Whenever I talk to someone who recently began a new fitness journey, one of the main things they struggle with is the idea of eating six small meals a day.
“Do I have to do that?”
“I’ll be spending my whole day eating!”
The conventional wisdom surrounding this will tell you that eating six small meals per day will rev up your metabolism.
Gotta be honest with you – I’ve never believed this, and I’ll tell you why.
People will tell you that eating five or six small meals a day will “keep you energetic” and will compel your body to “burn more calories,” but my first question is always, “in comparison to what?”
If you’re someone who doesn’t eat with any real consistency, then actually eating – as opposed to starving yourself – will improve your body’s energy levels regardless of meal frequency and, by proxy, your ability to burn calories simply because you’re eating. It has nothing to do with the frequency of the meals – the sheer difference in the caloric values means there’s one body that is infinitely more capable of burning energy than the other.
But – if we’re talking about a body that is splitting 2400 calories between 3 meals, and a body that is splitting 2400 calories between six meals, would there be a difference in the kind of metabolic benefit experienced?
The British Journal of Nutrition says no. When groups of overweight men and women were randomly assigned to strict low-calorie diets, with each subject taking in the same number of calories per day spread across varying numbers of meals, the results were the same: no distinguishable difference between the two groups.
In short, provided that the caloric consumption is the same, it doesn’t matter however many meals the calories are spread across
But there has to be some kind of benefit to this, right? I think so – not because of metabolism, but because of the awareness necessary to complete the responsibility of eating three additional meals each day.
If you’re adding that many more meals to your day, you likely have to plan – an essential component of a successful fitness regimen. If you’re following the tried-and-true method of making those extra meals “a protein and two veggies,” you’re probably eating far healthier than you otherwise would be. If you’re eating six meals a day – four of them likely to be at work, then chances are high that you’re not snacking – you probably won’t have the hunger for it or the drive for it, and that is the best value in eating multiple meals a day: you will detach yourself from the feeling of being ruled by your hunger. You won’t feel compelled to reach for a snack and, if you do, you’ll have one of those meal prep containers sitting right by your side. Waiting. All for you. Standing between you and that vending machine. Calling you away from the Pepsi. Eat it!
Multiple meals can have a positive effect on your fitness journey, but metabolism isn’t one of them. If metabolism is your focus, then one of the most reliable ways to improve it would be to build muscle, and even the slightest bit – a pound or two here or there – makes an amazing difference.
If your job doesn’t permit you to spend half of your day chewing, never fear. Stick to the schedule that works best for you and, so long as you are sticking to your calorie measurements (and your macronutrient counts, but that’s another story), you should do just fine in your journey. Like I always say, your body will thank you for it!
Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award winning blog A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss, where she blogs her journey from 330lb couch potato to certified personal trainer and nutritionist. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on Facebook and Twitter.