If you read my free Get Lean Guide, you know at BuiltLean, we recommend eating 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day to help you lose fat. While there is no metabolic advantage to eating more frequently, there are some common sense reasons why eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in addition to 1-2 snacks can help you successfully lose fat.
But before mentioning some of these benefits, let’s consider how Sumo wrestlers eat to pack on so much weight. The average Japanese man is only around 145 pounds, yet amazingly, sumo wrestlers can reach 500+ pounds! So how do they eat to get so huge? Is it possible that you have similar eating habits as a sumo wrestler?
It turns out sumo wrestlers skip breakfast, then eat 1, or 2 enormous meals at 11am, then 6pm. If they eat two meals, they usually take a 4 hour nap right after the 11am meal. I’m taking a wild guess that you probably don’t want to look like a sumo wrestler (even though sumo wrestlers are venerated for their impressive stature in Japan).
What’s important about this example is in the behavior of these overweight men. There are many epidemiological studies that show people who skip breakfast have a higher probability of being overweight, but there is no causal evidence that skipping breakfast causes weight gain.1 2
Now let’s think about this for a second. Why do so many studies show correlation, but not causation regarding eating 3 meals per day? A common sense explanation is that not skipping breakfast creates more structure in your day. Consistent eating times are associated with improved ability to control hunger (See: How to Control Hunger: 7 Tips). I’ve had several clients who were experiencing weight loss plateaus who were constantly skipping breakfast. When they started eating breakfast, their weight loss plateau suddenly ended.
There are some other important benefits to eating more frequently, which may include (1) better utilization of nutrients and (2) improved energy levels because blood sugar levels are more stable. If you eat a massive lunch, you know exactly how you feel afterwards; very sluggish.
So how many meals and snacks should you eat each day? Because it takes about 2.5-3 hours for your digestive system to digest food, the bodybuilding methodology is you take the amount of hours you are awake and divide by 3. So if you get 6-8 hours of sleep each night, then ideally you can eat 5-6 meals per day. For most of us, I know that’s asking a lot, so 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day is very achievable for most people. If you are one of those people who hates breakfast, or doesn’t have consistent eating times, after you reach your ideal weight, you can consider intermittent fasting.
For most working professionals with a hectic schedule, 3 meals and 1 snack may work better than just three meals:
- Mid-afternoon snack
One more point to mention is to consider eating only when you are hungry, which for me happens to be every 3-4 hours. Obviously, I realize eating 6 meals/snacks per day is more extreme, but if you are eating like a sumo wrestler, increasing the frequency of your meals can make a massive difference not only in your body fat levels, but also your energy levels.
- Van der heijden AA, Hu FB, Rimm EB, Van dam RM. A prospective study of breakfast consumption and weight gain among U.S. men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15(10):2463-9. ↩
- Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105(5):743-60. ↩