Meal Frequency: How Many Meals Per Day Should You Eat?

Taking your food with you?  Eating every 3 hours?  Are you sick of it?  I was…

Meal Frequency – The Dogma That Will Not Die…

Yes, I called the idea of eating 5-6 small meals per day dogma. I have not lost my mind and I am not ignorant, or uneducated. I am quite the opposite. I have spent many hours reading and learning about this common misconception we as fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders have been mislead to believe. We have come to believe that eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day is superior and optimal when pursuing that coveted physique. I used to subscribe to the notion that one could only process 30-35 grams of protein for each meal and any excess would just pass through your digestive system unused or “wasted.” This notion has been touted by many fitness pros as well as protein supplement companies for years.

My intention with this article is to challenge you to think outside of what you have always been told or led to believe about the multiple-meals-per-day dogma that is so popular within the fitness and bodybuilding community.

My Story – Dispelling the OCD Multiple Meals per Day Myth

During the summer of 2007, I was dieting for a photo shoot and of course, like any other person getting into photo shoot condition, I was counting every calorie, timing my meals perfectly, and eating small protein meals every 2-3 hours for a total of 6-7 meals per day. I made sure my carb choices were low on the glycemic index and that protein was the bulk of my food intake. I was very obsessive about eating every 3 hours, whilst making sure I avoided carbs after 7 pm in fear of “storing them as fat.” I totally bought into the entire philosophy of small frequent meals to keep my metabolism humming along. I was miserable, obsessive and anal when it came to food choices. Needless to say I didn’t have much of a social life that summer.

I did however get into pretty decent shape, had a successful shoot, and was proud of the photos. On the flip side, I was tired of being so obsessed with my views toward food that I often found myself absolutely bingeing when deciding to have a “free meal.” It felt like I was losing my grasp on what I believed I knew so well. I was tired of constantly depriving myself of filling meals, and always feeling remorse when I wanted to go out and enjoy pizza and wings with my friends or when I decided to go off my diet and enjoy some birthday cake. I had to make a change, otherwise I was sure to continue having this unhealthy relationship with food.

My Research Began

During that same summer of 2007 I found Lyle McDonald’s main forums and the journey to nutritional enlightenment began. I noticed one particular member was experimenting with Intermittent Fasting for fat loss and lean body mass retention. When I first read his posts I just knew he was some psycho nut job and his muscles were sure to fall off if he ever went any longer than 3 hours without protein. However, I was so sick and tired of being an OCD freak about meal timing, that I decided to keep an open mind. I was out to find a simple approach to enjoy the lifestyle of training and building my body without being a narcissistic social pariah.

I continued to lurk and post occasionally with questions. After many nights googling and reading about this concept of fasting with no adverse effects to my lean body mass, I was very intrigued. This particular member on the forums was experimenting with 16 hour fasts followed by an 8 hours window of feasting. He controlled calories just as he would on any other diet, ensuring that protein and EFA requirements were met. The only difference was that he was consuming large amounts of food 2-3 times within the 8 hour window, and then fasting from the time he went to sleep until mid afternoon the next day. For instance, say he was consuming 240 grams of protein per day. At 3 large meals that is 80 grams of protein per serving. I just knew that would be “suboptimal” at the very least, not to mention what other complications that might occur due to fasting. Keep in mind these “complications” I speak of are only what I had heard from some fitness folks that never looked at digestion from a scientific view point. They merely had been repeating what they were told without investigating for themselves. They just took someone else’s word as bond, and never thought to second guess it.

Martin Berkhan of LeanGains was the experimental poster who I was closely watching. His results after experimentation were nothing short of incredible. He seemed to retain his lean body mass during his diet that consisted of daily 16 hour fasts with ease. What did this mean? He was getting to enjoy large meals daily, even when dieting, and actually experiencing satiety. Satiety was very foreign to me, especially whilst dieting and eating 5-6 meals of 400 calories or less. I was curious, and bound to make this work for me.

How Did I Break My Pattern and Change My Thinking?

I had been conversing with Martin via email, and decided to give this fasting thing a shot. I remember the first day I ate a huge meal without any personal remorse or feelings of “cheating.” I had fasted all throughout the day. I remember grilling the fattest steak, baking a few potatoes, and preparing a fairly large bowl of corn for my first meal. I kept track of the calories and made sure I landed the macro nutrients perfectly. This was the first time in months that I had eaten a very large meal with no regret. I no longer felt “bad” for enjoying my food. I decided I wanted to see what long term effects this would have on my body composition and to dispel the eating carbs after 7 pm myth. I continued fasting intermittently for a few months on my own and eventually consulted with Martin. To my surprise I found that in the end, as long as protein and EFA requirements are met, the amount of calories are the only variable when trying to lose body fat.

I went from 6-8 meals a day to 2-3 meals a day depending on my training schedule. I found myself eating “unclean” food all the time with no adverse effects on my body composition. I was pleased to see that killing a box of cereal and eating 100 grams of protein before bed would not make me wake up fat and bloated. I did this over and over and over to find out that only calories matter, and meal frequency isn’t that big of a deal.

