One day you hear one thing, the next day you hear something completely different. It got to the point that I didn´t even know what to say to my clients when they asked. So, I decided to do a little investigation to find out for myself what the ¨truth¨ is.
Usually, people who defend that you should have more meals during the day, base their claims on that the ¨furnace is always on¨. If the furnace is always on it releases more heat. The more heat you release, the more calories you burn. And what do you do to keep the ¨fire¨ on, you put more wood (meals) more frequently. But, the body is not like a furnace and it works kind of differently.
This ¨furnace¨ is called dietary thermogenesis ( DT) and is the process of energy production in the body caused directly by the metabolizing of food consumed. Dietary thermogenesis is influenced by factors relating to the composition of the food and the physical state of the individual. So, in simple words, dietary thermogenesis is the energy expended as heat resulting from the digestion of food sources. A 2004 analysis published in “Nutrition and Metabolism” on dietary thermogenesis showed that macronutrients have different thermic effects, with protein causing the greatest energy expenditure and fat the least (interesting). It also showed that the dietary thermogenesis of a typical mixed meal (carbs-fat-proteins) is around 10%(1-2).
So let´s use an example. Imagine you consume per day 1800 calories, if one day you ate 3 meals and each meal contained 600 calories, you would burn 60 calories (10%) per meal due to the DT. 60 x 3 meals equals 180 calories – that would be the total calories burned during the day due to DT. Now let´s say you ate 6 meals instead of 3. Each meal contains 300 calories, 30 would be the calories burned due to DT per meal, we multiply that by 6 and we get 180 calories. In other words, there is no difference and this is what has been demonstrated in different studies(1).
But, what about controlling hunger? It´s said that if you eat more frequently you will have less hunger and eat less. However, research doesn´t support that claim either. I do have to admit there have been a couple of studies that have said it helps but there have been more that have said that it doesn´t (3-6!!
So with all this said, you may be asking what do I do. And the only thing that I can say is, experiment for yourself and see what works best for you. From what I have read, there really isn´t a big difference between eating 3 or 6 meals per day. If you prefer to eat 6 meals per day and it works for you then go right ahead with it!!
Hoped you have enjoyed it.
Westerterp KB. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond),2004 Aug 18;1(1):5
- Verboeket-van de Venne Wp, Westerterp KR. Influence of the feeding frequency on nutrien utilization in man. Consequences for energy metabolism. Eur J Clin Nutr 1991 Mar; 45(3):161-9.
- Ohkawara K, Cornier MA, Kohrt WM, Melanson EL. Effects of increas meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity ( silver Spring). 2013 Feb;21(2):336-43
- Stote KS, Baer DJ, Spears K, Paul DR, Harris GK, Rumpler WV, et al. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Apr;85(4):981-8.
- Speechly DP, Rogers GG, Buffenstein R. Acute appetive reduction associated with an increased frequency of eating in obese males. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord.100 Nov;23(11):1151-9
- Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, Doucet E. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101.