Does An Increased Meal Frequency Boost Metabolism?

Nutrition JD

Nutrition JD

"Regular small meals boost metabolism"

“When dieting eat little and often”

How many times have you heard of or read this before? 

Oh wait, here’s more …

“You have to regularly stoke the metabolic fire”

“If you don’t eat every 3 hours you go into starvation mode”

Such advice is constantly repeated when individuals are starting out on their weight loss journey, but is this actually true?

Metabolism – What is it?

Quite simply, metabolism refers to the chemical reactions within the body in order to maintain life. The amount of energy an individual expends daily is otherwise known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure – TDEE

TDEE encompasses 4 components:

1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – The energy you are expending sat there right now to maintain life whilst you read this article.

2. The Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – Otherwise known as Diet Induced Thermogenesis (DIT). This is the energy expended through the digestion, absorption and storage of food.

3. Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) – The energy expended through planned exercise.

4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) Encompasses energy expended during non-planned exercise activity (e.g. walking around work) and spontaneous activity e.g. fidgeting.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
The suggestion that regularly eating meals will enhance metabolism is based upon the belief that increasing the frequency of TEF stimulation will elevate overall TEF contribution to total daily energy expenditure. 

TEF typically contributes approximately 10-15% of TDEE depending up the macronutrient composition of daily intake. However, when calories and macronutrients are matched there is no difference in overall TEF between a frequent or less frequent feeding pattern.

The example below provides an example overview of 5 small regular meals vs 3 larger less frequent meals, where total kcal/macronutrient consumption is matched.

However, it is important to acknowledge that there may be certain situations that may benefit an increased meal frequency:

  • Personal preference e.g. may aid appetite or be beneficial psychologically.
  • Athletic individuals should utilise an approach that also considers their training/performance goals and demands.
  • Caloric intake may be high and less frequent larger meals may cause gastro-intestinal discomfort e.g. bloated feeling.


  • Eating “little and often” does not “boost your metabolism” when compared to diets matched in total calories/macronutrient contribution.
  • When deciding upon your meal frequency utilise an approach that suits your schedule, demands and personal preference.

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