Fast Forward Until Now

Up until a few months ago I have been doing a modified version of Intermittent Fasting. I have been more lax on the eating window and some days I might only have a 13-14 hour fast as opposed to a 16 hour fast. I have used this method for dieting, bulking and maintenance with much success. I have come to the conclusion that the 6 meals a day dogma can die and I hope it dies for good. It only makes for obsessive, pedantic and stressed out fitness enthusiasts. The lifestyle should be enjoyable and I now enjoy my life in fitness again. I am no longer obsessed about meal timing. If I want to go out to dinner, I go and I enjoy it. I simply don’t worry about if it fits in with my diet for the day. Life is too short to worry about minutiae. Here I am one and a half years later, with no obsessiveness related to food. I simply eat when I want and make sure that my calories are in line with my current goals. I enjoy ice cream, cereal, pasta and many other foods deemed “unclean” by many. I make sure I keep an objective approach regarding my diet and training. So far it is serving me quite well.

Some Resolution

If you still are not convinced, I encourage you to research a little and try this experiment out for yourself. Throw all preconceptions about meal timing to the wind and go back to the 3 square meals a day for a while. See what happens. Lyle McDonald recently wrote an incredible article on this subject. Read it for your own good and apply it for peace of mind. Meal Frequency and Energy Balance: Research Review

Martin Berkhan and Brad Pilon are the go to guys regarding intermittent fasting.

(1/4/11) Update: I’ve since written my own piece on intermittent fasting.  Make sure you check it out.

78 thoughts on “Meal Frequency: How Many Meals Per Day Should You Eat?”

  1. hi, I was just reading this article and I was wondering how long did it take for this method to start working? I am a new model and I am trying in every way possible to get my measurements down for a competition I was selected to go to in July. I only have a little ways to go to meet the requirements, but in the long run I want to be thin and lean. If you have any information that would help please let me know!

    • It’s mostly just a matter of keeping your calories in check, and not overeating too much. Also, it depends on how thin/lean you want to be. It might not be entirely realistic for you.

  2. I love yr site! Thanku!! I have been obsessing about food for years and years.. Iately I have started properly exercising.. Due to injuries..and I have found that I really only eat once per day ..miss brekky..and then have a late lunch early dinner (I don’t work 9-5).. Or a snack and then dinner a About 8 pm..Baked/grilled fish with baked or steamed potato and lots of lovely salad with vinegar dressing..Sometimes afterwards I have a bowl of light icecream or a few squares of chocolate.. When I snack I eat snowpeas/celery or carrots..I am loving this way of eating.. It suits me.. Tried the 6 sml meals per day.. Got SO SICK of eating! And always preparing food.. I was feeling guilty bcos I was missing breakfast most important meal day etc etc.. But what u say in yr article makes so much sense.. No more guilt! I will eat when I am hungry.. Or if I have a social meal out.. Big deal.. I’m not going to kill myself exercising to ‘get rid of the fat’ I’m going to just resume my life as normal .. Full stop.
    Again Thanku for making so much sense (with yr clean eating article too) I am hanging up my food guilt for good! Lol! Freeeeeee at 42!!

  3. As a 240lb athlete needing upwards of 4500 calories a day to maintain my weight, I, personally, have had the exact opposite experience from JC Deen when eating bigger meals less frequently.

    Besides the intolerable hunger pangs I experienced during the long intermissions between meals, there was also the terrible, energy-sapping, bloat that many “3-square mealers” know as “the two o’clock wall”.

    No matter where you look, it’s quite doubtful you’ll find a single peer-reviewed study that will support eating three meals of 1500 plus calories as a healthy and viable eating plan. The human body just isn’t designed to handle such a large quantity of food all at once and nobody who’s ever overeaten to excess can dispute the lethargic, groan-inducing bloat that follows such a large meal.

    The problem with this mentality, is that its followers are guilty of the same narrow-minded, dogmatic thinking that you’re accusing the clean, multiple meal eating crowd of. The fact is, a net deficit or surplus of calories IS the main determinant of weight loss or gain in the short term, but a well-balanced diet clean of sodium, trans fats, artificial additives, and preservatives with a focus on proper macro ratios, and rich in key antioxidants and micronutrients is key to long-term health.

    When it comes to meal frequency, 3 square may work for lower calorie dieters but definitely not for someone who needs to eat as much as myself.

    • hey James,

      I am in agreement with you as it pertains to those like yourself who have a very large expenditure. However, this article was written a few years ago, so my stance on the topic has broadened a bit.

      I also agree with you about the dogmatic mentality of the IFing crowd being no different than the multiple meals per day crowd. In the end, it doesn’t matter as long as calories and nutrients are there – there’s research that suggests this, especially when it comes to energy needs and body composition.

      Not sure where you come off saying this though…

      The human body just isn’t designed to handle such a large quantity of food all at once

      If this is the case, how come we are so good at storing fat (energy) then? From an evolutionary standpoint, food was scarce at times and when there was food, you ate. I highly doubt our ancestors stopped eating as soon as they felt full or lethargy set in because it could be days or weeks before another meal.

      thanks for your thoughts


      • JC,

        When I say that the human body is not meant to process that much food all at once I was considering optimal performance of our biological systems. Eating a huge meal cripples our mobility, and diverts energy from other systems towards digesting food. If it weren’t bad for us to eat enormous amounts of food, I doubt our bodies would react by making us feel like shit afterwards.

