Monday, October 24, 2011

Nutrition 101 - Part 4 Meal Frequency & Weight Loss vs. Fat Loss

Meal Frequency

Fads tend to develop and grow in the fitness industry more-so and at faster rates than in any other. One such fad states that in order to “stoke your metabolic furnace” and keep it burning hot, you need to eat many small meals each day. Quite often we hear clients say something like, “Man! I’m so frustrated. I simply can’t stick to eating 6 meals per day and I know it’s hindering my fat loss.”
Unfortunately for the individuals who fall victim to this myth, it’s not something that’s supported scientifically.
So where does this myth come from?

To answer that question, we need to recall what we discussed above about metabolic rate. The core components of what makes up your metabolism and thus your calorie needs are Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA), and Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
Total Energy Expenditure = RMR + TEA + TEF

TEF is what we’re really interested in with regards to this concept of meal frequency. TEF is simply the energy required to breakdown, process, and digest the foods we eat. TEF increases after each meal, obviously, as your body works to handle the foods you recently consumed.

Thus, the myth was born. People took this increase in TEF post-eating to mean, “Eat more frequently to boost your metabolism.”

The problem with this logic is this: if we eat fewer, larger meals… the thermic effect per meal is going to be larger as our bodies “work harder” to breakdown and utilize the larger quantity of food per meal. Compare this with more frequent, smaller meals. Sure, you’re getting more spikes in TEF per day, but compared to the former approach, each spike is smaller since there’s less food for the body to handle each meal.
Thus, we’re left with a neutral impact between the two meal plans in terms of metabolic rate.
  • Same calories/nutrients spread over more, smaller meals = more frequent, yet smaller TEF per day
  • Same calories/nutrients spread over less, larger meals = less frequent, yet larger TEF per day
The primary reason we take issue with the incessant need to perpetuate this myth is that it tends to make people anxious. The more rigidity you add to a nutrition plan, the less likely people are going to stick to it over the long-term. For those who have busy schedules, aren’t satiated by eating more frequently, or simply don’t feel like eating 6 times per day… DON’T!

That’s not to say that I’m against frequent feedings. If it’s your cup of tea… drink up. In fact, in my experience smaller folks who are having trouble packing on muscle are best served by eating many small meals per day in order to get the required calories needed to support growth.

As an interesting aside, for an alternative viewpoint check out Martin Berkhan’s He’s one of the pioneers of the intermittent fasting ‘movement’ I’m sure so many of you have heard about. In fact, Martin has a lot of stuff worth reading on his site.

Do some experimenting and find out what fits your body and schedule best. Factors such as total calories and nutrient breakdown are far more important to your success than meal frequency.

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