3 meals/day superior to 6 meals/day?

Who has research showing 3 meals/day is superior to 6 meals/day?

Please help! Like my last article on intermittent fasting, I am working on another unbiased look at a controversial subject – this time meal frequency. I need your help with finding any research that shows that fewer meals is superior to more meals – the reverse is much easier to find. I am looking for research that has not already been dismissed in Alan Aragon’s “An objective look at intermittent fasting“.

Last year a policy statement from the JISSN came out on meal frequency and the basic conclusion was that 6 meals a day was *probably* superior to 3 meals a day. By the way, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) is one of the most respected nutritional organizations around so lots of people paid close attention to this position paper. After this policy statement came out there was a rebuttal written by Alan Aragon published by leangains.com. Alan Aragon made it clear that although he has the highest regard for JISSN, in this case he thinks they missed the mark somewhat because of their bias although he agreed with JISSN on their conclusion:

“Nonetheless, more well-designed research studies involving various meal frequencies, particularly in physically active/athletic populations are warranted.”

The interesting thing to me is what was NOT said in Alan Aragon and Martin Berkhan’s rebuttal to this study. Unless I missed this, neither Alan Aragon nor Martin Berkhan offered any research studies up which prove the opposite, that is, any studies that show fewer meals superior to more meals. I know that the whole leangains website is about intermittent fasting which by definition means fewer meals but could someone post URLs to pages where he shows research that shows fewer meals is superior to more meals? Again, I am looking for ones that have not already been dismissed as bad research in Alan Aragon’s “An objective look at intermittent fasting”.

Please help me with info so I can provide a balanced view on this subject. I need research studies that show fewer meals to be superior to more meals.

49 thoughts on “3 meals/day superior to 6 meals/day?”

  1. I think its pertinent to break the question in at least two questions? Gaining, staying, or loosing weight? I guess if you are really big, eating a lot, it would be very unhealthy to do only three meals? Stomach, kidney, liver would be hammered. Also I guess a lot of the nutrients wont go in the blood, but straight to the toilet. This way your body protects you from poisening yourselve. Beside I would be really tired after a meal like that. Also a guess, but one i experienced myselve, and researched with some of my friends and colleagues. Just as training schedules should be changed every now and then, so should eating patterns. Its giving the brain the expected which makes lazyness. Every now and then experience a workout without breakfast. Though the strenght goes down, the muscle won’t gain.. Be amazed at the pace of your excercise.
    I’m sorry I can’t help you in searching for academic papers on the subject. I could do so in Dutch, but my guess it wouldn’t help you. Thanks for your films on YouTube. They inspired me to build a little gym at home, which may prove some sort of a life saver. Greats Alex Amsterdam

  2. Scooby, check out: Farshchi, H.R., Taylor, M. & McDonald, I.A.
    (2005) ‘Beneficial effects of regular meal frequency on dietary
    thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy
    obese women’, Am. J. Clin. Nutr., vol. 81

    1. Anita
      Bean, British nutrisionist in her book ‘The complete guide to sports
      nutrition’, 6th edition (2009) on pages 128-130 claims: “… eating
      regulary is associated with lower total energy intake and an elevated
      metabolic rate after eating. After eating, the metabolic rate increases
      by approximately 10% for a short while afterwards. This phenomenon is
      the thermic effect of food, or dietary-inducted thermogenesis.
      Reaserchers at the University of Nottingham, UK have also found that
      eating meals at regular intervals keeps blood sugar and insulin levels
      more stable, as well as helping to control blood cholesterol levels. For
      regular exercisers, eating 6 times a day is especially beneficial for
      efficient glycogen replenishment between workouts, and for minimising
      fat deposition. A regular food intake also ensures a constant flux of
      nutrients for repiring body tissues…”

  3. I do not think you will find many or any articles claiming that 3 meals/day are superior to 6meals/day. Although you may find quite a few claiming it to be much of a muchness. Similarly, you will not find articles saying that a 1.5g/kg/day intake of protein is better than the minimum of 2.2g/kg/day recommended by many in the fitness community, but you will find articles saying it’s perfectly sufficient.

