The Truth About Eating 5-6 Six Meals A Day
As you undergo a fitness program like P90X, Insanity or Les Mills Pump, the nutrition guides all share a common theme: eat six small meals a day. Eating six small meals a day has become the go-to recommendation for the fitness world in general but comes with a pretty big misconception– a misconception that’s somehow become gospel truth delivered by the fitness fairy: “Eating six small meals a day boosts your metabolism”.
Ugh. I cringe every time I hear the line because it suggests an “easy shortcut” to burning fat, sidelines the more practical reasons and adds to the pantheon of “Broscience” that’s been repeated to infinitude and preached widely in fitness circles to this day (based mostly on this study** whose results haven’t been replicated despite various attempts).
Truth is, the “metabolism rev through eating a lot” is kinda, sorta (a lot) disputed, with convincing clinical research here*, another exclamation point here* (Oh, and one more for good measure here*) pretty much dousing the idea with ice cold water. Even if the dubious claim is carrying a percentage of truth, metabolism is complex and the benefits of “keeping the digestion going” thermic effect is only good for a minimal, if any, boost. In short, it’s time bust that myth and come to anti-establishment grips that if you’re eating six meals a day, it’s not to exponentially boost your fat burning furnace.
So what is the deal with six meals a day? As far as I’m concerned…
The Best Defense Is A Good Offense
When you’re hungry, your will weakens. Our bodies are inherently built to eat, after all. Spacing meals throughout the day by 4-6 hours at a time is a surefire way to invite that hunger. Think about the times you’ve “fallen off the wagon”. Now think about how you were feeling. Most likely, you didn’t have anything on hand/in the cupboards and the naughty, quick and easy fix chipped away at you until the inevitable trip to the land of fatsuck.
Conversely, if you’re full or satisfied your resistance to food/hunger temptations is given a boost and strengthened. You’re less likely to binge and your cravings for junk will melt away over the course of a week or two. Think of eating six small meals a day as strapping your “dietary will” with body armor.
Here’s an experiment that follows the same principle as the “Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry” line of advice. Next time you’re going to the grocery store or have a family dinner or are invited to eat somewhere you know there’ll be trouble, have a meal. I’d bet you’ll find you’re not interested in pushing anything down the hatch, no matter how tempting it might be on a normal day.
Again–when you stay full and satisfied by eating every few hours, you ward off the long stretches that lead to hunger pains, weaken your will and have the potential to derail you.
Nutritional Timing/Absorption/Understanding, Etc.
There’s a few additional reasons eating six small meals a day can be a good thing. Eating six a day makes it easier to get all your calories in at a rate your body can absorb them optimally. It can also allow you to push nutrients to your body at the times it needs them, say, with a pre or post-workout meal/supplementation. Even better, you’re going to gain an understanding of what a portion-controlled meal looks like. Soon you’ll be able to identify foods and nutritional servings by sight, allowing you to move away from daily caloric tracking.
In the end, losing fat and reaching your fitness goals through nutrition boils down to making sure you’re putting in the energy (or creating a helpful deficit) you’re pushing out. Do you NEED six small meals a day as long as you’re nailing your macronutrient and calorie goals? Most research as cited above indicates it doesn’t matter, as long as you get it.
All Said and Done…
All said and done, I’ll still recommend six small meals a day as it helps better and more accurately assure you hit your caloric goals with regularity that maintains energy, regulates blood sugar and allows you to find the right levels that will either add, maintain, or eliminate fat based on your goals. In other words, it’s not to sprinkle sparkly fat-burning dust on your metabolism– it’s to keep you on track, fortify your defenses and keep you on track to nail your health and body fitness goals.
Want support and accountability in nailing those goals? Feel free to email me here or at coachdan74 at gmail dot com. Better yet, make me your (free) Beachbody Coach right here and get world-class one on one support all day, every day.
*Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Apr;25(4):519-28.
*British Journal of Nutrition (1993), 70 : pp 103-115
*Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101. Epub 2009 Nov 30.
**Br J Nutr. 1997 Apr;77 Suppl 1:S57-70.