Meal Frequency – is it a Myth?


“ ...6 meals a day?!...”

A lot of people make the mistake of assuming that’s what you have to do to get a result.

When a topic as contentious as this one is raised I like to reassure people that the consumption of “x” number of meals doesn’t = “y” result.

The science of meal frequency's effect on metabolism is a complex area of research and the findings are limited in application.

However, thankfully, the science of meal frequency for a successful transformation is quite clear.

Think of ‘meal frequency’ as ‘the best insurance policy for success – it covers a lot of important aspects of success in one shot!

Being aware of your meal frequency (but not trying to eat a particular number of meals per day) actually addresses one of the fundamentals of success...

What I call “the secret of nutrition” which is food proximity.

That is, what ever is close by, (good or bad) and easy to get to, eventually you will eat it.

Coaching meal frequency technically addresses most of the important stuff right away, that is, nutritional habits. (And yes, ‘stuff’ is a scientific term ;-)

What separates MP from most program is, a process that systematically identifies bad habits. If an individual follows the first 12 weeks uninterrupted they actually start to replace some of their bad habits.

They also identify others as sticking points/barriers.

This is a good thing.

Often one of those ‘sticking points’ is meal frequency.

Skills that turn "knowing you should" into "knowing how"...easily, deliciously!

Low meal frequency reflects the absence of the environment for success. Yes, you need to construct what we call an environment to give you a fighting chance – think for a moment of all the fast food restaurants you drive by just from the gym to your home!!

And we have a simple system that helps you identify if this environment is in place – both at home and your work place.

The problem is when the ‘environment for success’ is not addressed, poor food choices will dominate the plan.

Conversely, as soon as the person develops the skills  of  ‘our nutrition secret' then guess what?

Their meal frequency increases!!


So Success Rule #1 is Address habit not the number of meals.

Let’s talk about the second rule....

What we eat, how much we eat and when we eat is heavily influenced by our gut.

That is, our gut hormones tend to control appetite and satiety.

Infrequent feeding actually plays havoc with the gut hormone cascade that regulates appetite, we tend to let ourselves get really hungry then we over eat and often it’s the poor choices – thanks to services like menulog the result can be catastrophic.

On the other hand, as soon as meal frequency increases – (scientific term is eat regularly) our gut hormones start to moderate portion sizes start and the chances for over eating are minimized tremendously.

Let’s face it, when you come home at night starving because you’ve only eaten once, you’re more likely to over eat, and give Menulog a good smashing.....(yes another scientific term) compared to if you’ve eaten 3-4 times during the day.

Success rule #2 meal frequency helps your appetite hormones get a grip!

Finally, why bother trying to increase meal frequency?

The answer to this resides in another important aspect a lot of the social media gurus don’t talk about (cause they probably not a fan of it, and that is resistance exercise training.)

And its impact on protein metabolism.

Resistance Exercise or FIRE as we like to call it (Focused Intense Resistance Exercise – cool huh?) and the effects of meal frequency’s on changes in body composition is an area of research this is only JUST starting to gain scientific attention.

Thanks to some wonderful published work in this area we know that...

A) Lifting weights without eating results in a net loss in muscle protein. Please don’t tell this to ‘IF’ crowd, they’ll choke on their lemon water!

B) After a workout, the muscles used are ‘sensitized’ to up take protein for up to 48 hours after the workout.

C) Smaller but frequent meals containing protein (20-40g) every three or so hours increase something called Protein Synthesis which serves to increase net muscle protein.

These last two points are important.

They tell us our muscles are like our bank accounts, you’ve got to put the deposits in regularly so the balance doesn’t get eaten up with those horrible fees and maybe even grows!

When we don’t complete a couple of FIRE sessions a week, there’s no reason (stimuli) to deposit valuable protein into your muscle bank accounts.

Resistance Exercise ensures your nutrition is deposited into muscle

So the more regularly you lift weights and consume your protein rich meals our muscle bank accounts stay nice and healthy!

Over time, this is the only way we know how to safely improve your body composition (more muscle, less fat).

