Small Meals – Why Eat So Often?

small meals, 6 meals a day, benefits of small mealsI recently posted about Intermittent Fasting, which seems to be a very popular way to eat right now for people looking to lean out, but what about the traditional idea of eating small meals frequently throughout the day?  If you take a look at any Beachbody nutrition guide, like the P90X Nutrition Guide, you’ll see that they recommend eating 5-6 small meals a day.  So why the difference?  Is eating 5-6 small meals a day better for you?  I do think it has some advantages, but eating 5-6 small meals a day also doesn’t do everything people says it does.

Small Meals And Metabolism

One often touted benefit of eating 5-6 small meals a day is that it keeps your metabolism burning, so it helps you burn more calories throughout the day.  The thought is that because your body uses energy to break down the food you eat, if you eat frequent small meals  throughout the day you’re body is going to start burning calories, and keep burning calories throughout that whole time.  So your metabolism is stoked and your body is always burning calories, and burning more calories during the day.  But is that really true?  Are you going to burn more calories eating this way?

Unfortunately, the research I’ve read says no.  It would be nice if this was true, but when you look at TFE or the thermal effect of food, you’ll see that timing doesn’t really play a role here.  What really matters is what you’re eating.  Whether you eat 5-6 small meals or eat all of that food in just 2-3 meals your body is going to burn the same number of calories as it digests that food.  That number isn’t going to change.  So you don’t burn more calories just because you’re eating small meals more frequently.  So it matters more what you eat than when you eat.  It takes more energy for the body to break down protein than fat, so if you want your body to burn more calories because of what you eat you should eat more protein and less fat.

Benefits of Small Meals

Even though eating 5-6 small meals doesn’t really burn more calories, I still think there are benefits to eating like this.  It’s about more than just how many calories your meal plan burns.  There are still other benefits in my opinion.

#1 – Avoid overeating

This is  the biggest benefit of eating small meals in my opinion.  When you eat more frequently throughout the day you only have 2-3 hours between meals.  That means you’re constantly feeding yourself.  I know for me, this really helps curb my appetite.  Instead of waiting 5 hours to eat 1000 calories, I break that down into chunks.  So I’m not starving when it’s time for a meal.  When you are really hungry you can tend to over-do it and eat way too much.  Especially since most people eat very fast and don’t recognize that they are full quick enough.  So if you’re eating more frequently and you’re not as hungry when you do, you’re much more likely to stick to your calorie goal.

#2 – Keep a regular eating schedule

When you eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day you’re forced to plan ahead and know when those times are going to be.  When you really have to think about it you’re much more likely to keep a regular eating schedule and you won’t miss those meals.  Your body does get used to the times that you eat, so it’s helpful to keep those constant.  Eating like this often leads to a very regimented eating schedule.

#3 – Gives you more energy

This is more of a personal anecdote, but I find that when I eat small meals more frequently, I have more energy.  When I tried intermittent fasting, I was starving in the morning and really didn’t feel all that energetic.  I felt better when I started my feeding period, but that was about half way through my work day.  When I eat 5-6 small meals a day, I feel that my energy levels are much higher and more consistent.  So for me, this is a huge benefit.

Small Meal – Your Preference

For most people starting out, I think this is a great way to go.  It’s what most people in the fitness and nutrition industry have advised for a very long time, and it does work.  I’m not saying other ways of eating won’t work, but for me right now, this is the best option.  Even if it doesn’t really help your metabolism, I still think the benefits are great to eating small meals more frequently throughout your day.

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