  4. Hello ….
    Eating 3 meals a day is easier to maintain ,
    Eating 6 meals a day is better when i work out ( i recover faster) and when i want to loose weight,
    I tend to sway in the 6 meals a day direction ( easier portion control , u never feel hungry , u never feel that you overate , u loose weight faster , , ) , sadly i find that the 6 meals a day diet is very hard to fallow ( 1 snack or 1 beer outside the 6 meals is fat on your belly) u have to be highly dedicated not to stray from the 6 meals.
    The 3 meals a day way is safer ,easier to plan and u can modify the portion of the meals to compensate for the occasional snack(the no hassle way :p ) .
    Other then that i think all of us should try both and see what feels better , gets better results and above all what u can actually fallow with consistency..
    My comment is only based on my personal experience , i hope it helps.

  5. I was watching your video about bench press and the funniest thing I heard in a while was during the end. “Who gives a rat about how much you bench press, unless you get a job as a human floor jack”. lmao…

  6. There are no such studies. Lean gains is bro science. You’ll notice that almost all of the IF people have something to sell, whether it is books or unregulated diet and nutrition counseling. I signed up with one of them to see what they would tell me to do. What this particular guy was teaching was basically a carb cycled protein spared modified fast (google psmf for more info) . I’m six foot, 185 lbs. 1900 cals on training day, 1400 cals on rest days. Keep protein way high, like 2.5x body weight, cut out most carbs on rest days. you correctly noted that not much importance is placed on vegetables or vitamins, fiber, etc. there is no doubt this diet works because it’s so severely calorie restricted. Also, when you’re only eating 1900 calories per day it makes more sense to do one or two big meals vs six tiny meals. It is only going to work long term if you literally do no cardio, including playing any sports or even walking your dog. It also seems less than ideal if you have to use your brain for anything important during the day.

  7. Scooby, I’ve watched many of your workout/health related videos, and I’ve incorporated a few of your advises into my exercise routine, and diet. I’m now doing 20 – 30 minutes of cardio in the morning 5 to 6 days a week. I’m also lifting weights 3 days a week (usually in the evening.) I’m having 5 to 6 meals a day, but I’ve merely divided my usual 3 meals into 5 to 6 portions so there is no change in the amount of food I am having as far as meals are concerned. Since I’ve always had fairly clean food for main meals that was not difficult at all to get used to. My surprise came from many of the so called “healthy food/snacks” that just weren’t healthy, and loaded with sugar and fat such as yogurt, cereals, granola bars that I routinely had. I had to really check how much sugar, and fat those were giving me from their nutrition labels before I had them, and when I found out the amount, I got disgusted, and ended up having more natural food/snacks such as fruit and nuts. I found out it was a quite a challenge to find healthy snacks that tasted like junk food. It’s Okay though since I like fruit and nuts anyway. I feel better now, and lost about 2 inches on my waist, and I am stronger, AND definitely look better. This is getting a little long now, but I want to thank you for all your hard work posting the videos without misleading information. Cheers!

  8. Scooby, I’ve watched many of your workout/health related videos, and I’ve incorporated a few of your advises into my exercise routine, and diet. I’m now doing 20 – 30 minutes of cardio in the morning 5 to 6 days a week. I’m also lifting weights 3 days a week (usually in the evening.) I’m having 5 to 6 meals a day, but I’ve merely divided my usual 3 meals into 5 to 6 portions so there is no change in the amount of food I am having as far as meals are concerned. Since I’ve always had fairly clean food for main meals that was not difficult at all to get used to. My surprise came from many of the so called “healthy food/snacks” that just weren’t healthy, and loaded with sugar and fat such as yogurt, cereals, granola bars that I routinely had. I had to really check how much sugar, and fat those were giving me from their nutrition labels before I had them, and when I found out the amount, I got disgusted, and ended up having more natural food/snacks such as fruit and nuts. I found out it was a quite a challenge to find healthy snacks that tasted like junk food. It’s Okay though since I like fruit and nuts anyway. I feel better now, and lost about 2 inches from my waist, and I am stronger, AND definitely look better. This is getting a little long now, but I want to thank you for all your hard work posting the videos without misleading information. Cheers!

