Within the fitness community there has been a prevailing dogma over the past few decades which asserts that eating meals at higher frequencies throughout the day (e.g., 6 – 7 meals instead of the standard 3 – 4 meals per day) will impart additional and beneficial effects on metabolism and fat loss.
More recently, and diametrically opposite to this viewpoint, another nutrition camp suggests a protocol that calls for the individual to fast for an extended period of time (usually 16 – 18 hr) and then eat their remaining calories within a given window that usually follows an exercise bout and lasts about 6 – 8 hr. This is commonly known as intermittent fasting (IF) and has gained a lot of popularity over the past 10 – 15 years, both from fitness enthusiasts and researchers alike.
No strong evidence suggests that an increase or decrease in meal frequency leads to an increase in metabolic rate and body fat loss. Indeed, when calories are controlled and meal frequencies are varied (anywhere between 1 – 6 or more meals per day), there appears to be no significant difference in metabolic rate or overall fat loss.
Thus, the real question regarding meal frequency is, “which diet protocol most fits with each individual’s lifestyle and dietary preferences?” Nevertheless, whether an individual eats 1 – 3 times per day with prolonged fasts in between, or six or more meals spaced 2 – 3 hr apart, the effects on metabolism and fat loss will essentially be the same.