Even the dogs of people who don’t actually train, but have a distant cousin who knows someone who is a “bodybuilda“, have heard that eating six small meals a day will do “wonders” for your physique by speeding the metabolism.
Is this really the case? Are six meals a day one of the keys to a ripped physique?
FEED ME BROSCIENCE, BABY!
The common bodybuilding broscience says that by eating more frequently you are avoiding the so-called starvation mode. As a result the body feels “secured” like a Swiss bank account, and ends burning more energy by increasing the metabolism.
The more money you have, the more you spend. Isn’t it so?
At the same time, there are claims that by eating less frequently the body feels “threatened” and slows down the metabolism since food and thus energy is in a deficit.
This is actually true, but there are important details that are often forgotten.
A few hours or even more are not going to make a big difference. Let’s say that we have two people who decide to follow opposite approaches. One eats six times a day while the other one has only one daily meal. Both consume the same food when it comes to quality and quantity.
Who’s going to lose weight faster? The rates will be equal because the so-called “hunger mode” does not have enough time to kick in. There is not enough physical time for the metabolism to slow down. The human body is not made out of glass. If all it took to go into starvation mode were a few hours, we would be going extinct.
A few hungry hours will not trigger the starvation mode, especially when a nice full meal is waiting for you in the end.
Special note on starvation mode:
There is no doubt that prolonged periods of time without food slow down the metabolism. It’s impossible to avoid it since you are losing weight which decreases your caloric needs and the body also learns to sustain itself with less. However, the slow down metabolism cannot always fight the caloric deficit.
Let’s say, for example, that a human decides to drop down his calories by 60% in order to lose weight. Certainly, the metabolism will slow down, but the percentage will not be enough to kill your whole 60% caloric deficit. If you cut down your calories by 60% and your metabolism slows down by 10%, there is still a deficit which means that weight will be lost.
When you are losing weight it is impossible to avoid all metabolic decrease even with six meals a day.
Why? Because you are essentially decomposing your body in order to become a smaller version of yourself. You don’t expect a car to burn more energy after taking all the unnecessary baggage out of it, do you?
MORE FOOD, MORE TO PROCESS?
Not many people think about it, but breaking down the eaten food also requires energy.
Depending on the actual nutrients 10% of the consumed calories are burned during the actual processing of the food. It makes sense. After all, going to the bank to get your money also requires expenses in the form of a bus ticket or fuel.
The broscientists say that by eating more frequently your are also stimulating your metabolism because energy has to be spend on breaking down the food and processing it.
However, the daily meal frequency does not have an actual impact on the total amount of calories spend on processing.
If you eat 2000 calories a day spread into six meals, the calories required to process the food will be equivalent to those needed to process a single 2000 calories meal.
HOW DID THE “SIX MEALS A DAY” CULT STARTED?
Nobody knows for sure, but there is no doubt that the fear of losing muscle mass was among the main reasons the “six meals a day” cult was created.
Bodybuilders fear hunger. Even a few hours without “the needed nutrients to support muscle growth” can make a bodybuilder depressed. The six meals a day cult fixes that since the body is constantly fed.
A few years ago Jay Cutler said in one of his videos that bodybuilders must be treated like babies. They must be fed many times through the day and also sleep good 10 hours. An afternoon nap is also a healthy addition to the bodybuilding lifestyle.
Since a few decades ago there was not a lot of information exposing the truth about bodybuilding, many muscle worshipers did not know any better, but to adopt the ideology of the popular thong warriors.
That’s why we get to see people who are afraid to go out without their plastic box of chicken and rice. Who knows maybe the wind will eat their precious muscle fibers? Anyway, who needs such virtual village muscles that evaporate after a few hours away from the fork in the first place?
DOES THIS MEAN THAT EATING SIX TIME A DAY IS BAD?
While eating six meals a day does not effect your body composition as much as the industry wants you to believe, it’s not a harmful approach either. If you prefer to eat more frequently, you should do it but don’t expect miracles.
At the same time you could also eat 3 times a day or even just once with some snacks through the day. That’s also fine. The end result of both approaches is quite equal. You have the wonderful opportunity to choose whatever suits you better.
What makes the difference is the total amount of consumed calories. If you want to lose weight, you have be at a daily deficit. If you want to build muscle, you have to be at least at maintenance or a little bit above.