examples of this theme in recent fitness history is the theory that eating more frequently burns more calories than eating fewer smaller meals.  Again, it makes intuitive sense.  It’s like stoking a furnace, right?  If you eat frequently, your body will stop fearing starvation and burn more fat right?  It’ll also start to build muscle, which is metabolically expensive tissue that it would otherwise be reluctant to build, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The research has now conclusively proven that this is a myth; the most important element for hotness remains hitting your calorie and macronutrient (protein, carbs, fat) goals for the day.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am sometimes wrong.  I try to be as up to date as I can with the latest research and the most progressive fitness and nutrition strategies, but in our field we keep learning more with each passing year.  And because my opinion is not dogma, I’m happy to change my mind whenever my thoughts on a subject get trumped by a more compelling argument, new research, and/or I’m bribed sufficiently by powerful supplement companies.  Up until a year and a half ago, I bought into the meal frequency myth.  Rather than dig my heels in and ignore research that proved me wrong… I changed my mind.  So if in the past I told you that high meal frequency was important to stay lean, I wasn’t lying.  I have just seen evidence that has changed my mind.

So what IS the best meal frequency?  As always, the answer is “it depends.” Depends on what?  Honestly, it depends on your preference.  Whatever you prefer and whatever you can stick to.

Anything below 4 becomes tricky for most people because they will generally wind up hungry a lot (and more easily tempted by the plate of muffins in your office’s kitchenette).  However, if you’re a small girl looking to lean out, and you only have 1200 calories a day to work with, 3 satiating meals may serve you better than six servings of a bite of chicken and a single piece of broccoli every 2.5 hours.

Anything above 5 or 6 starts to be a pain in the ass for most folks.  That said, bodybuilder types may need a higher number of “feedings” to accommodate their large caloric needs.  For most people 4 to 5 seems to be a reasonable midway point, but again, I encourage you to find a meal frequency that fits with your life and that you can be consistent with.

Oooooh snap.

Your Takeway: Eat a wide variety of mostly unprocessed foods your grandparents would have recognized and hit your macronutrient and calorie totals for your fitness goals (lose fat, maintain, or gain weight).  

Everything else is details and the “small rocks” on your journey to health and hotness.

And be sure to check out Monday’s post for some details about the various ways people are playing with meal frequency to attain their health and hotness goals!


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