Do you really need to eat 6 meals a day when you want to lose fat, build muscle, or just get in good shape?
You may have heard this from a lot of fitness professionals, fitness magazines, and blogs that you need to eat small meals every 3 hours if you want to be making the maximum gains whether it is to lose fat or build muscle.
I used to believe this too and tried to follow it every day for many months before I realized that this “6 meals a day” is nothing more than a myth.
And why is this a myth? Let me show you with some facts I learned so you can stop having to worry about meal frequency and focus on other areas of your life and fitness journey.
You may have heard this common statement by many fitness professionals.
The more meals you eat, the better it is for your metabolism. And when your metabolism improves, you will be able to burn more calories and lose weight.
The concept behind such a thought is based on what we know as the thermic effect of food (TEF). This basically means the amount of energy your body needs to metabolize the food that you eat.
So, according to this concept, the more frequently you eat, the more will be the thermic effect of food and so this will help your metabolism to burn more calories.
But there is a fundamental flaw in this because as research has shown, the TEF remains the same regardless of meal frequency.
So, if you consume 6 meals a day for a total of 2400 calories (each meal is 400 calories) and the TEF for each meal is 10% (so 400 * 10/100 = 40 calories). Then the total TEF for you is 40 * 6 = 240 calories.
Now, consider if you consume just 2 meals a day for a total of 2400 calories (each meal is 1200 calories) and the TEF for each meal is still 10% (so 1200 * 10/100 = 120 calories). Then the total TEF for you is 120 * 2 = 240 calories.
So, as you can see, it does not matter how many meals you eat every day, your TEF remains the same. So you burn the same number of calories and your metabolism stays the same.
One more myth that people will tell you when it comes to eating 6 meals a day is that since you are eating frequently you will eat less food.
And because you are eating less food, you will burn more calories and lose fat.
But research on this has found that it is not the case for all people.
If you are a person who eats 6 meals a day but eats a lot of food with each meal, then there is a high chance that you will start to gain weight because of the consumption of excess calories.
But if you can eat 6 meals a day and maintain a calorie deficit where you consume fewer calories than what your body burns then you will lose weight.
There is also a poorly conducted research that mentions people who skip meals like breakfast tend to gain weight. But the research is poor because usually, people who skip breakfast are irregular eaters. And research shows that people who eat irregularly tend to eat more calories and gain weight.
It does not matter whether they eat 6 meals a day or 2 meals a day.
So, what it comes down to is personal preference. Some people feel like eating 6 meals a day so that they don’t feel hungry if they go for long periods without eating food.
Some others feel that they cannot eat food so frequently and would be happy eating just 2 or 3 meals a day.
So, do what works for you. Meal frequency has nothing to do with weight loss. Rather it is the calorie deficit that will help you lose weight whether you achieve it with 6 meals a day or 3 meals a day.
Another myth that is common for those looking to build muscle is that you need to eat meals frequently so that your muscles don’t wither away.
That is why you will see a lot of bodybuilders preparing their meals in Tupperware and carrying them in their bags. And then eating out of them every 3 hours.
This is just a myth based on a study that was conducted where two groups of boxers were made to undergo an experiment.
One group was allowed to eat 2 meals a day and another group was allowed to eat 6 meals a day.
It was found that the group eating 2 meals a day lost more lean muscle than the group that was eating 6 meals a day.
But the fact is that both the groups lost muscle mass so it was not like the group that was eating 6 meals a day was gaining or maintaining muscle.
This has also been debunked by concepts such as intermittent fasting where you can go for several hours without consuming any food and there is no effect on your body’s ability to gain or maintain muscle mass.
The important point is to consume the right amount of calories and macronutrients so that your body can grow or maintain the muscle.
I hope this post has helped dispel the myth that you need to eat 6 meals a day if you want to lose fat or build muscle.
It is entirely up to your convenience on how many meals you prefer eating each day. If your goal is to lose fat then you need a calorie deficit and if your goal is to build muscle, you need a calorie surplus. The meal frequency does not matter.
If you have any questions about meal frequency or fitness in general, please comment below.
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