A common belief in some nutrition circles is that eating small frequent meals rather than a few large meals is better for weight loss and body fat composition. Many people may have heard the analogy of stoking the furnace, an argument used by supporters of this belief that a constant influx of small energy sources keeps the metabolism more active. Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon, and James Krieger presented a review of 15 total studies that analyzed the effects of meal frequency on weight and body composition. Feeding frequency was positively related with reductions in body fat percent, fat mass, and increases in fat-free mass. It is important to take into consideration that positive findings were a product of a single study according to the sensitivity analysis of the data.
What did the study results show?
Body mass changes : “The analysis of changes in participants’ body mass comprised 30 treatment groups from 15 studies. The change in body mass among these studies was −4.41 ± 0.76 kg (95% CI: −5.96 to −2.86).” In the simple mode there was not a significant association between changes in body mass and meal frequency.
Fat mass change: “The analysis of changes in participants’ fat mass comprised 18 treatment groups from 10 studies. The change in fat mass among these studies was −3.55 ± 1.12 kg (95% CI: −5.90 to −1.19).” In the simple model there was a significant association between meal frequency and changes in fat mass.
Fat-free mass change: “The analysis of changes in participants’ FFM included 17 treatment groups from 9 studies. The change in FFM among these studies was −1.88 ± 0.54 kg (95% CI: −3.03 to −0.74).”. In the simple model there was a trend for meal frequency being associated with FFM retention.
Percent body fat change: “The analysis of changes in participants’ % BF included 17 treatment groups from 9 studies. The change in % BF among these studies was −1.81 ± 0.63% (95% CI: −3.15 to −0.48).” In the simple model a higher meal frequency was associated with a greater decrease in body fat percentage
A weak point of the meta-analysis as indicated by researches is that most of the positive correlations came from a single study. The main take home points for anyone interested in improved body composition in weight loss is to take into account the common themes among the studies. Adherence to the nutritional prescription, reduced caloric intake, and well balanced macronutrient distributions all had positive effects on weight loss and body fat composition across studies. Thus, it’s of great importance to find a diet that is sustainable long term for each person’s individual lifestyle.