  9. Simone Agostinetto

    People must have REALLY stressed you hard on your old meal frequency claims, lol.

    Anyway, If there’s a difference in bodybuilding results between the 3 and 6 meals a day approaches, it’s clearly small, and not relevant compared to more practical factors (i.e. time to cook and stuff)

    But no, i don’t have the studies you want.

  10. Scooby. heres what ive found. Sorry for the long text by the way :p
    Gary Schwartz, a researcher with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, answered, “There’s no strong data supporting either [three meals a day or six meals a day] as being more effective” for losing weight or maintaining lost weight. “Clearly there is an emphasis on reducing caloric intake overall, whether it be by decreasing meal size and/or decreasing meal frequency.”
    In a recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition editorial, a team of nutrition researchers concluded that whether you are practicing the “three” or “six” meal daily dietary pattern, weight loss ultimately comes down to “how much energy (or calories) is consumed as opposed to how often or how regularly one eats.”
    The answer to No. 2, it seems, can only be found within each individual. The truth is, the more times a day you sit down to eat a meal or snack, the more opportunities you have to overeat; this can be a serious problem for some people. If you are someone who has a difficult time eating a small amount at a meal or snack (you have a hard time stopping once you get started), then it’s quite possible that, for you, eating five or six times a day isn’t the best way to go.
    Statistically Scooby here is no evidence whatsoever, for either side.
    I don’t claim to be highly intelligent or anything of the sort. However from personal experience, I am a teenager who has allergies to milk and eggs. Dieting for me has always been difficult, due to the limited grocerices which my parents buy. I have tried both the 6-meal and 3-meal a day approaches, and i have found that after eating a small meal i am unsatisfied. this usually resualts in me over eating. My body does not get the feel good signal associated with “full”. Therefore I am content eating three-four bigger or medium sized meals a day.
    I now eat simply when i get hungry, and will not wait an hour past the hunger zone. The reason being is that i will definetly overeat if i do.
    Finally I believe many reserachers agree that eating really comes down to your specific needs. Neither style is nessacarily better, provided you are tracking the kinds of foods going into your body and eating the right amount of calories, with the right sorts of food.
    thanks for reading :)

  11. For all you Scooby sceptics out there: Look at the man’s body! It speaks for itself. This man clearly knows what he’s talking about. He speaks out of experience and research.

    Mind that no person is the same, what works for Scooby might not work for you. But on this website there is enough other information to try and see what works for you!

    Becoming and staying fit and reaching new bodybuilding goals is a road of trial and error. But as long as you keep training, reading, learning, planning and eating at the best of your ability, there will be no failure!

    Keep up the good work Scooby!

  12. Verboeket-van de Venne WP, et al. Effect of the pattern of food
    intake on human energy metabolism. British
    Journal of Nutrition, Jul, 1993; 70 (1): 103-115.

    Jenkins DJ, et al. Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic advantages
    of increased meal frequency. New
    England Journal of Medicine, Oct 5, 1989; 321 (14):
    929-934.

    Cameron JD, et al. Increased meal frequency does not promote
    greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week
    equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. British
    Journal of Nutrition, 2010; 103: 1098-1101.

    Arnold LM, et al. Effect of isoenergetic intake of three or nine
    meals on plasma lipoproteins and glucose metabolism. American
    Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Mar, 1993; 57 (3):
    446-451.