        Our ancestors were also very good at learning how to preserve food via salting, smoking, drying etc . . . when they had it in order to ensure they had something to eat later. Also, as hunter/gatherers constantly on the move, they often subscribed to smaller frequent meals because they couldn’t afford to be overfull and lethargic when the call to action came.

        Make sense?

        • not really. you’re telling me hunter/gatherers at smaller meals? where are you getting this info? I’m simply curious, as I don’t know if that’s ever been documented.

          • I minored in anthropology at the University of Toronto and in the words of my professor, Dr. Michael Lambek, “the evidence suggests that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were constant snackers rather than structured meal-eaters, by virtue of the necessity of their everyday activities and the direct impact it had on their survival.” He says that although much is uncertain when it comes to their exact habits, a lot can be reasonably guessed at based on the facts that we do know for certain ie.: the were constantly tracking migratory herds, they were quite adept at preserving meats and gathered vegetables and fruits etc . . .

  4. The photo for this article is great! and intermittent fasting rocks, I’m very glad and grateful that I found it some months ago. Helped me a lot. Eating small frequent meals worked very well with me, and I got into great shape but recently this year, after consuming the 200-300 calorie small meals during the day and getting home after my workout I felt I could kill for a satisfying meal. Now, by fasting until lunch I can have the big satisfying meal after my workout, and still stay in my caloric schedule, I say God bless the people who finally made this concept up, and found their hard way against the dogmas.

  5. I’m a 56yo woman and have always struggled to maintain a healthy weight. As soon as I start eating in the morning I want to eat all day and night. I love to eat a satisfying meal and find small portions impossible to do long term. In fact I can adjust to eating nothing easier than eating small amounts.

    Since menopause I’ve gained weight, so in desperation I’ve stopped eating during the day and I feel great for a change. I allow myself to have cups of carob or other healthy drinks, with a little soy milk, so I’m not starving all day. By about 4:30pm it’s time for dinner. I make sure it’s a large, healthy meal with lots of vegies, protein, legumes, carbs… or whatever I feel like, but not junk food. About 7pm I have a large healthy supper – a huge fruit/nut smoothie or a healthy type of cake.

    I’m not finding this at all difficult to maintain so far. I have plenty of energy and have got rid of my constant heartburn. My digestive system is no longer overloaded, I’m losing weight steadily and am no longer afraid to enjoy my food. I go to bed satisfied, so I’m sleeping better.

    My opinion is that each of us should get to know what works for our own body and stop worrying about the experts.

  6. I like eating six meals per day because I never get hungry, I never get cravings and I keep losing fat without losing much muscle. It’s all very gradual but consistent. It’s not a pain in the ass because I actually make only two meals and then split each one three ways. I have yet to try a meal replacement powder.

    • I do a similar thing……..I prepare two meals but eat them in three sittings when I have time or when I am hungry. Two does it for me…..two palms of protein, two handfuls of vegetables, two litres of water, divide a treat into two pieces and give the biggest piece to some one else or keep it for another day, move for a minimum of two hours a day, in bed two hours before midnight……I could go on but you get my drift…..

  7. I went from size 10 to a size 6 by eating 2 meals a day. Transition occurred over 6 months. I used to eat first thing in the morning but I became inspired by something someone wrote online – something to the effect of “work out” prior to eating your first meal – It allows your body to burn off what you have eaten the day before. Obviously sleeping isn’t going to burn off everything, or whatever excess calories.

    It’s a good feeling to wait until I am actually hungry around 12 pm. I eat again around 5 or 6pm. I do not deprive myself during these meals – but I do make sure to include fruits, veggies, protein source, good fat source (since certain fats r required for the body to absorb fat soluble vitamins). Luckily, I am South Asian & the meals r veggie or lentils with spices & these provide the body with complex carbohydrates & plenty of fiber (keeps diabetes at bay!).

    You are definitely giving your digestive system a chance to recouperate & function optimally by eating the 2 meals. The only excercise I do is walk hour at a time 3 hours a week. My RMR is 1300 calories & I have never looked this good :) 1 other point about not depriving myself – Yes I always feel satisfied after a meal & allow myself some snacks (handful) & some type of Chocolate or sweets like Reese’s peanut butter cups or peanut M&M’s – & the fruits I include during meal are cantaloupe/strawberries/ or banana. These are super fruits loaded with more vitamins/minerals than other fruits. Lakewood Organic Pomegranate/Blueberry Juice is also a must have for its’ nutrients.

    I also stayed away from milk products – since cow products create extra mucus in the stomach & I read somewhere our bodies cannot digest certain proteins in cow milk. Love my almond milk :) & Coconut milk ice cream bars sold in all grocery stores. Coconut oil, ghee, olive oil are my preferred oils as well – research why they are good for your body despite the fact that the first 2 are saturates, they are actually great for your metabolism & other benefits.

  8. So this is all very interesting. I think there are some good things to point out in this in my opinion. This area of learning and knowledge is still growing very much. I have always had the personal preference of eating 5-6 small meals, but thats all it is, a preference. And once again personally, I am cautious of the idea of fasting then eating like that. But if at some point it is certified as safe, it could be an option for those who can’t eat 5-6 meals a day. It also totally depends on each individual, no one has the same body so they all act differently. It gives something to think about. Viable test should be done to directly determine whether there is a difference between your way and the 5-6 meals way, and that they are healthy choices.

