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Food Volume and Meal Frequency?

JJ McClinton

I've been experimenting with something that has been on mind for a while now. And that is, does the meal frequency (most bodybuilding guru's promote the eating of five to six smaller meals throughout the day)really make that much of a difference on your results compared to eating three meals throughout the day but with the exact same food intake.

I decided to switch my meal frequency from six smaller meals throughout the day to three larger meals throughout the day with one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. I decided to do this because of the constant hassle and time restraints that occur from having to eat five to six smaller meals throughout the day. I also thought about this after browsing through Steve Reeves' excellent book "Building the Classic Physique the Natural Way."

In this book Steve outlined his normal eating habits while he was in competition. If you look at his diet it looks quite normal (which I might add is something Arthur Jones said was in actual requirement for a bodybuilder).The only real diffence in his diet and those of the average American at that time (1940's three solid meals a day) was that for breakfast Steve made his own protein / milkshake which actually sounds quite good.

Now after a month of this meal frequency change I have not seen any real change in my results in that I am still in good condition and as lean as I was prior to, while I was obsessing about getting my five or six meals a day (which really does make you look like a dork, socially anyway). Now I know that eating five to six meals a day does work, but it seems to me that so does eating three nutritious meals throughout the day and that the eating of more seems like an inconvenience. Would love to hear your guy's thoughts and experimentations.
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When i first started training I followed the program in Dr. Darden's 'Big Muscles In Ten weeks' book and gained a stone with a slight reduction in bodyfat. This program also called for 3 regular meals and 1 fruit milkshake per day.

3 'square' meals does not always work well around my work schedule though as I often have a very early breakfast and a long break between lunch and getting back for dinner - so now I tend to add either a piece of fruit, a milshake or cereal bar if i have a long space between meals and this seems to stop me overeating so much when it gets to the main meal.

I'm maintaining around 6% BF right now so eating 3 meals and a couple of small snacks is working best for me.

Rob T
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Drew Baye

Florida, USA

I've done it both ways (5 to 6 meals a day, and 3 or 4 meals a day) with fine results. The important consideration with regards to staying lean where meal size and frequency is glycemic load.
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I've been doing well off of having a few small MRP shakes in the day, evenly spaced, and then a large meal in the evening.

No noticeable fat gain or such, and I sleep well after that larger meal in the evening. I only do the MRP's because I'm too lasy to do some light fruit/veg/nuts and cheese etc. I always feel a little nauseated first thing in the am and never in the mood for a decent meal, so I stopped forcing it and I'm doing fine.
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The major problem I have with 5-6 small meals is the snowball effect. Even with the intake of total calories in a day the same, by the last 1-2 meals I'm not starving but I just get the major urge to eat. More mind than body, but even the body isn't helping by not feeling any fuller than it was at the start of the meal.

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Quebec, CAN

I know common wisdom is that 6 meals a day is better than 3, while researching the subject on pubmed, there were very few articles on the subject.

I came across this review that seems to conclude that the body of evidence shows that either approach is about as effective:

The article dates a bit (it'S 10 years old) does anybody have more recent scientific information showing that frequent feeding is better than traditionnal 3 meal a day? Thanks!

I've placed the full PDF here


Meal frequency and energy balance.Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM.
INSERM U341, Hotel Dieu de Paris, France.

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.
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mufasta wrote:
The major problem I have with 5-6 small meals is the snowball effect. Even with the intake of total calories in a day the same, by the last 1-2 meals I'm not starving but I just get the major urge to eat. More mind than body, but even the body isn't helping by not feeling any fuller than it was at the start of the meal.

The final meal, or "eating episode" as I like to call it, is my greatest challenge because that's when I have an urge to eat quite a lot - compared to a similar snack time around, e.g. 4pm.
Personally I do start to feel hungry every three hours anyway - unless I'm extremely busy at work.
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