There is a constant debate on whether the frequency of meals matters to building muscle, shedding fat, and enhancing strength. While a significant number of people eat every 2-3 hours, there are those who only eat once per day, and many people practice a meal frequency that falls between the two extremes.
So how often should you eat for optimal metabolism, muscle development, and fat loss? To answer this question, let us explore several claims surrounding the issue and the research done related to those claims.
Myth 1: Eating more often will boost your metabolism
Those who eat several times a day justify that it will boost their metabolism, thus helping to lose weight. Can the frequency of eating increase metabolism and assist in weight loss? Well, according to several studies to clarify this issue, the results are entirely conclusive. When consuming the same amount of calories spread over several meals, say 2 versus 3-5 meals, or 2 vs 6 meals or 1 vs 3 vs 5 meals, no variation in metabolic rate was noted in obese people.
Additionally, there was no difference observed among participants with a healthy weight who were eating 2-7 meals. The simple conclusion is that meal frequency has no impact on metabolic rate, and what matters is the total calories consumed.
Thus, you should eat the number of meals that allow you to satisfy your nutritional needs each day, and not be overwhelmed trying to eat every 2-3 hours.
Myth 2: Eating many meals will lead to more muscle growth
After reviewing studies that took 2-8 weeks involving both overweight people and individuals with a healthy BMI, the number of meals eaten per day seems not to have had any effect on lean mass. Also, among dieting individuals, six meals a day did not show different results than three meals in regards to muscle growth.
We can then conclude that the number of meals does not affect muscle mass with dietary content being kept constant. However, there is a need for more studies on athletes who do weightlifting. The best strategy for optimizing muscle growth is to consume sufficient calories, to be aware of consuming enough proteins (approximately 30g of protein in each meal), and to hit the gym.
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Myth 3: Having 5-6 smaller meals in a day will help to lose weight
Individuals seeking to lose weight are advised to eat 5-6 meals each day to attain their weight-loss goals more quickly. Eat more and lose weight? This theoretically sounds great, but is it the reality? Unfortunately, studies show contrary results.
Studies that have mostly been done on overweight people show that with constant caloric intake, no weight-loss variation was observed, no matter the frequency of meals. The same was the case among healthy and dieting individuals. As such, meal frequency does not influence weight loss, so to achieve weight loss, aim to consume lesser calories than your body expands.
The bottom line
Studies have shown that meal frequency is not a crucial factor regarding increasing metabolism, muscle growth, and weight loss. The real evidence is the many people who consume meals in different frequencies, from one to eight meals per day, and who have been able to achieve a great shape as well as attain their fitness goals.
So, there is no optimal meal frequency. When it comes to muscle growth and fat loss, the total calories and the macronutrients constituting the meals seem to be more critical. The best advice is that you should find the meal frequency that works for you and that is in line with your nutrition plan. This will make it possible to achieve your fitness goals.