  9. A year and a half ago I decided to give up junk food and eat three well planned home cooked meals a day.
    I was 125 pounds, which IMO is overweight for a woamn who is 5’2″.
    This 63 YO woman anyway! :)
    I now weighh 105 and I feel great.
    I eat my last meal between 4 and 5 PM and don’t eat again til the next morning.
    I excersise an hour before I eat breakfast.

    I had no idea there was so much info about this online until recently.

    3 meals a day sure works well for me.

  10. Lucky that 5-6 small meals a day had never been my dogma. The only way I had and will continue is intermittent fasting. IF has kept me in shape, feel well and look well.

  11. This is interesting, and I’m going to read this Warrior Diet which I’ve heard about before but didn’t realize was connected to fasting, but I’m not sure I could ever break the my “cherished” breakfast routine, for those that have implemented, how did you ever make it to midafternoon on fumes?

    • I am just not that into eating breakfast. I do as it’s convenient for my school schedule but now that the semester is over, I’ll be postponing my first meal until later in the day.

  12. This post irritates me since it gives ZERO credit to the originator of this program, in it’s original incarnation before being co-opted (without much due credit), from Ori Hofmekler, creator of the Warrior Diet…
    Does anyone else notice this?

    • I’d never even heard of Ori Hofmekler until about a year after I started intermittent fasting. I learned about IF through Martin Berkhan.

      Plus, he didn’t invent the idea of intermittent fasting, and I followed the approach where you eat all your calories over multiple meals in a 6-8 hour window, not just one meal a day like Ori recommends.

    • I understand how you can be irritated about not referencing and I “question” that anyone “invented” this way of eating as I would say [without referencing it….sorry] it is natural to many cultures not influenced by the west.

      I read recently that the cultures/countries that don’t have a problem with obesity do not snack…so I take that to mean that when they do eat they eat to satiety be that one, two or three times a day….all fresh food too, cooked on the spot…..and we are the lucky country???

      When did we get so sooky that we have to load ourselves up with provisions just to drive the the kids to school…..the supermarket….the theatre….the cinema….a two hour drive….for goodness sake we are not joining the wagon train for the gold rush.

      Sites like these are great and I love them but they are a resource and I value the authors experience but your mind and body isn’t a formula….. stop telling it what it should have…..let it tell you what it needs.

      Sorry… rant is done….

  13. I just saw this post on Twitter. This answers a lot of questions for me! I have tried to eat 6 small meals a day because I always read that this was good, but I really disliked it! I think for someone like me who has had bingeing issues in the past that it’s important to feel satisfied when I eat. Thanks!

  14. ok i know im late in posting but i gotta say this is gold for later on when ill end up working in an office probably and still try to compete. This can be related to on so many levels.
    Good stuff JC

    To be honest the calorie thing makes perfect sence – its the fact that you highlighted that we can have some leeway and introduce some nice little treats here and there and not have to wait a week for cheat meal to wreck chaos on the dominoes pizza motorcycle due to the weight of the order :P

  15. Thank you very much for posting something like this. I can relate in so many ways. I would make sure I ate every 3 hours and was way obsessive over it. Now I eat 3-4 meals a day whenever Im hungry. I also have a mini binge day on saturday. It worries me sometimes, but I need it to be happy. It just consists of like whatever I want for breakfast. Pancakes, a cinnamon roll, chocolate milk, muffin. Then at night Ill get like a burrito and a piece of cake. But when the week starts back up again Im right back to my clean and healthy eating. Do you think this is alright to do as long as I dont overdo it?

    • do I think it’s alright? Do I think it’s healthy? That’s not easy to answer. The only issue I see with this type of mentality is your binges could turn into something much worse. I also noticed you said you had a need to do this in order to be happy. that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

      How long have you been dealing with this sort of behavior? why not just eat a moderate diet throughout the week?

    VITENIN IRON AND etc . please reply me

    dilshan karunaratne

    • well, you can eat whenever you want to, really. That’s the point I was trying to make – it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference as long as you fulfill nutrient requirements.

      if you are concerned with getting adequate micronutrients you should eat more fruits and veggies and take a multivitamin/mineral to cover your bases.

  17. Just found your blog and the stuff on it is mindblowing; totally changes the way I’ve thought about nutrition. Question for you. Were you already lean and at your “goal” weight when you changed your eating habits to what you’re currently doing? I realize it’s about calorie deficit and what you’re saying is that it doesn’t really matter what those calories are. So my stupid question is, will IF and 2 to 3 meals help a guy drop 20 lbs or is this something to do only when you’re already pretty lean as a way to maintain that? Thanks.

    • When I started IF I was fairly lean. I haven’t been over 15% body fat since I was in high school.

      will IF and 2 to 3 meals help a guy drop 20 lbs or is this something to do only when you’re already pretty lean as a way to maintain that?

      yes, it will. Frankly it doesn’t matter what you do in terms of your diet as long as you keep protein high and maintain a caloric deficit. The great thing about IFing is that you usually never feel like you’re dieting, therefore your adherence is much better and your chances of succeeding improve greatly.

      • Good deal JC. Thanks. I’ve never been able to get as lean as I would like and due to the bullshit of meal planning and eating every 3 hours I just get tired of it and add the weight back on – this time I’ve packed on about 15 – 20 lbs. This seems like such a more realistic approach to eating and gaining the results I’m looking for. Thanks again.

