Fasting and Meal Frequency

When it comes to the fitness fraternity, we are surrounded by many beliefs which are not backed by scientific reasoning. 

Most commonly asked questions are:

“If I skip my breakfast, will my metabolism slow down and will it make me fat?”

“Is it true that eating six meals a day is better for your metabolism than eating two or three meals a day ?”

When it comes to this topic, the questions seem endless. 

Let’s debunk some commonly believed myths.

#Myth 1: Skipping breakfast will make you fat.

Breakfast is often considered as the most important meal of the day. It is strongly believed that it can affect your fitness in a big way. People believe that skipping breakfast leads to excessive hunger, cravings, and weight gain. 

However, this debate is settled in a controlled experiment conducted recently. The results are now considered to be of gold standards.

This study compared eating breakfast vs skipping breakfast in 283 overweight and obese adults. After a 16-week study period, there was no difference in weight between both the groups. Contrary to popular beliefs, intermittent fasting (e.g. 12 to 16 hours of fasted state) was found to have several health benefits such as healthy aging and increased growth hormone production. But wait, what about losing muscles? ‘Skipping breakfast can move your body into catabolic (breakdown) mode.’ This doesn’t really sound pleasing, right? The body needs amino acids, which are obtained after the breakdown of protein to repair, maintain and build muscle tissues. Some might conclude that if you skip your breakfast, particularly ‘protein’, the body won’t have enough amino acids to help with muscle repair. Bro science even suggests that as a result, your muscles will ‘fade’. However, even if you did not eat a decent sized, protein-rich meal the night before, you will still have amino acids available in your body. Furthermore, carbohydrates and fats would serve as preferential energy sources before the body resorted to converting protein to useful energy. Thus, skipping breakfast has no impact on fat loss or muscle building.

#Myth 2: Frequent meals improve metabolism.

One of the most frequent debates is about meal frequency. Based on research findings there is nothing much to debate about. The majority of studies show that meal frequency has no significant impact on metabolic rate (or fat loss). Many think that if you eat frequently, you will naturally boost the amount of energy/calories burned per day due to increase in the thermic effect of food (TEF).

The thermic effect of food is the caloric cost of digesting and processing different macronutrients. Thus, it is believed that the calories we use to digest food, increases when we have frequent meals. But, that is not true. Research shows that net TEF for the whole day is the same regardless of meal frequency. To simplify, if net TEF of a food is 300 calories, no matter if it is being consumed 6 times a day, 3 times a day or all at once, it will produce net TEF of 300 calories at the end of the day. Studies have also found that increasing meal frequency did not find any significant difference in average weight loss, fat loss and muscle loss when putting in a caloric deficit. Thus, eating more frequent meals neither boosts metabolism nor help in weight loss.

#Myth 3: Eating frequent small meals keep us satiated.

Eating every 2 hours can be troublesome for few because of their lifestyle. To some, it could be annoying to eat multiple times. On the other hand, some individuals find it comfortable if they eat multiple times a day and feel satiated. Studies show that decision on meal frequency varies individually according to their comfort and satiety levels.

To wrap up, nutrition is always individual specific. While there are some globally accepted concepts, they will always vary with an individual and certain modifications are needed to optimize a diet plan. Thus, we do not need to stress much about the timings and the frequency of the meal. Make sure you meet your required calories and macros for the day and you are sorted. Deciding meal frequency is entirely up to your convenience.


Author credits – Swapnali Bansode