Q&A Tuesday – Does Eating Many Small Meals Elevate Metabolism?

by Chris on May 10, 2011

As I write this it is 11:59pm on Tuesday, so odds are this isn’t going to be posted a little late. But what can ya do?

I got into a discussion tonight at the gym which stemmed from one simple question: does eating frequent meals raise your metabolism?

This is a fairly common bit of knowledge that has persisted for years. I myself used to recommend this, as it is what I learned years ago. Unfortunately, though, this is a misleading piece of advice which has become accepted as gospel over the years. The simple answer is no, eating many (6-8) frequent meals does not raise your base metabolism when compared to eating fewer meals (1-3).

To explain I turn to Martin Berkhan of LeanGains.com, a man more knowledgeable in this field than I. According to Martin, the origin of this myth is most likely from a couple of factors. The first is that people misunderstand the Thermic Effect of Food. Basically, TEF is the principle that your body must burn calories in order to actually digest. So the logic follows that if I eat more often, my body has to constantly burn calories all day long to digest. The problem with this is that the amount of calories you burn to digest is directly proportionate to the size meal you eat. Therefore, 3 big meals and 8 small meals of equal total caloric value burns the same amount of calories when all is said and done.

The other reason for this myth could be that there is an inverse correlation between meal frequency and body weight. That is to say people who eat more often tend to have a lower body weight. The problem there is that this is a correlation, not a causal relationship. So it’s not that people who eat more frequently burn more calories, they just tend to have healthier eating habits.

So when all is said and done, the no, eating many small meals doesn’t rev up your metabolism. Next time someone tells you that it does, point them this way.

And thanks to Martin Berkhan for his great article Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked. It’s a great article and definitely a worthwhile read.

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