  18. This idea of 6 meals/day or every 3 hours persists in the weight loss (regular women, not bodybuilders/athletes) community as well. I don’t have the time or energy, don’t see it as useful, and have no blood sugar issues (anymore), and I’m just as happy eating one big meal and a salad and snack per day (this isn’t recommended, sometimes necessary because I’m busy and not exercising enough to get hungry) as four or five. I’m glad to find people who don’t like Taubes, I think he’s so full of crap, I’m scientist enough to know better. Though I have to admit, I’ve been happier and more successful (weight wise) as I’ve started reining in some carbs (like pretzels, crackers, but absolutely not fruit) and worrying less about fat.

    • I have not read Taubes’ book but everyone I respect in this industry says he’s full of crap, therefore I do not bother with his material.

      Why don’t you eat fruit??

      • “…I’ve started reining in some carbs (like pretzels, crackers, but absolutely not fruit)…”

        I think maybe Julie means that she is reining in carbs, such as the pretzels and crackers, but that this ‘reining in’ definitely does not include fruit – i.e., she’s still eating that.

  19. Hi, I really like your blog. I found out about it from Rusty’s site. Anyway, so basically you believe that it all comes down to the calorie and having less meals means bigger, more satisfying meals?

    I have a question for you then – what do you think of the book Good Calories, Bad Calories? I was always sold on the calorie theory, since I always just skipped breakfast or dinner in college to lose weight and ate what i wanted (of course not binging on sugar), until I read this book. Well, recently, i’ve noticed I’m getting some pudge around my stomach, even though the rest of me is pretty thin. I workout for an hour/day walking on incline or the elliptical. I used to run, but have knee issues. I’m thinking this extra pudge is coming from no longer running, but still eating the same. I also have a sweet tooth, so after reading that book I really started thinking it was the sugar that was to blame. Now I find myself trying to cut out sugar completely from my diet, but what happens is that I start craving it and then going crazy on a sugar binge when I finally cave in. Any thoughts?

    • Christine: I do basically believe that it all comes down to calories, yes.

      I have never read the book, but I have heard enough bad stuff from people in the industry that I highly respect to know that it’s invalid.

      I would say that the extra pudge is from your decrease in expenditure(no running) and the same eating habits. That’s it really.

      I never, ever have my people completely cut out sugar or treats for the simple fact that they start craving it like you have said and this really screws with adherence. I like to keep a few “dirty” meals in someone’s diet to keep them sane.

      • I am interested in hearing why the book is “BS” from the prior post, when you get some time. It’s funny though, I have done the best in my life by just cutting calories (ie. skip a meal here and there and keep other meals the same), but then the low-carb craze came out. I was always the one that gained a couple pounds on Atkins, b/c I would snack all day b/c I never felt satisfied. However, I know a few friends that do really well on low-carb.

        JC, I am so happy to hear this. I know sugar is not the best thing for you, but when I was running, I never had a problem with it. I was thinking of just cutting 100-200 calories/day and see what happens to this pudge. The problem is, I just found out that I’m pregnant with my 2nd child, so I guess weight loss will be put on hold for 9 months. I’m going to keep a watch on my calories this time around though, b/c I gained 65 pounds with my daughter and this time, I want to only gain 20-25. Thanks for the info!

        • I am sure Ryan will chime in soon on that.

          Yea, people get really hung up a lot of silly dogma about the metabolic advantage and low carb etc. It’s nothing more than nonsense and some circles almost have a cult-like following. I am only interested in the objectional approach and what science says about these matters.

          Congrats on the news. I would not advocate dieting whilst carrying a child.

    • Christine,

      I know that I’m not JC, but perhaps you’ll find my take on GCBC to be helpful.

      1. I think it’s good in the sense of pointing out that Saturated fat isn’t the bad guy we thought it was, the nearly every cell relies on it etc. etc.

      2. For some people, a diet high in fat is more sating. And, from the perspective of the over-overfat people who might embark on such a diet, you’re minimizing blood sugar response. While the body is highly redundant, Insulin and ASP seem to be the main storage hormones for carbs and fat; reduce the amount of one and, in theory, you’re storing less.

      3. However, the notion that there is some magically metabolic advantage simply isn’t true. I love the movie “Fathead,” and the low carbers love to point out how he lost fat on a fast food/high fat diet, and more than the math would imply. All I care about is this: his calories were lower than maintenance. I’m sure it helped since he was eating fast food, to keep the fat high. He wasn’t going to get much food if the carbs were way up there. Taubes cited many studies that “observed” a food intake at a low level and yet people were getting fat. Studies show that people who don’t eat enough protein consistently and greatly overestimate their calories and that’s what happened in these “studies.”

      4. You have to know and learn how you respond. I used to think that, because I was extra skinny, I needed an assload of carbs. Now I find I do well on a relatively now amount (<25% of my daily kcal) and I get to eat a ton of cheese and cream. That said, on my workout days I eat the shit out of some carbs since I've earned them. I've been lean on high carbs and lean on high fat; subjectively what works best for your life is the best for you to use.

      5. I like paleo theory as much as the next guy: tasty meat, fresh fruit, coconut oil, hunting game, having illegitimate sex with anything that moves, painting cave walls, sprinting barefooted…and most people would be more healthy if they moved closer to this, since the amount of real food goes way, way up. That said, contest lean bodybuilders on "high" carbs say you can get lean if you watch you kcals…and that's the bottom line.

