One of the biggest debates within the fitness community these days has to do with meal frequency. What do I mean by that? Simply, how often we eat throughout the day. You’ve ALL heard the recommendations. “To keep your metabolism high, eat 6 small meals throughout the day.”
Is this true? Is there something magical about 6 meals per day that turns your body into a fat burning machine??? Well, let’s take a brief look at the science, since that’s what SFC is all about.
To begin, I’d like to discuss a concept termed the thermic effect of food (TEF). Essentially, TEF is how much energy is required to digest the food we eat. By energy, I mean calories. It is true that our bodies require a certain amount of energy (calories) to digest our food, and it’s approximately 10% of total calories. This is for individuals eating a mixed diet (composed of carbs, fat and protein).
So, let’s look at two scenarios…we’ll call these subjects Chrissy and Kellie.
1) Chrissy is CONVINCED that eating small meals throughout the day is best. So, she meticulously packs 6 mini meals that she eats every three hours like clockwork…in the lab, in class, while she’s on her bike…you name it, she’s eating. Her total intake is 1800 calories, divided by 6 meals per day = 300 calories per meal. So, her TEF, or the calories required to digest her food each time she eats is 10%, or 30 calories per meal, times 6 meals/day = 180 total calories.
2) Kellie doesn’t believe the hype. She is also on a diet of 1800 calories. She is so busy with teaching and Adult Fitness, that she only has time to eat twice each day. So, she eats two large meals of 900 calories each. Every time she eats, her TEF is 10%, or 90 calories. Multiply this by 2 meals per day = 180 calories.
See where I am going with this? In terms of your metabolism, it doesn’t actually matter when the calories are consumed, because either way, you burn 10% of TOTAL calories in digestion.
Make sense so far?
Now, there are other things that researchers have examined regarding meal frequency, including hunger levels, maintaining muscle mass, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. What does meal frequency do to these variables?