Lose Fat

Eat More Often, Save Stress on the Scale

Who gets fat, the guy who eats frequently, enjoying five meals a day, or the one who eats less often?


Who gets fat, the guy who eats frequently, enjoying five meals a day, or the one who eats less often? Depending on how much you know about nutrition science, the answer may surprise you.

According to a study of eating patterns and their relationship to body size conducted at the University of Massachusetts, eating more often makes you much less likely to be obese (American Journal of Epidemiology, July 2003). So instead of starving yourself and still ending up fat, do what competitive bodybuilders do: Eat 5-6 smaller meals and snacks each day, but generally with fewer calories (unless you're an athlete in your competitive season).

Energy Equation

For many athletes, not just bodybuilders, this eating pattern works well, says Stephanie Smith, MS, RD, a sports nutrition expert and spokesperson for the National Dairy Council. "Because so many athletes burn so many calories during their competitive season, they couldn't meet their energy needs with just three squares."

But eating more frequently doesn't automatically make you leaner. "If you're going to follow this plan, pay attention to portion size and the size of the meal," says Smith. "To go from two or three big meals to five meals, you'll want to make the meals slightly smaller to spread out the calories.

"Eating five smaller meals is a nice pattern," she continues. "You avoid peaks and valleys and keep energy levels more even. You're not getting too hungry."

It's not just hunger that's at work, though -- the multitasking hormone insulin also comes into play. Researchers have found that, compared to eating multiple small meals, having fewer larger meals is associated with higher insulin concentrations in the body over a 24-hour period. Higher levels of insulin can inhibit fat breakdown and increase fat storage -- the last thing a bodybuilder wants.

Insulin pushes nutrients into the cells, so while insulin does help protein (amino acids) get into the muscle, that's important only after intense bodybuilding training. Other kinds of nutrients, including fat and carbohydrate (sugar, or glucose) also get shoved in, so in general, the goal is to avoid extra-large meals to prevent insulin overproduction and resulting gains in bodyfat.


NEXT: Breakfast Basics >>

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