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Meal Frequency

Meal Frequency

Health and Fat Loss

Body weight, body composition, and lipid profiling are not affected by the number of meals when weight-loss diets are prepared with adequate energy restrictions and sufficient and balanced nutrition. (it is worth noting that some other studies have suggested benefits to insulin and triglycerides/cholesterol with increased meal frequency)


Despite what is often claimed, consuming small, frequent meals doesn’t “stoke your metabolism” to enhance weight loss. Pictured above is a forest plot of a meta-analysis on the topic – note that the solid circles reside almost equally on either side of the ‘zero line’ that separates greater vs lesser meal frequencies. This indicates similar weight loss regardless of how often you eat (provided calories are equated). On the other hand, a case can be made that a minimum of 3-4 daily meals are needed to maximize muscle building since the anabolic effects of a protein-rich meal last approximately 5 hours.


Muscle + Strength

“Given that the anabolic effect of a protein-rich meal lasts approximately 5-6 hours (8), a good rule-of-thumb for maximizing muscle growth [is] to consume a minimum of 3-4 evenly distributed daily meals containing at least 30 grams of a high quality protein. Within these boundaries, it probably doesn’t matter how you allocate the rest of your protein consumption on a per-meal basis – just make sure you take in close to a gram per pound of body weight per day.”


When discussing the amount of protein that can be consumed at one time to maximize muscle protein synthesis, it’s important to understand that studies on the topic (including the recent one posted below that showed a cap at ~40g) are conducted in a sterile setting with subjects consuming only a bolus of whey protein. While this provides good insight into the condition studied, the practical relevance of results must be taken in context to real world settings where people consume mixed meals. Intake of fats and carbs along with protein slows down digestion. Moreover, whey is a “fast-acting” protein while other proteins are assimilated more slowly. Thus, the consumption of larger mixed protein meals won’t necessarily be “wasted” as the additional protein can potentially be utilized for anabolic processes over the time of digestion.


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