Friday, April 2, 2010

Three Meals Superior for Appetite Control

The six meals a day dogma gets knocked again. Badly.

It wasn't too long ago that the mainstream media caught wind of the fact that there is no difference with regards to fat loss on lower versus higher meal frequencies.

Now a new study shows that three meals a day is actually superior to six meals a day for appetite control.

Interestingly, the three meal-setup used the exact same meal split as the one I have been advocating for the Leangains-protocol: three meals consumed within an 8 hour time period. Let's take a closer look at the study.

Participants were monitored during four different 11-hour trials separated by 1-2 weeks. They were given three or six meals and asked to fill out a questionnaire relating to hunger and satiety with regular intervals. Blood samples were obtained to gauge levels of the hunger hormones ghrelin and PYY, as well as blood glucose and insulin. In random order, each subject ate the following diets:

Medium-protein: 14% protein (~0.8 g protein/kg per day), 60% carbohydrate, and 26% fat.

High-protein: 25% protein (~1.4 g protein/kg per day), 49% carbohydrate, and 26% fat. The additional dietary protein in this diet was primarily from lean pork and egg products.

Both these diets were consumed with varying meal frequencies: six smaller meals (every second hour) or three larger meals (every fourth hour). Diets were set to maintain participants in energy balance (2100-2200 kcal) during the trials.

The researchers found that the high-protein diet consistently came out on top in comparison to the medium-protein diet regardless of meal frequency. No big surprise there.

Also the 3-meal high-protein diet scored the highest on all questions relating to satiety overall. Blood glucose and insulin were a tad lower on the higher meal frequency, but I suspect this might have something to do with the trial period being 11 hours. Had the trial period been longer the differences might have evened out.

Here are some highlights from the full text version of the study:

"Whereas higher protein intake increased daily perceived fullness, frequent eating led to reductions in daily perceived fullness. These findings were further supported by the elevated PYY concentrations observed with higher vs. normal protein intake and by the reduced PYY concentrations observed with frequent vs. infrequent eating."

"These data strengthen the current literature indicating that increased dietary protein leads to increased satiety, refute the long-standing assumption that increased eating frequency has beneficial effects, and suggest that overweight and obese men might achieve better appetite control by consuming three higher protein meals per day."

"In summary, the findings that higher protein intake and lower eating frequency independently promote daily perceived satiety in conjunction with comparable differences in the satiety hormone PYY suggest that overweight and obese men might achieve better appetite control by consuming three higher protein meals per day."

Seems like I might have been right all along...


JC said...

For most of 2009 and up until now, I've been eating 3 meals a day. this has been regardless of kcal intake.

even now on a diet I'm rarely hungry regardless of intake when sticking to breakfast, post workout and late night dinner.

glad to see the research on this kind of stuff.

thanks Martin!


MJR said...

Good stuff. Learning more everyday from your posts.

Jon Fernandes said...

This is what I'm talking about; about damn time!

Frank Dobner said...

Thanks Martin. I have always eaten 3 meals per day out of my upbringing.

We are talking about satiety here. That is important.

The total number of calories per day is sacred. In order to lose weight we need to eat less than the body needs.

When we are sated, we will eat less and maintain a calorie deficit.

Good material

Thank you

Wilmar said...

Who would've thought you'd be right all this time? Haha

Anonymous said...

Sorry for asking an unrelated question. My question pertains to your post on fasted training's acute superiority over carb-fed training in eliciting greater expression of myogenic factors. I ask this question in isolation from your later recommendation to still have some BCAAs or a small whey shake to promote a greater TEF.

I was able to access the full text at university and have summarized the favorable/unfavorable post-exercise effects below*. After exercise, the researchers administered a PWO mixture of carbs/leucine/protein hydrolysate every hour for 4 hours. Muscle biopsies were taken at the 1 and 4-hour marks during this period. By the way, I’d describe the list below as a rough categorization with respect to each protein’s particular effects on hypertrophy only (but there is so much opposite activity going on that it’s hard to make a deduction about how overall protein synthesis is affected by these cascades).

*There were many statistically insignificant differences between the 2 treatments, but for the sake of comparison (and so as not to trivialize the implications of the study), I’ve included them.

