Do Small Meals Boost Your Metabolism?

Some people have an easier time controlling how much they eat by having many small meals a day instead of a few big ones. This probably works in a couple of ways:

  • Planning for those small meals may simply mean they give more thought to what they eat.
  • If you plan and pack meals, you are more likely to eat only as much as you planned (and packed).
  • Small healthy meals that emphasize protein and vegetables are particularly likely to curb the desire for treats.

As often happens in the fitness industry, this seems to have morphed into a claim that several small meals a day “boosts” your metabolism, and one of the alphabet-soup terms brought up to support this is “TEF” (thermic effect of food). TEF refers to the “overhead” your body uses up just to eat and process food, and it’s a fairly small percentage of calories overall. It doesn’t matter how many meals you have, but the TEF for protein is higher than the TEF for carbohydrate (in case you needed more help making sure you get enough protein).

One place small meals can make a big difference, though, is blood sugar. You may hear someone say “I know it boosts your metabolism, because I feel way better when I have a lot of small meals.” Metabolism, no, but it can definitely smooth out your energy level, and that’s a good enough reason to eat that way. This is the kind of factor that the numbered list in the photo is getting at:

…[A] practical recommendation would be to structure your nutrient timing and frequency with the following in mind:

  • Personal preference
  • Lifestyle
  • Dietary adherence
  • Athletic performance

And here is that link: Meal frequency and energy balance.


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