A Word on Protein Consumption, Meal Frequency & Fat Loss
Posted on: 2013-08-26 13:06:12 Ft.
Most bodybuilders and other high-caliber athletes would agree that a high-protein diet is essential for building a formidable, muscular physique. Meal frequency, on the other hand, is a topic of debate. Some suggest that the old school method of three square meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is adequate as long as the caloric intake and the macronutrient breakdown of those calories are “sufficient” to support the desired outcome (e.g., muscle growth or fat loss). While others contest that it’s better to split those calories over six meals.
To be fair, there are arguments that can be made for each side. However, a study released at the beginning of 2013 may have you favoring one over the other.
In this study, researchers compared the effects of a high-protein diet (35% of total caloric intake) split between three or six meals a day. What’s interesting about this study is that after baseline studying, the researchers also had test subjects follow two different phases of caloric intake. The first phase, which lasted 28 days, had subjects consumed “an energy-balanced diet” (i.e. they consumed a diet calculated to meet 100% of their daily caloric expenditure). The second phase, which was also 28 days, had subjects consume a calorie-deficient diet (-25% maintenance).
The results showed that during the first phase of the study those who consumed either three or six meals a day maintained their bodyweight. However, only those who divided their daily caloric intake over six meals lost body fat and increased lean muscle mass. Essentially, they traded off fat for muscle! So, what happened when they were on a calorie-restricted diet? That’s where it gets even more interesting. Keep reading.
During the second phase, both groups lost body weight and fat. However, once again, the results from the group who consumed six meals a day were more intriguing. Not only did their lean body mass remain higher, but so was their postprandial thermogenesis. That sounds like a mouthful, but it’s just a fancy term that means their metabolism increased after they ate.
One more point we neglected to mention (on purpose) was that there was a third group. This group consumed 15% of their caloric intake from protein, split their calories over 3 meals and went through both phases. The result? Not as good as both high-protein diets in either phase.1
Therefore, while the verdict may not be in for how to many meals to split your calories over. This study definitely favors six meals a day.
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1. Arciero PJ et al. (2013) Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. Obesity (Silver Spring) doi: 10.1002/oby.20296. [Epub ahead of print]