1) p70S6K phosphorylation higher in fasted group (compared to fed group) at 1-hour mark post-exercise
2) PKB phosphorylation higher in fasted group at both 1 and 4-hour marks post-exercise
3) GSK3 phosphorylation higher in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise
4) eIF2B phosphorylation higher at 1-hour mark post-exercise
5) [MRF4 mRNA] higher in fasted group at 1-hour mark post-exercise
6) [MyoD1 mRNA] higher in fasted group at 1-hour mark post-exercise
7) [Myogenin mRNA] higher in fasted group at 1-hour mark post-exercise

1) p70S6K phosphorylation lower in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise
2) eEF2 phosphorylation lower in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise
3) GSK3 phosphorylation lower in fasted group at 1-hour mark post-exercise
4) eIF2B phosphorylation lower in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise
5) p38 MAPK phosphorylation either lower or neutral in fasted group at both marks post-exercise
6) [MRF4 mRNA] lower in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise
7) [MyoD1 mRNA] lower in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise
8) [Myogenin mRNA] lower in fasted group at 4-hour mark post-exercise

In short, there was a general trending down of these factors, with the exception of PKB and GSK phosphorylation. I would have liked to see how these values played out at the 24-48 hour mark (and I’d wager that, seeing how protein synthesis elevation gradually decreases in magnitude farther from training, the downward trends would persist).

Anyway, I’m not sure about how much validity to invest in a study as acute as this one. Is it worth the pre-exercise fast (with the exception of some BCAAs or whey)? Or do we again default to the behavioral benefits that come with holding off until after the training bout to eat (a large post-workout feast is very satiating, for me at least)?

Now it's time to actually read your newest post...

Thanks in advance,

Martin Berkhan said...


I'm not sure what you're asking. I think I made my point pretty clear in that post.

"The big question is if there would be a net difference in muscle growth at the end of the day. Training on an empty stomach will cause greater catabolism in the short run, but will it yield greater gains in the long run? Do we make a small sacrifice in order to receive a greater reward?"

I think you should let personal preferences dictate when you train. There are both pros and cons to fasted training re: gene expression/growth factors. I can make a case for fed state training as well if I wanted to (liver glycogen mediates anabolic signalling to some degree).

Anonymous said...


Just from a "common sense" I would have guessed that for a lot of folks, more frequent feeding, especially if attempting to keep the amounts controlled, would tend to make them more likely to want to eat/feel less satisfied. So in those with difficulty controlling themselves or with a prior tendency towards overeating, a reduced meal frequency always seemed to make sense to me.

But my question actually relates to my own situation. Now I am not overweight/overfat, so this doesn't necessarily apply to any situation but my own. But I had become accustomed to smaller and more frequent feedings throughout the day (I never bought into any special metabolic advantage claims, but I still gave the frequency thing a try and before I knew it, I had become rather accustomed to that style. No I find that I am so robotic that I essentially know what types of things and in what amounts I'd eat them on any given day and can easily consume them in as few or as many feedings as I want/need and not notice much difference in how I feel.

Do you think it becomes possible after a long time of consistently training and being mindful of nutrition for a number of people to become almost robotically disciplined to the point where intake is literally a function of saying "this is what and how much I'll eat today", and it almost automatically ends up being so?

I'm not saying this would necessarily be viewed as a positive/healthy way of operating, but I find that my consumption has become almost robotic in nature, and I tend to feel satisfied regardless of number of feedings to consume my typical allotted daily intake.

JT Hayworth

Martin Berkhan said...

JT Hayworth,

'Do you think it becomes possible after a long time of consistently training and being mindful of nutrition for a number of people to become almost robotically disciplined to the point where intake is literally a function of saying "this is what and how much I'll eat today", and it almost automatically ends up being so?'

Sure. I can get robotically disciplined if I need to. When I tested the various IF-protocols I now run on clients I was. I ran them in 3-4-week blocks and ate precisely according to the macro%-split and kcal-intake for the day.

That time is past me though. I tend to find pleasure in food and seldom plan ahead with regards to what precise meals I should eat during the day. I like to have options open. Then again, it ends up being variations of the same few meals either way. But that's the way I like it.

Anonymous said...

I knew you were on to something with leangains IF...nice to finally get confirmation from research.

But i bet it takes another 5 yrs or so before this reaches the mainstream media haha.

Anonymous said...


Where did the idea of a higher meal frequency being generally better than a lower meal frequency come from?

I'm not too well-read on research (I only read what I come across lurking on Lyle's board) but the only study I'm aware of that shows any benefit to a higher meal frequency is the improperly-conducted boxer study. Are there any others?



Martin Berkhan said...


There's one study from the late 80s done by Jenkins et al. And another one John Berardi likes to quote, but the name of the author escapes me right now. The latter was very poorly conducted.

Seve' said...

