The bodybuilding encyclopedia of bro-science 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 heats up the engine (metabolism). The more money/food you have, the more you spend/burn. Conversely, when you are eating less frequently, the body feels “threatened” and slows down the metabolism. This is actually true, but there are important details that are often forgotten on purpose.
Let’s say that two lifters of the same age, height, weight, and body fat decide to follow opposing meal frequencies. One of the men eats six times a day whereas the other consumes only one daily meal. The foods are of the same quality and quantity. Who’s going to lose weight faster? The rates will be fairly equal because the so-called “hunger mode” does not have enough time to kick in. The human body is not that fragile. A few hungry hours will not trigger a starvation mode, especially when a nice full meal is waiting for you at the end of the day.
A special note on starvation mode
Undoubtedly, prolonged periods of time without food slow down the metabolism because you are losing weight. Therefore, you don’t need as many calories as before to sustain yourself. In addition, your metabolism will also slow down too as a way to adapt to the reduced amount of food intake. However, the slowed down metabolism cannot always fight the caloric deficit.
If someone decides to drop down his or hers calories by 60% to lose weight, the metabolism will slow down, but the percentage won’t be enough to kill the whole caloric deficit. If you cut down your calories by 60%, and your metabolism slows down by 10%, there is still a deficit that will result in additional weight loss.
Note: If you are in a caloric deficit, even six meals a day won’t prevent the natural slowdown of the metabolism. You are simply consuming less food, and the body is adapting by losing weight and improving its energy efficiency.
MORE FOOD, MORE TO PROCESS?
Not many people think about it, but breaking down food requires energy too. About 10% of the consumed calories are burned during the actual processing. On the grounds of this, many bro-scientists say that frequent meals stimulate the metabolism because extra energy is required to process so many meals.
However, the daily meal frequency does not have an actual impact on the total amount of calories spent on processing. If you eat 2000 calories a day spread in six meals, the calories required to process the food will be pretty much equivalent to those needed to process a single meal of 2000 calories.
HOW DID THE “SIX MEALS A DAY” CULT START?
Bodybuilders fear protein hunger. Even a few hours free of protein can make a bodybuilder depressed. The six meals a day plan calms down the OCD by feeding the body.
A few years ago, Jay Cutler said in one of his videos that bodybuilders have to be treated like babies – good sleep and constant supply of food. An afternoon nap is also a healthy addition to the bodybuilding lifestyle.
Since the brainwashing generated by the muscle media has always been strong, many muscle worshipers have adopted the ideology promoted by popular bodybuilders. As a result, we get to see people afraid to go out without a plastic box full of chicken and rice.
DOES THIS MEAN THAT EATING SIX TIMES A DAY IS BAD?
Eating six meals a day does not affect your body composition as much as the industry says, but it’s not a harmful approach either. If you prefer to eat more frequently, you should do it but don’t expect miracles.
The total amount of consumed calories and their sources make the biggest difference. If you want to lose weight, you need a deficit. If you want to build muscle, you have to eat at maintenance or a little bit above.