    Arnold L, et al. Metabolic effects of alterations in meal
    frequency in type 2 diabetes. Diabetes
    Care, Nov, 1997; 20 (11): 1651-1654.
    Taylor MA, Garrow JS. Compared with nibbling, neither gorging nor
    a morning fast affect short-term energy balance in obese patients in
    a chamber calorimeter. International
    Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders,
    Apr, 2001; 25 (4): 519-528.
    Taylor MA, Garrow JS. Compared with nibbling, neither gorging nor
    a morning fast affect short-term energy balance in obese patients in
    a chamber calorimeter. International
    Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders,
    Apr, 2001; 25 (4): 519-528.Hope these help. Sorry for the tardiness

    1. Cameron JD et al. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101. Epub 2009 Nov 30.
      Influence of the feeding frequency on nutrient utilization in man: consequences for energy metabolism. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1991 Mar;45(3):161-9.

      Meal frequency influences circulating hormone levels but not lipogenesis rates in humans. Metabolism. 1995 Feb;44(2):218-23.

  13. Scooby,
    Rather than focus on the number of meals a day you might try looking into the most effective way of eating. Before you roll your eyes please check this out.

    The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff S Volek and Stephen D. Phinney (April1, 2012)
    BTW have you ever had you triglycerides and HDL checked? That’s when you really know how your diet is affecting your health.

    From what I’ve read you seem to go heavy with carbs and avoid fats including egg yolks.This kind of thinking is 30 years behind real scientific research.

    Thanks,

    1. Your statement regarding Scooby’s diet (i.e., go heavy with carbs and avoid fats including egg yolks) is very untrue and even unfair, inasmuch as you assume you know exactly what Scooby eats. Apparently, you have not thoroughly read his articles.

      While Scooby does avoid the yolks in eggs, which is due to the amount of cholesterol found within the yolk, that is not to say that he avoids all fats in general.

      As a matter of fact, in his overview of nutrition, he goes so far as to champion the so-called good fats, by suggesting that you: “eat less than 25% of your calories from fat and eat only good fats like olives, nuts, and avocados.”

      Regarding his carb intake, Scooby has mentioned that he works out more or less twice a day (i.e., one cardio session and one weight session) 5 times a week. If he didn’t have a diet that was full of complex carbs, which includes the vegetables that he eats, I doubt he would be able to maintain such a rigorous schedule.

      Also, for this very reason, low-carb diets, although effective in the short-term, fall into the yo-yo diet category, given that they are unrealistic to maintain in the long-term, especially when someone has a very high activity level.

      Before you post a rebuttal, you may want to read some more of his articles, as I have done over the years, and cite specific examples.

  14. When I want to loose weight – my way is to start to eat as late as possible througout the day, for example: first meal at lunch, no breakfast. This – in my case- results in eating about 10 percent less calories in total than usual over a longer period of time.

  15. I don’t understand how you came to the conclusion that “6 meals a day was *probably* superior to 3 meals a day”. Though I just did a quick browse through and I may have missed some details, the authors stated that:

    “it appears from the existing (albeit limited) body of research that increased meal frequency may not play a significant role in weight loss/gain… Furthermore, most, but not all of the existing research, fails to support the effectiveness of increased meal frequency on the thermic effect of food, resting metabolic rate, and total energy expenditure.”

    Even the abstract stated that:
    “4. Increased meal frequency does not appear to significantly enhance diet induced thermogenesis, total energy expenditure or resting metabolic rate.”

    That’s the main argument being made by those who support the 6 meal a day style and according to their findings it’s false.

    1. From their conclusions 2,3 and 5:

      2. If protein levels are adequate, increasing meal frequency during periods of hypoenergetic dieting may preserve lean body mass in athletic populations.5. Increasing meal frequency appears to help decrease hunger and improve appetite control.3. Increased meal frequency appears to have a positive effect on various blood markers of health, particularly LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and insulin.