Conversely, protein is constantly drawn from muscles for an incredible range of metabolic demands for health. So not eating and lifting weights results in a net loss.

Which is disastrous for our health as it sets the stage for heart disease, diabetes and premature ageing.

If you’d like to learn more go to my article on Muscle Mass Matters – it’s an award winner!!

Anyway, I hope this help clarifies why Meal Frequency is important for improving your body!

The Science stuff...

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Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, Cribb PJ, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun 20;14:20.

Phillips SM, Chevalier S, Leidy HJ. Protein "requirements" beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 May;41(5):565-72.

Leidy HJ, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Effects of acute and chronic protein intake on metabolism, appetite, and ghrelin during weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15:1215–25.

Leidy HJ, Bossingham MJ, Mattes RD, Campbell WW. Increased dietary protein consumed at breakfast leads to an initial and sustained feeling of fullness during energy restriction compared to other meal times. Br J Nutr. 2009;101:798–803.

Leidy HJ, Racki EM, Coffey CR: The incorporation of a protein-rich breakfast on appetite sensations and subsequent food intake in "breakfast-skipping" adolescents. FASEB J. 2009;23:912–7.

Giovannini M, Verduci E, Scaglioni S, Salvatici E, Bonza M, Riva E, Agostoni C. Breakfast: a good habit, not a repetitive custom. J Int Med Res. 2008;36:613–24.

Leidy H. Campbell W. The effect of eating frequency on appetite control and food intake: brief synopsis of controlled feeding studies. J nutr Jan;141(1):154-7. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.114389

Munsters M. Wim H. Effects of Meal Frequency on Metabolic Profiles and Substrate Partitioning in Lean Healthy Males. PLoS One. 2012; 7(6): e38632
Solomon T. Chambers E. Jeukendrup A. Toogood A. Blannin A. The effect of feeding frequency on insuin and ghrelin responses in human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2008 Oct;100(4):810-9.

Areta J. Burke L. Ross M. Camera D. West D. et al. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol. 2013;591, 2319-2331.

Mamerow M. Mettler J. English K. Casperson S. Arentson-Lantz E. Dietray Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. J. Nutr. ahead of print Jan 2014. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.185280.

Keim N. Van Loan M. Horn W. Barbieri T. Mayclin P. Weight loss is greater with consumption of large morning meals and fat-free mass is preserved with large evening meals in women on a controlled weight reduction regimen. J Nutr. 1997 Jan;127(1):75-82

Stice E. Caloric deprivation increases responsivity of attention and reward brain regions to intake, anticipated intake, and images of palatable foods
NeuroImage 67 (2013) 322–330

Dankel S. Degerud E. Borkowski K.Midtbo L. Haugen C. et al. Weight cycling promotes fat gain and altered clock gene expression in adipose tissue in C57BL/6J mice. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 306: E210–E224, 2014.

Ochner C. Barrios D. Lee C. Pi-Sunyer F. Biological mechanism that promote weight regain following weight loss in obese humans. Physiol Behav. 2013 Aug 1;120C:106-113.

MacLean P. Bergouignan A. Cornier M. Jackman M. Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Sept; 301 (3): R581-R600.

Deutz R. Bernardot D. Martin D. Cody M. Relationship between energy deficits and body composition in elite female gymnasts and runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000 Mar;32(3):659-68

Farshchi H. Taylor M. Macdonald I. Decreased thermic effect of food after an irregular compared with a regular meal pattern in healthy lean women. Int J Obes Metab Disord. 2004 May;28(5):653-60.

Farshchi H. Taylor M. Macdonald I. Beneficial metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in healthy obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1):16-24.

Madzima T. Panton L. Fretti S. Kinsey A. Ormsbee M. Night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning energy expenditure in active college-aged men. Br J Nutr. Jan 2014. Volume 111 / Issue 01 / January 2014, pp 71-77.

Louis-Sylvestre J. Luuch A. Neant F. Blundell J. Highlighting the positive impact of increasing feeding frequency on metabolism and weight management. Forum Nutr.2003;56:126-8.

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