  20. Your thoughts?

    Supporting Research:

    Association between Eating Patterns and Obesity in a Free-living US Adult Population
    Ma, Y. American Journal of Epidemiology 2003; 158:85-92.

    Some studies have suggested that eating patterns, which describe eating frequency, the temporal distribution of eating events across the day, breakfast skipping, and the frequency of eating meals away from home, may be related to obesity. Data from the Seasonal Variation of Blood Cholesterol Study (1994–1998) were used to evaluate the relation between eating patterns and obesity. Three 24-hour dietary recalls and a body weight measurement were collected at five equally spaced time points over a 1-year period from 499 participants. Data were averaged for five time periods, and a cross-sectional analysis was conducted. Odds ratios were adjusted for other obesity risk factors including age, sex, physical activity, and total energy intake. Results indicate that a greater number of eating episodes each day was associated with a lower risk of obesity (odds ratio for four or more eating episodes vs. three or fewer = 0.55, 95% confidence interval: 0.33, 0.91). In contrast, skipping breakfast was associated with increased prevalence of obesity (odds ratio = 4.5, 95% confidence interval: 1.57, 12.90), as was greater frequency of eating breakfast or dinner away from home. Further investigation of these associations in prospective studies is warranted.

    Frequency of eating and concentrations of serum cholesterol in the Norfolk population of the European prospective investigation into cancer (EPIC-Norfolk
    Titan, S. British Medical Journal 2001; 323:1286 (1 December)

    Objectives: To examine the relation between self reported eating frequency and serum lipid concentrations in a free living population.
    Design: Cross sectional population based study. Setting: Norfolk, England.
    Participants: 14 666 men and women aged 45-75 years from the Norfolk cohort of the European prospective investigation into cancer (EPIC-Norfolk).
    Main outcome measures: Concentrations of blood lipids.
    Results: Mean concentrations of total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol decreased in a continuous relation with increasing daily frequency of eating in men and women. No consistent relation was observed for high density lipoprotein cholesterol, body mass index, waist to hip ratio, or blood pressure. Mean cholesterol concentrations differed by about 0.25 mmol/l between people eating more than six times a day and those eating once or twice daily; this difference was reduced to 0.15 mmol/l after adjustment for possible confounding variables, including age, obesity, cigarette smoking, physical activity, and intake of energy and nutrients (alcohol, fat, fatty acids, protein, and carbohydrate).

    Conclusions: Concentrations of total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol are negatively and consistently associated with frequency of eating in a general population. The effects of eating frequency on lipid concentrations induced in short term trials in animals and human volunteers under controlled laboratory conditions can be observed in a free living general population. We need to consider not just what we eat but how often we eat.

    Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women
    Rolls BJ, Morris EL, Roe LS. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002 Dec;76(6):1207-13.

    Background: Large portions of food may contribute to excess energy intake and greater obesity. However, data on the effects of portion size on food intake in adults are limited.
    Objectives: We examined the effect of portion size on intake during a single meal. We also investigated whether the response to portion size depended on which person, the subject or the experimenter, determined the amount of food on the plate.
    Design: Fifty-one men and women were served lunch 1 d/wk for 4 wk. Lunch included an entree of macaroni and cheese consumed ad libitum. At each meal, subjects were presented with 1 of 4 portions of the entree: 500, 625, 750, or 1000 g. One group of subjects received the portion on a plate, and a second group received it in a serving dish and took the amount they desired on their plates.
    Results: Portion size significantly influenced energy intake at lunch (P < 0.0001). Subjects consumed 30% more energy (676 kJ) when offered the largest portion than when offered the smallest portion. The response to the variations in portion size was not influenced by who determined the amount of food on the plate or by subject characteristics such as sex, body mass index, or scores for dietary restraint or disinhibition.

    Conclusions: Larger portions led to greater energy intake regardless of serving method and subject characteristics. Portion size is a modifiable determinant of energy intake that should be addressed in connection with the prevention and treatment of obesity.

    • alright, just highlighting a few things that stood out to me.

      In contrast, skipping breakfast was associated with increased prevalence of obesity (odds ratio = 4.5, 95% confidence interval: 1.57, 12.90), as was greater frequency of eating breakfast or dinner away from home.

      so we know that it isn’t the fact that they skipped breakfast at home(in which calories are better controlled) it’s the fact that they ate away from home(usually at a restaurant) where portions are bigger and usually more calorie dense.

      Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women Rolls BJ, Morris EL, Roe LS. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

      haha, you don’t say!??

      Large portions of food may contribute to excess energy intake and greater obesity. However, data on the effects of portion size on food intake in adults are limited. Objectives: We examined the effect of portion size on intake during a single meal. We also investigated whether the response to portion size depended on which person, the subject or the experimenter, determined the amount of food on the plate. Design: Fifty-one men and women were served lunch 1 d/wk for 4 wk. Lunch included an entree of macaroni and cheese consumed ad libitum. At each meal, subjects were presented with 1 of 4 portions of the entree: 500, 625, 750, or 1000 g. One group of subjects received the portion on a plate, and a second group received it in a serving dish and took the amount they desired on their plates. Results: Portion size significantly influenced energy intake at lunch

      this all comes down to control. This is where meal frequency doesn’t matter. You can eat 6 meals of 500 kcals or 3 meals of 1000 kcals. What is the difference? portion size, that’s it.

