A Look at the Thermic Effect of Meal Frequency

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Editor’s note: This article by Joe Strong originally appeared at Machine Muscle.

Here we are again fellas, diving into yet another topic regarding proper nutrition in the world of physical fitness. I am actually very excited to write about this subject today. It is a strategy that has been raved about, seen on television and sold as the biggest secret in nutrition.

That said, it is much like every other myth or strategy to dieting; it has pros and cons. Those that are for the consumption of 5+ meals per day are usually referencing the studies done on the thermic effect of food and its ability to change metabolism. Those against, reach back toward the center-point of proper nutrition and overall macronutrient consumption.

After explaining what each side believes and why they choose to do so, we will look into the science and draw our conclusion.

Thermic Effect of Food

Regardless of my exercise, if I consume 3,000 calories in one sitting, I am not hungry at all throughout the remainder of the day.

TEF – The Thermic Effect of Food

Those who enjoy eating several small meals everyday do so because of the idea behind the thermic effect of food (TEF). The TEF is the amount of energy that your body uses to store the energy it takes in. Described an easier way, it is the amount of calories used to store the calories you consume.

What these people believe is that consuming food more often during the day will keep their body constantly in a state of high metabolic rate. Therefore, although they consume a large amount of calories, the fact that their metabolism is non-stop all day, they will not store any fat.

The idea makes sense and I do not blame those who believe in it. However, there are multiple reasons for one to steer clear of the belief that eating frequently aids in fat storage.

First of all, eating more frequently calls for smaller meals. Smaller meals leave you much less satisfied when you are hungry and force you to feel dissatisfied. Although you finish these small meals knowing you will be eating again within two hours, it is very difficult to stop eating while you are still hungry.

Second, the thermic effect of food is such a small factor when speaking of metabolic rate; it does not really make a difference. The energy used in the storage of your caloric intake is negligible in comparison to overall caloric intake and will not elicit any accelerated calorie burn.

Third and finally, the core of the flexible dieting series comes to the surface: daily macronutrient consumption is the deciding factor in overall physical appearance and body composition.

Protein PowderI wanted to state that core fact prior to explaining the argument against meal frequency because every reason stems back to it.

As I said above, the TEF is so minuscule that eating only one meal the entire day will have no less of a benefit than eating eight. Here, we can tie together reasons one and two from above but this time, in favor of meal infrequency.

Eating only one meal might leave someone hungry, but that depends on how you look at things. Regardless of my exercise, if I consume 3,000 calories in one sitting, I am not hungry at all throughout the remainder of the day. This may not be optimal for the average person, but being overly full is better than being constantly starved.

Right there is enough to argue in favor of not trying to utilize meal frequency. Instead, eat for satisfaction. Again, as long as you remain within caloric range, the frequency at which you eat your meals, and what those meals contain, will have no negative effect on body composition.

Conclusion

Some people enjoy eating more often because of their lifestyle, their favorite foods or because they are used to it. Others prefer the satisfaction of less frequent, more calorie dense meals.

In the end, as long as caloric goal is met, the body will react the same way. It all boils down to personal preference and all stems back to flexible dieting.

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