      1. I have no research scooby however,
        Just from a personal experience I have been doing IF for the past 6 months and one thing I can definitely say is it allows me to control my appetite much better than the 5-6 small meals I used to eat everyday. I agree wholeheartedly with Martin Berkhan’s assertion that eating small meals doesnt leave you satisfied whereas after each one of my big meals I feel fully satiated and not looking around for more food as I used to with 6 meals. The other major positive I found with it was the ability to lose weight effortlessly and without any cardio while maintaining muscle mass. I went from about 18% BF to about 12-13% in 3 months.
        However one major drawback I found is, for me personally, the muscle gains stopped after month 3 on the IF diet even after I significantly increased my calories and I have now altered my approach somewhat and trying a 12/12 split instead of the 16/8 split.
        PS: I really like your open minded approach to all methods and willingness to consider any approach. I find most if not all other people just get entrenched in their ways and fail to see any other method as acceptable. Even with Martin Berkhan, he acts like a nutter when anyone disagrees with anything he says.

      2. Sorry for the wall of text! Ok so now that I’ve read a bit more closely, I didn’t regard conclusion 2 as relevant because it mentioned “hypoenergetic dieting” (which means consuming only a PORTION of your resting energy expenditure) and I believe anyone following a bodybuilding regimen should certainly be aware of their nutritional requirements (as you discussed in one of your recent videos). The authors even stated that ”
        For athletes wishing to gain weight, a planned nutrition strategy should be implemented to ensure hyper-energetic eating patterns. ”

        As for number 5, I find this kind of a neutral point. The authors mention that ”
        Even if nothing else was directly affected by varying meal frequency other than hunger alone, this could possibly justify the need to increase meal frequency if the overall goal is to suppress the feeling of hunger.” If your overall goal is to build muscle, perhaps the goal of suppressing hunger may not apply as much. However, it is entirely up to one’s own opinion.

        Number 3 concerning the blood markers cited studies done on “five hospitalized adult women and men” and cross-sectional studies done on older individuals (ages 45-89). These groups may have different responses to dietary stresses (such as a fluctuating meal frequency) and therefore the findings may not be as applicable to younger or healthier persons. This is even stressed by the authors themselves who note:
        “Contrary to the aforementioned studies, some investigations using healthy men [62], healthy women [63], and overweight women [39] have reported no benefits in relation to cholesterol and triglycerides. Although not all research agrees regarding blood markers of health such as total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and glucose tolerance, it appears that increasing meal frequency may have a beneficial effect. Mann [64] concluded in his review article that there seems to be no deleterious effects in regard to plasma lipids or lipoproteins by eating a relatively large number of smaller meals. It is noted, however, that the studies where benefits have been observed with increased meal frequency have been relatively short and it is not known whether these positive adaptations would occur in longer duration studies [64].”

        Overall, I’d say the JISSN article is mostly unbiased itself by providing evidence for both sides and mostly saying “we don’t REALLY know how this affects athletes”. This is great because it encourages readers to perhaps explore the subject on their own and implores scientists to conduct further research so we may have a clearer picture of the outcome in the near future.
        I’d also like to stress that I’m not an advocate of EITHER view here and I’m really curious as to what the results are as well as anyone else. I think if a method works for someone, maybe they should stick to it as long as it’s not detrimental to their health. However, I do agree that it’s important to stay educated about what methods we’re following in regards to bodybuilding.

  16. I’m on IF right now but because it work good with my schedule and i don’t have any ideas to compete on stage. I also never heard any of my friends who compete to prepare themselves with only 3 meals.

  17. why does it seem that every time scooby has something to say about intermittent fasting, its always a biased take on it? if you’re going to say something about it and say its an UNBIASED review why not make it an unbiased one and not a biased one?.. Why not give all the information? not only the information that makes you look right.. scooby, you were much respected until now by me, why not include insulin sensitivity and the increased growth hormone caused by intermittent fasting correctly in your article or video? you conveniently left that out..I think you’re stuck in your old ways of 6 meals a day and aren’t very open to investigating things to its maximum possibility. Placebo effect? hmmph.. how stupid do you think we are? *…

    1. Scooby should just try fasting as an experiment… Like a month or two, and monitor how he feels, and his body composition changes… Last week he talked about a study that show a decrease in performance for a soccer team that does Ramadan, but they don’t even drink water! Playing dehydrated and playing fasted are two very separate things!

