Nearly 2/3 of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese, and meal frequency may play a part in the epidemic of obesity. However, little research has been done in regard to meal frequency, body composition and physical training outcomes. (Americans do eat an average of 3.12 meals of more than 70 kilocalories. per day.)
An increase in meal frequency tends not to improve body composition or body weight in sedentary people. In fact, there seems to be a negative correlation. Studies are difficult to understand because of under-reporting of food consumption in obese, non-obese and older people. In obese people it did not seem to matter whether they ate three meals a day or three meals per day with 3 snacks to the outcomes of lean body mass loss, fat loss or body mass index (as long as the calories were kept low and constant).
Increased meal frequency seems to improve test results, such as LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol, blood pressure, C-reactive protein, glucose, insulin and the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. Reduced caloric intake improves health and lifespan in a variety of animals. Eating one large meal per day (gorging) increased serum lipids. Nibbling ten small meals per day led to reductions of serum lipids and improved glucose tolerance.
Increased meal frequency of people confined to a metabolic test chamber does not change markers such as metabolic rate. Protein metabolism was improved in people eating 5 meals per day compared to 1 meal per day when the protein food was kept constant, especially if protein was 15% of the food intake.
In the typical American diet, protein is consumed mostly with dinner so that protein synthesis in the body is optimized once per day only. To maintain lean body mass, protein should be maximized at each meal. More protein should be consumed at breakfast and lunch, but less with dinner. It is important to eat protein before, during and after exercise.
Increased meal frequency appears to reduce hunger and improve appetite control. This is important in athletics where weight control is important. With increased meal frequency, athletes showed reduction of loss of lean body mass, increased anaerobic power and increased loss of fat.
CONCLUSION: Increased meal frequency seems to benefit the athletic population more than sedentary populations. Athletes benefit from increased protein divided equally among meals with increased numbers of meals. Increased meals improve the blood tests for lipids and atherosclerosis.
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