How many times a day do you need to eat?

Experts and fitness fans like to argue about the frequency of nutrition, but does increasing or decreasing the amount of meals spur muscle growth and catalyze fat burning? Learn the whole truth!

Author: Peter Fitschen, Ph.D.

In the world of bodybuilding and fitness, one of the most actively discussed topics is the optimal amount of meals a day for building muscle mass, losing fat and increasing strength. Many eat every 2-3 hours. Some eat only once a day or during a small time window. Still others choose something mean.

Is there an ideal frequency of food intake in terms of optimizing fat burning, accelerating muscle growth and increasing metabolic rate? Let's look at the typical judgments of people about the multiplicity of nutrition and research that stand behind these judgments. Let us finally find out how often you must eat to reach your goals in the shortest possible way!

1-th myth. Frequent nutrition speeds up metabolism

People who eat many times a day often argue their position by increasing the metabolic rate. However, is the increase in the number of meals accelerates metabolism and helps to lose weight?

This issue has been devoted to several studies, and the results are quite convincing. When the consumption of the same number of calories was distributed between two or six, one, three or five meals, there was no difference in the rate of basal metabolism in overweight people. Moreover, there was no difference in metabolic rate when comparing 2 and 7 meals per day in individuals with normal weight.

An increase in the frequency of food intake does not lead to an increase in metabolic rate with a constant caloric intake. In other words, the amount of calories consumed is much more important than the frequency! Eat as many times as necessary to cover nutrient requirements from day to day, and do not focus on the need to eat every 2-3 hours.

2-th myth. Eating 5-6 small portions, you lose weight faster

You probably were told that eating 5-6 once a day, you can lose weight faster. In theory, everything sounds great – you eat more often, but still lose weight! However, scientific evidence is not so optimistic.

Most of the studies on the effect of food intake on body mass dynamics have been conducted in people who are overweight and obese. With an equal caloric content of the daily ration, there was no difference in the rate of weight loss, although the subjects could eat one, three, six, five or nine times a day.

For individuals with normal body weight, there was also no difference in body weight dynamics when comparing one to three, two, and nine meals. Moreover, there were no differences in weight change when comparing diets with one and five meals in participants with normal weight.

Apparently, the frequency of food intake does not affect the maintenance or reduction of body weight with the same caloric intake. If you want to lose weight, try to get fewer calories than you spend, and do not chase after meals.

3-th myth. The more you eat, the faster your muscles grow

Many eat many times a day in an attempt to build more muscle mass. Based on studies that have studied the rate of synthesis of muscle protein (the rate at which a protein forms in muscles, is equivalent to the rate of muscle growth) after eating, some scientists have concluded that 3-5 meals a day with a uniform protein distribution is optimal in terms of maximum increase the rate of synthesis of muscle protein and, consequently, the rate of muscle growth.

However, these studies were short-term, that is, the subjects were given a protein-rich food, then evaluated the protein synthesis for several hours and reached conclusions. (Okay, it's not so simple, but you've caught the principle.) In fact, we need to look for longer-term data to see if the multiplicity of food intake affects muscle growth over a long distance.

After studying scientific works that lasted from two to eight weeks, we will see the following picture. As for people with excess weight, and for people with normal BMI, the number of meals a day did not have a noticeable effect on the dry mass. Even if the participants in the experiment observed the diet and ate six times a day, they did not benefit from retaining muscle mass compared to those who ate three meals a day.

Based on these studies, there is no reason to state that the frequency of nutrition affects the muscle mass. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the above studies were not carried out on athletes who regularly raise the severity.

To date, only one study examined the relationship between the frequency of food intake and muscle mass in physically active individuals. Scientists from the University of Nagoya (Japan) took male boxers and gave them 1200 calories per day during the preparation for the battle. Half of the participants were fed six times a day, the second half – twice a day. For two weeks more muscle was preserved by those who ate six times a day.

It should be noted that the caloric intake of the diet was only 1200 calories per day, and the protein intake is only 60 grams per day (about 1 grams per 1 kilogram of weight). These figures are significantly lower than those that most men adhere to during a diet in order to maintain muscle mass. Consequently, these results should be interpreted with caution, and further studies of the frequency of food intake in athletes are necessary.

Most likely, the frequency of nutrition does not have a significant effect on muscle mass with an unchanged composition of the diet. However, more research is needed on representatives of power sports. Focus on consuming an adequate amount of calories and protein (about 30 grams of protein with each meal), if you want to raise strength in training and maximize muscle growth.

The final word on the frequency of food

On the basis of available scientific data, the frequency of food intake can not be considered a significant factor in terms of accelerating metabolism, burning fat, or increasing muscle mass. This is confirmed in practice by people who use one to eight or more meals a day. All of them were able to create a beautiful body and achieve the set goals in fitness.

In other words, the best frequency of food intake does not exist. The total calorie and nutritional value of the diet plays a much more important role in the processes of losing weight and gaining muscle mass. Find the frequency of nutrition that will allow you to stick to the plan of nutrition and you will be on the right way to achieve your fitness goals!

Nemif No.1. An increased frequency of nutrition is needed in order to reduce the amount of deposits in the fat stores.

Let's say we broke our daily diet for 6 parts for X grams instead of 3 parts for 2X grams

Digestion on average takes 2-3 hours, and the probability that through this time will digest and assimilate X gram is much more than 2X.

The logic is that undigested / unclaimed / "not-left-in-the-blood" carbohydrates are inevitably converted to fats and delayed.


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