Do you have to eat six meals a day to build muscle?


“How many meals a day are optimal to build muscle or lose weight? Do I need to eat six meals a day to build muscle? Does it boost metabolism if I eat six times a day?”


Do you ask yourself that too? Then you are in good company. I listen to them regularly.


Many are rightly confused.


Lifestyle magazines, diet books, and fitness experts propagate 3, 5, or even 10 meals a day as the “most effective fat loss method.”


What is it now?


I like simple solutions. Eating six or more times a day sounds pretty complicated to me. If you want to make this effort, you should at least be clear about whether it will be of any use at all.


That’s what it’s all about. I take the question from different angles in the pliers:


  • Pure confusion: Why are there so many contradicting statements?
  • Facts from the research: what does the study say about meal frequency and weight gain and weight loss?
  • Clear recommendation: how many meals a day you should eat to achieve your goal optimally?


4 myths about meal frequency

Put to the test: 4 myths about meal frequency.

Four common theses on the question “how many meals a day should you eat”:


  1. Thesis: Frequent eating boosts the metabolism.
  2. Thesis: Rare food causes the metabolism to fall asleep.
  3. Thesis: To build muscle, you need to eat something every 2-3 hours.
  4. Thesis: Those who eat more often have less appetite and lose weight faster.


Here is an overview of various fitness diets that rely on different meal frequencies. 


Many of these nutritional models contradict the above theses:



Is it just a “matter of taste” how often we should eat – or are there scientifically sound arguments for one option?


Have them go through the four theses one by one.

Do 6 meals a day boost metabolism

Do 6 meals a day boost metabolism?

Thesis No. 1:

“Frequent eating boosts your metabolism, which helps you lose weight.”

That’s what science says.

Two meta-studies dealt with this question in detail. Both conclude that no connection between meal frequency and an increased metabolic rate can be established so far.


On the one hand, subjects who ate many smaller snacks throughout the day were examined, while the other group ate fewer and larger meals. 


The bottom line, there was no discernible difference in metabolic rate. Some other studies come to the same conclusions.


The researchers suspect that the meals’ composition has a major impact, but not their frequency.


Conclusion: not true!

More meals a day will not help you – at least as far as your metabolism is concerned – to lose weight.


Does your metabolism fall asleep when fasting?

Does your metabolism fall asleep when fasting?

Thesis No. 2:

“If you don’t eat for a long time, your metabolism will go to sleep.”


This thesis is the flip side of thesis 1. If many meals kept the “metabolic furnace” burning, fasting should slow it down. This might surprise you.


That’s what science says.

The opposite is the case – at least for shorter periods of fasting. After a fast of 36 hours, the metabolic rate increases and remains at this level even after 72 hours.


Although the energy supply is missing, your body produces more heat. 


This effect may also be related to increased adrenaline levels measured in one study after 48 hours of fasting. 


It is fascinating what experiments the scientists have carried out. Test subjects alternately had to eat nothing at all one day and double the amount the following day – for 22 days. 


In total, they covered their energy requirements. This on-off fasting did not affect her metabolism. 


Two other studies compared Muslims who fasted and did not fast during Ramadan. 


Here, too, the researchers could not find any significant influence on the metabolism of humans. 


Conclusion: not true!

Shorter periods of fasting don’t affect your metabolism. For those who are more of an all-or-nothing type of eater, intermittent fasting can work to create an energy deficit and reduce body fat.


How many meals a day are optimal for building muscle

How many meals a day are optimal for building muscle?

Thesis No. 3:

“To build muscle, you need to eat something every 2-3 hours.”

That’s what science says.

The study situation on meal frequency and muscle building is relatively thin. 


But here, too, studies indicate that what matters is what and how much you eat per day and not how often.


However, those who eat very frequently may be better protected against muscle breakdown. 


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One study looked at two groups that ate 3 versus 14 meals daily — a very extreme case. 


Although energy intake and metabolism remained the same in both groups, protein oxidation (a sign of “wearing out” of protein structures in the body) was 17% higher in the 3-meal group.


Conclusion: not true!

To build muscle, you should eat enough protein, carbohydrates, and fats. You can decide how often you sit at the table according to your taste.


I find the last study on muscle loss prevention interesting but uncritical. 


Unless you’re training for a heavyweight bodybuilding contest and want to pull out all the stops, I think eating 14 times a day is overkill.


However, some people may find it difficult to meet their energy needs with just 1-2 meals. 


If you want to build muscle and have problems eating enough, you will get along better with more frequent meals per day (e.g., so-called “hardgainers”).


How often should you eat to optimize appetite and insulin levels

How often should you eat to optimize appetite and insulin levels?

Thesis No. 4:

“Those who eat more often have less appetite and lose weight faster.”


That’s what science says.

Two studies suggest that fewer meals result in less appetite and lower insulin levels than more meals. 


One study compared three versus 14 meals a day, and another compared two versus 12 meals daily.


Conclusion: not true!

If you’re looking to lose fat, you may be able to get better results with fewer meals. 


However, I would not drive myself crazy with these study results. 


Many of my coaching clients have been able to quickly and successfully lose fat with six meals a day without starvation being an issue for them.


the common nutritional myths about meal frequency

Six meals a day – Conclusion

1, 3, 5, 6, or more meals a day? The study refutes the common nutritional myths about meal frequency.


In a nutshell: It doesn’t matter how often you eat. Meal frequency doesn’t seem to affect your metabolism per se, whether you want to lose fat or build muscle.


You can find out what you feel most comfortable with. For me, it is currently 2-3 larger meals per day. In the circle of customers, friends, and acquaintances, I could name many people who eat more often and cope just as well.


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If you have a very high-calorie requirement, it may not be easy to meet it with just a few meals a day.


While some studies suggest that eating fewer and larger meals for the same calorie count leads to less appetite and insulin secretion, I wouldn’t dwell on that discovery too much. 


My personal experience is that many people can achieve very good – and often better – results with smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.