      Conclusions: Larger portions led to greater energy intake regardless of serving method and subject characteristics. Portion size is a modifiable determinant of energy intake that should be addressed in connection with the prevention and treatment of obesity.

      no crap. If you don’t control the calories, it doesn’t matter if they eat 3 meals or 10 meals. I believe this study only really relates to the general population who are not exercising, not meticulously counting calories(like most bodybuilders, strength athletes etc). The big difference: we keep track of our intake, obese people just eat lots of food regardless.

      So in this case, frequency is not so much an issue as the size of the meal is.

      • The problem with that first study is that it looks to be an apples to oranges comparison. They should have looked at higher vs. lower meal frequency, not skipping breakfast. Seems researcher bias was afoot. I think all you need to do is look at the below review of the meal frequency literature. As the researchers assessed, it makes no difference how many times you eat per day.

        For those interested reference:

        Bellisle F et. al. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. (1997) 77 (Suppl 1):S57-70.

        Several epidemiological studies have observed an inverse relationship between people’s habitual frequency of eating and body weight, leading to the suggestion that a ‘nibbling’ meal pattern may help in the avoidance of obesity. A review of all pertinent studies shows that, although many fail to find any significant relationship, the relationship is consistently inverse in those that do observe a relationship.

          However, this finding is highly vulnerable to the probable confounding effects of post hoc changes in dietary patterns as a consequence of weight gain and to dietary under-reporting which undoubtedly invalidates some of the studies

        We conclude that the epidemiological evidence is at best very weak, and almost certainly represents an artefact.

          A detailed review of the possible mechanistic explanations for a metabolic advantage of nibbling meal patterns failed to reveal significant benefits in respect of energy expenditure.

        Although some short-term studies suggest that the thermic effect of feeding is higher when an isoenergetic test load is divided into multiple small meals, other studies refute this, and most are neutral. More importantly, studies using whole-body calorimetry and doubly-labelled water to assess total 24 h energy expenditure find no difference between nibbling and gorging.

          Finally, with the exception of a single study, there is no evidence that weight loss on hypoenergetic regimens is altered by meal frequency. We conclude that any effects of meal pattern on the regulation of body weight are likely to be mediated through effects on the food intake side of the energy balance equation.
        • I was about to post this. Basically, anything using doubly-labeled water, if done properly, gets to the heart of caloric tracking/metabolic response.


  21. “I was pleased to see that killing a box of cereal and eating 100 grams of protein before bed would not make me wake up fat and bloated.”

    That is freaking hilarious!

    With 3 kids a home business and a wife that works outside the house I don’t have the time or energy to obsess about food. I barely have time to think about eating.

    I basically eat a ton of protein and food in general when trying to gain, and slack off (eating is work) on all but the protein when trying to burn off the fat. I always get the EFA’s pretty much just because of how I eat.

    Want to get bigger eat more calories, want to get smaller eat less calories. The trick is making yourself count them. I pretty much don’t but can gauge it pretty well anyway.

    Thanks bro!

    • you got it. It’s all about calories in the end. No need to worry so much about getting the timing just right. Eat and carry on with the rest of life. No worries, no stress.

  22. @Monica: I only see that being valid if you are diabetic/pre-diabetic or have other blood sugar issues, but then again, Martin Berkhan at leangains has worked with diabetics using his intermittent fasting approach with much success. They sure weren’t eating every other hour as one might think they should to control their blood sugar.

    I wasn’t trying to imply that eating fewer meals is superior to eating multiple meals per day. I was only aiming to convey the fact that it doesn’t matter from a body compositional standpoint. I also find more freedom in not worrying about eating all the time.

    You must do what works for you. If that is eating 10x a day or 2x a day, just do whatever is feasible and call it a day.

  23. Personally, I thought the point of eating many small meals was to keep the blood sugar from dropping. Mine drops quite easily and I get cranky and tired. Instead of 6 small meals, I tend to have about 8. I just eat through the day. Of course, I mostly eat whole foods like milk, cheeses, fruits, etc. Since I started doing this, I’ve felt a whole lot better and more focused throughout the day. (shrug)

  24. @Jenna: thanks for chiming in.

    Since I’ve decided that it is time to take my training to a higher level, I have felt that I really need to put more emphasis on the diet, and of course, what everyone is talking about is “clean eating.”

    sure, this is fairly common. Many fitness pro’s or so called’s will tell you this over and over again. They will tell you this only because it’s what they have been told repeatedly. Anyone who has done their research will tell you otherwise. Lyle McDonald, Jamie Hale, Alan Aragon, Martin Berkhan have all done their research. I trust their thoughts and ideas. Heck I have even done my own anecdotal research as you just read about. My point is don’t always take someone’s word as gospel. I don’t ask anyone here to take what I say as gospel. I just write to encourage others to think outside the box as I have.

    I think it provides a good reminder that calories, a balanced diet, and common sense about what works for you should be the main focus of our nutrition program.

    yes, that was the whole point. That’s all it comes down to and all it ever has come down to. I am glad you are here and hope you stick around.