I have been doing IF(Martin Berkhan's 16hour)going on almost a month,now. And with my weekly H.I.T workouts, I simply LOVE IT! So much so, I have persuaded my wife and sister to do it, but Martin did say women might be better at 14 hour fasting. Other than having hard time eating 3 meals(1730 cal) within that 8 hour window, I love this plan. No more 5~6 small frequent meals to boost my metabolism which I never got custom to and always left me longing for more. Now, I just eat great meals in a mindful state. Almost able to shave 400+ calories per day. Just other day, I figured out a way to keep my 3 meals by eating some fruits and salad. Finding really good food for satiety is key and I am still learning alot.

Getting back to fasted state workout, which I did just once and I felt weak as hell. What I realize that my workout was at the 16th hour of fasted state with NO BACC pre-work out. And I see many who does fasted workouts first thing in the morning(5am~7am) and gets great results. I wonder if fasted workouts where 8~12th hour might make a difference???

Thanks again for your great work.

Martin Berkhan said...


Give it another try but

a) train no later than 14 hrs into the fast

b) take 10 g BCAA pre-workout and

c) don't presume anything about your performance in advance.

Some perform poorly during simply because they have convinced themselves that they will be weak without having eaten before. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Matt said...

Ive also been doing the lean gains approach for some time now, and i perfer fasted training to having a pre workout meal. But for some reason the, "energetic" focused feeling that a lot of people claim to have around the 14-16th hour mark i don't have. But if i fast for say, 18 to 20 hours (especially the latter) i feel a very focused and have a great energy boost! I know a couple people that feel the same way, and i have read through some online forums with folks having the same issue.

Is there some reason why certain people need a longer fast to get the mental and performance effects and others do better on a shorter fast?

Btw I love this blog and thanks for all the great nutrition info!

Anonymous said...

"a) train no later than 14 hrs into the fast"
Why 14h?

From a scientific standpoint, what happens? From a standpoint that only relates on personal experience, what happens?

Instead of BCAA, would a glass of milk(400ml) or quark be sufficient? At the moment I eat 1 apple, 1 egg + 400ml milk or I have 100g oats + 300ml milk. Somehow my fear of muscle loss came back, after reading alans, lyles and your blog.

I experiment with IF since 2006. Usually I ate my last meal at 0:00, containing roughly 80g carbs + 20g protein. Training was the next day at 13:00 or 14:00.

I noticed my sweat had a sharp smell(like ammoniac), probably related to protein breakdown?

My performance was great, I was totally focused. My mind was free from this "I haven't had my preworkout nutrition, so I'll be weak" nonsense. When I grabbed the weight and thought about it I triggered a switch in my body that released adrenaline(?) and I felt like I could do this easily. You know, I mean the feeling you get if you are involved in fight or have a near dead experience? I could activate this effect only seconds bevor a set, again, again and again. When I trained Heavy Duty or similar HIT routines I experienced something similar, but this time it was amplified to the max.

It was a good feeling and the results where great.

Judging by the mirror I kept most of my LBM. I lost only 2kg over maybe 8 weeks, my strength went up. But that was 2006. Since then I varied every year slightly, I even dieted with lower protein than recommended(around 100g for few days). The results were still great, no strength loss occurred.

Martin Berkhan said...


'Is there some reason why certain people need a longer fast to get the mental and performance effects and others do better on a shorter fast?'

As with all issues relating to physiology there's some degree of variance between individuals.

Martin Berkhan said...


'From a scientific standpoint, what happens? From a standpoint that only relates on personal experience, what happens?'

I was giving him some generic guidelines re: how to time it so that it coincides nicely with the pwo-meal.

'Instead of BCAA, would a glass of milk(400ml) or quark be sufficient?'


+ comments, where your question is likely answered.

Anonymous said...

Wow this is great news! I've found that 6 meals tends to make me hungry as well, but now I can finally try 3 meals with a good conscience.

Lack of knowledge and buying into the 6 meals a day thing has definitely been holding me back up until now:/

Great blog btw! Really glad I found it.


Tom said...

Rack up another point for IF!

Anonymous said...

Martin, your blog is one of the most interesting out there.

How many times per year do you indulge in a whole cake? Christmas and your birthday for sure, now Easter and what else?


Anonymous said...

I should have posted this on the Easter post. My apologies.


Seve' said...

Martin Berkhan said...

Give it another try but

a) train no later than 14 hrs into the fast

b) take 10 g BCAA pre-workout and

c) don't presume anything about your performance in advance.

With your suggestion, I did try another fasted workout. I got GNC's BCAA 5000 micronized and did one scoop of 5.3g mixed gatoraid and two pills of Creatine 30 minutes pre-workout at 15th hour.

I went from Big5 to Big3 and added 15lbs to Pulldown, 10lbs to chest press and did more reps(5 to 8) of 495 lbs. And during the workout, it felt really different than my first fasted workout. I didn't feel weak and the leg seem to recovered quickly than prior times.
And two pills of creatine with premixed drink immediately after the workout. And a meal after 1.5hrs. I felt recovered quickly and not as tired or weak during the H.I.T. Could it be BcAA to pre-workout?