      1. Here is the thing about meals, and this is common sense. If you have 5000 calories to eat, and if you don’t like the full feeling you get from eating gigantic meals then breaking down those meals into 6 meals is really convenient. Now this is for bulking up for example. If you are losing weight how does breaking your caloric goal affect you before and after a meal? Either how testing things like insulin levels before and after meals for individuals is the kind of test that I want to see. w

        A few factors have to be tested on a healthy individual that is active and in good shape. Or an individual that is in average shape. Or an individual that is overweight and performs little activity such as sitting down on a job all day long and nothing else.

        My thoughts are not complete but Scooby I hope you know where I am going pal.

    2. Show me the research that proves your points. If you get good results from IF and like it then DO IT because it works *for you* but don’t deceive yourself into thinking its benefits are proven on some stone tablet somewhere.

    3. I think the point of Scooby’s article was to solicit information that fewer meals per day are better, so that he can make a fair comparison. He has been following a certain method and it worked for him, but he wants to make a fair comparison. Not sure if your post is fair – don’t shoot the messenger.

  18. I’m really looking forward to this. Thank you so much that you invest so much efford for this and sharing with us. Btw will you cange your eating behaviour if the studies show some “suprise”

  19. I’m curious what “superior” means. What is objective? that makes on superior to the other. For long life? or weight loss? Seems that anecdotal evidence shows that plenty of people eat three meals a day and don’t suffer much as a result. That is, it would appear that the differences even in a non-clinical sense are negligible on the face of it.

    1. It seems pretty obviouse that by “superior” Scoob means which is “superior” in terms of Bodybuilding.
      I’m curiouse myself, plenty of people strongly insist that 3 meals a day are just as good as 6, but they never seem to have any evidence to back up their claims. Your comment is a fine example of this.

    2. PLEASE at least read the JIISN’s abstract, its only 2 paragraphs. I don’t want to put words in their mouth, I just tried to paraphrase a long paper into one sentence to give you the flavor. ANYWAY, thats not the point. What I want is the OPPOSING VIEWPOINT and no one has given it to me yet. Not one person yet has offered up any research studies showing fewer meals being superior to more meals. Is that because there are none? Its clear from the posts here that a lot of people who like IF have found this post but even they have offered no help.

      1. I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear. The studies I posted were mostly about how there doesn’t seem to be a difference at least on weight loss. Nitrogen retention doesn’t seem to differ either suggesting no loss of lean muscle, so long as protein intake is sufficient. I honestly haven’t been able to find any evidence to support the idea that fewer is superior just as I can’t find overwhelming evidence that the opposite is true either. I will keep looking and if I find anything I will gladly share it.

  20. Kenneth Evan Powell III

    I personally have two “big” meals a day, with several “small” snack meals in between. It’s a combination of both methods, and it works well for me, especially since I’m a college student. I never feel bloated or pressured to eat at a certain time, and the small snacks help me stay energized (these are usually bananas, yogurt, etc). As for unbiased, peer-reviewed research? That’s a tall order, Scoob. Most quality peer-reviewed research is in journals that require a subscription or academic waiver to look at. Some are available to the public, often in “dumbed-down” form. I’ll let ya know if I spot anything.

    1. To me having 3 meals a day works better than having more than 3 meals.
      Easy to explain why: less nutrition stess.
      It turned out that reducing all the stress factors in my life was the key to promote digestion and gain muscles.
      Over the years nutrition became the worst part of the musclesport for me, so i kicked out the additional meals, even ate less in the morning and now i fell way better than before.
      To reach the goal of having constantly 6 meals a day you have to repeat eating the same food wich can lead to food intolarances, in my case lactose and fructose(maybe more).
      “If having 6 meals a day was superior to less meals would the mankind be such a success story?!” Also an approach, but i would mentions this argument only at the end of a discssuion. ;-)

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