  25. Hi JC–Just now seeing this article and find it interesting. I have been working out pretty seriously for about 6 months now, but have not been paying a lot of obsessive attention to diet. I am already primarily vegetarian, eating fish as the only “meat” in my diet. I also am not into many of the empty calorie snacks that are troublesome for most. So, I’ve taken the attitude that mostly, I should be cognizant of what I’m eating and in general the amount of calories.

    Since I’ve decided that it is time to take my training to a higher level, I have felt that I really need to put more emphasis on the diet, and of course, what everyone is talking about is “clean eating.” I have not done the research yet, but what little I’ve heard just strikes me as very similar to what I learned in kindergarten. If we must eat every 3 hours or so, but “meals” aren’t really “meals,” then isn’t it exactly the same as eating 3 meals plus a morning and an afternoon snack? I mean, if a “meal” is a little plain yogart with some fresh fruit on top–well, that is the same as the “snack” I used to have. Obviously, I’ll need to read up some more so that I can speak more intelligently on this, but I’m glad that I read this before reading much about the clean eating ideas. I think it provides a good reminder that calories, a balanced diet, and common sense about what works for you should be the main focus of our nutrition program.


  26. @cc: It’s never been proven that high meal frequency is superior to low meal frequency. People just kept hearing it over and over only to accept it as an absolute. I didn’t write this article to condemn anyone, I wrote this article to make people think a little bit more about the big picture. Fact is it’s not going to make a lick of difference in body composition whether or not you eat 3 meals or 10 meals.

  27. I find myself concerned that this article is being passed around as some sort of savior to free the people from the horrible shackles of high meal frequency. People seem to be having difficulty understanding that this is what is called “anecdotal evidence”. Simply reporting what “worked for me” is not science, and it should not be used as a handbook for others looking to produce the same results.

  28. Don, intermittent fasting is definitely a great method to follow when time is a factor. It is also a great tool when dieting. Who wants to stick to a 6 meal low calorie diet when the portions are only a few bites if that? I have found people to be much more consistent and adherence is much higher when lowering meal frequency on a diet. Something about the “full” feeling when being on a diet does a lot for the adherence issue.

    The timing of the meals is up to you. When fasting I usually had a small pre workout meal that consisted of about 600-700 calories. mainly protein, some carbs and a decent amount of fats. A few hours later I would work out. Then post workout, have some whey or a whole food protein, a ton of rice or potatoes and maybe something sweet like pudding or ice cream.

    As far as the calorie intake % goes, I believe you should focus on a minimum amount of protein, then EFA’s, then fill in the rest with energy kcals to meet the caloric amount. I believe that as long as you have a solid meal post workout and make sure nutrient requirements are met, the rest is just minutiae.

  29. This was a great article. Being the owner of a Personal Training Studio eating is one of the greatest challenges for my clients, especially since the over-all teaching over they years has been 6-7 meals. It certainly would allow for a greater consistency to lower that. I would try this on myself initially, but my initial question would be the timing of these meals in regards to when you work out and are you still having a shake post-work out. If I incorporated this with weight loss clients I believe the challenge would be the calorie intake %. Any direction?

  30. I’m putting this post in the haters section on monkey island. I hope shaf rips you a new one, guru.

    Actually, I wrote an article on my experiences that ended up on the “Fitness Spotlight” blog; basically I had to maintain some neurosis until I could go 16/8 thus “fasting” all day on protein with a 2 hour feeding window. Fasting is good once you get used to it.


  31. Abe, The point I wanted to make in this article was that its not necessary to eat 5-6 meals a day for optimal results. The same results can be achieved on 3 meals a day. Eating 5-6 times a day is not always practical, nor beneficial for people who are very busy.

    However, I do know someone that at one point had to consume over 6000 calories per day in order to gain weight at an appreciable rate. This would be a time when 5-6 meals would make sense because I couldn’t imagine stuffing myself with 2000 calories 3x per day.

  32. I did a quick 3 day trial after running across Martin’s site several months ago, using a noon-8pm window.

    Maybe I’m just too used to eating 5-6 meals a day, but I found it more demanding mentally to find ways to get all my maintenance calories in 2-3 meals during just 8 hours. And I’m not some 5000 calorie a day bodybuilder.

    Then throw in perhaps a bit more obsessiveness about getting good post workout nutrition (if you train near the end of the 8 hour window) and it just seemed like more of a hassle than 5-6 meals.

    But it takes time to get used to a new routine, so I’m definitely keeping an eye out for Martin’s upcoming book.

    Thanks for the great blog.

  33. Interesting article. You’re right that eating 5+ meals a day hasn’t been proven, yet I found myself for years following that protocol… with good effect, but it was definitely a chore.

    Once a week I would take the barriers of of eating and eat when I wanted, I would typically wait till 12pm or 1pm to start eating, then would just eat as I desired. The next day I was always stronger and felt great.

    I think that the advent of 6 meals a day is primarily a method to get more people to purchase meal replacement powders, protein powder, etc.. Because 6 solid meals a day is a real pain, hence the need to break the monotony. I have a few books on the bodybuilder Steve Reeves, who developed an awesome physique during the 1940-50’s, he eat 3 square meals a day.. definitely goes to show what can be done with more sane eating.

    • yes, Steve was a great bodybuilder. He also had great genetics. 1 in a 1000 are like Steve Reeves.

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