What has happen?

Martin Berkhan said...

You did what I told you and it worked, that's what happened.

QT said...

I see these ripped/lean members on boasting a 6-8 meals/day. You can see why its hard to believe everything about the 3 meals-a-day theory. Don't get me wrong. Everything you said about the science behind the 3 meals-a-day makes perfect sense. Does the 6-8 meals-a-day just work for certain metabolism/ training regiment and not others?

Enjoyed your blogs!


Martin Berkhan said...

Sure. The 6-8 meals-a-day plan works great for people that have nothing better to do with their lives than train, cook and eat. And then post on telling others about how they trained, cooked and ate.

FullFast said...

Thanks for posting this study on meal planning for appetite control. Great Post.

Anonymous said...

Oh my freaking god! I have been trying to tell people all my life that those little meals throughout the day just make me hungrier! When I try to eat like that, I gain weight like mad.

Klaumwell Labs said...

It seems like the minute you are told one thing someone else finds out that they were wrong. Thanks for sharing this information.

Sam L. said...

Martin, I was under the impression that only so much protein could be absorbed or synthesized in one sitting or meal, to the tune of 30-50g. This fueled my belief that I needed to eat protein more frequently throughout the day via small meals to ensure maximum absorption. Is there any research to support what I've been made to believe, or is it another case of bro-science?

Sam L. said...

Please disregard/delete my prior question. You addressed that topic at

Thanks again.

A little insight into the writer of 'The Dietary Edge'... said...


Superb article as usual. Reggie and I are 'IFing' in preparation for BodyPower Expo this year.

So far it is the best dietary protocol i have used personally since beginning training and in many ways, supports my dietetic practice hugely (predominantly obesity management) as I'm constantly trying to destroy chronic 'fixations' with food. Reducing meal frequency and focusing on 'the more important things in life' is far superior than some of the other clinical interventions I've seen.

It would be great if you could make it across to the UK at sometime to share ideas, otherwise I look forward to more posts in the future!

Registered Dietitian
Predator Nutrition Representative

Tanya Sloan Storm said...

Question, if you are a person who is accustomed to eating 6 times a day, and feels shaky/hot/lightheaded if she goes more than 3 hours without eating, how can you change to a 3x day plan without adverse effects to your daily life? (I work 32 hrs a week, exercise 5-6 days, commute by bike and have a toddler to care for.)

Keep in mind, I am reading your site because I DO have some pounds to lose - still 10 pounds off my pre-baby weight and 25 off my personal ideal. Thanks!

Todd I. Stark said...

The journal article draws two possibly relevant and important conclusions, not just one about meal frequency. Look at the larger pattern in the data.

First, higher protein consistently improved appetite control under a variety of conditions regardless of meal frequency.

Second, greater meal frequency improved glucose control but not appetite control.

So ... more frequent meals may well make more sense for people who are more concerned about insulin resistance than appetite control, since the two are shown not to go hand in hand neccessarily.

What you get out of this interesting data depends on what you are looking for.

sharp21 said...

So if 3 meals a day are superior then what is wrong with just eating breakfast, lunch & supper? By condensing your 3 meals into 8 hours it starts to sound like the "I was so tired of eating every few hours" complaints that abound in IF article comments.
My BASE rule is to eat 1lb of meat, 6 eggs & 3 shakes a day in order to get 200g of protein daily. Ever tried to jam 6 eggs down between big meals? Impossible. But 6 for breakfast (PWO) followed by lunch 5 hours later? No problem.
I've done IF & seen results but it seems to me that "...breakfast most important meal dogma" is the new IF'er dogma!
If I fast until noon I'll be hungry before then. If I eat breakfast at 6am then lunch at noon I'll also be hungry before lunch, so whats the difference? At the end of the day I've still gotten my macro requirements but I didn't have to jam down tons of food at once to get it!
Love the site btw & have learned a lot here. Playing devils advocate because I love breakfast!

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

Welcome to the Internet's leading resource on intermittent fasting and all things related.

FeedBurner FeedCount

Google Friend Connect

Join Me on Twitter


Follow Me on Facebook

Recommended Reading

Lame Title, Good Book

Recommended Reading

Intermittent Fasting for Fat Loss

Recommended Reading

Covers All Bases

Recommended Reading

Awesome Recipes for The Paleo Diet
Recipes for the Paleo Diet - Two Cookbooks - 120 Recipes Each!>

Recommended Reading

Fat Loss Made Easy

Great Interval Timer

+1 If You Think Leangains is Awesome