Do smaller meals boost your metabolism?
Have you noticed how everything in the fitness industry revolves around our metabolism? And, of course, some claim to know how to boost it. For example, some people say you must eat six times a day, while others say eating three times is fine. Others say you must fast in the morning or only eat in an 8 hour time window.
Then you have subcategories of those who are in these extremes. For example, some people might say, “You should fast for 12 hours instead of 11 hours and fifty-nine minutes. You should eat every 2 hours, instead of every 3 hours, blah, blah, and blah.” Very confusing and very, very annoying.
What are we supposed to do? The correct answer is to do whatever is most sustainable for you.
Nevertheless, We have three studies that might shine a light on which might be better for you. So, let’s find out if eating smaller meals throughout the day can boost your metabolism, curb hunger, and burn more fat than eating bigger meals less frequently.
Does Eating More Frequently Help you Lose Weight?
14 meals versus three meals
Researchers in the Netherlands compared the effects of three meals versus 14 (Yes, 14!) meals per day in twelve healthy men. Researchers randomly assigned the men to either a high-frequency diet (14 meals) or a low-frequency diet (3 meals). Both groups would eat the same number of calories with an equal macronutrient split of 15% protein, 30% fats, and 55% carbohydrates.
The results showed no difference between carb or fat oxidation (burning carbs and fats as fuel) between the two groups. However, protein oxidation (using protein as fuel) was 17% higher in the low-frequency group. Interestingly, the low-frequency group had a higher resting metabolic rate (the calories you burn by just existing) and experienced less hunger than the high-frequency group (1).
Six meals versus three meals
A study in the Center for Human Nutrition, School of Medicine in Denver, analyzed the effects of eating three times versus six times per day on fat oxidation (burning fat as fuel) and hunger levels. The research was designed as a randomized crossover study, which means that all 15 subjects participated in both approaches. The participants would have a 1 to 2 week washout period between procedures before starting the subsequent treatment. Participants would eat around the same calories and balanced macronutrients split. Researchers found no difference in fat oxidation between groups. However, they found that higher hunger levels were associated when participants ate six meals per day (2).
Six meals versus three meals in obese individuals
Another study by researchers at the University of Ottawa compared the effects of 6 meals versus three meals per day on weight loss. For eight weeks, researchers took 16 obese individuals and randomly put them into two groups: High-frequency meals (3 meals + 3 snacks per day) and low-frequency meals (3 meals per day). Both groups had the same caloric deficit. Yet, the researchers found no significant difference in weight loss between both groups (3).
The main takeaway
Eating more frequently doesn’t provide the metabolic boost, many people claim. If anything, when calories are equal, data suggests, it makes you feel hungrier. However, it’s important to mention that although eating more frequently isn’t better than eating less often, the studies don’t show that it is worse. And although it can make you feel hungrier throughout the day, eating more often has been found to have less protein oxidation (using protein as fuel) than eating less frequently.
There’s no magic pill to boost your metabolism.
The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you eat.
There’s no way around that.
So, if you want to eat three times a day, then good for you. If you’re going to eat 25 times per day, then hey, more power to you! It all comes down to your preferences, whatever is most sustainable for you, and makes your journey to lose weight easier.
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