An Advantage to Six High-Protein Meals per Day

Weight loss programs have sometimes recommended more than three meals per day, up to six meals per day. Other, and some of the same, weight loss programs have recommended relatively high protein meals. Usually, these recommendations are to minimize the hunger discomfort associated with reduced caloric intake or to minimize the glycemic effect of meals.

A study published in the journal Obesity (July, 2013) investigated the effect of a high protein diet and meal frequency on fat levels while maintaining or losing weight. The researchers recruited and screened 44 subjects and enrolled 30 healthy, nonsmoking, inactive, overweight or obese adults with no known cardiovascular or metabolic disease. Twenty-eight completed the program.

The subjects were randomly assigned to three experimental groups: (1) three meals per day with a traditional composition of 15% protein, TD3; (2) three meals per day with a high protein composition of 35%, (HP3); and (3) six meals per day with a 35% protein, (HP6). All three groups followed a five day baseline control period (CON), followed by a twenty-eight day period of caloric balance to maintain weight (BAL), and then followed by a twenty-eight day period of 25% calorie deficit (NEG) for weight loss. The researchers followed the subjects for body weight, body composition, cardiometabolic risk variables, resting metabolic rate, the metabolic increase with meals (thermic effect of meals, TEM), and subjective feelings of hunger, satiety and appetite.

During the period of caloric balance (BAL) all groups maintained a stable body weight, as expected, but total body fat and abdominal body fat decreased in both high protein groups (HP3, HP6), and lean body mass increased in the six meal group (HP6). The normal (15%) protein group did not change in body composition. All three groups lost weight during the weight loss phase (NEG) but the high protein groups lost more total and abdominal body fat and the HP6 group maintained elevated lean body mass. The after meal thermic effect (TEM) was greater for the HP6 group compared to the HP3 or TD3 group.

Leptin was elevated during caloric balance (BAL) for the HP6 group and decreased in both high protein groups during weight loss (NEG). Subjective ratings of hunger during NEG were higher for the TD3 group compared to either high protein group.

Losing weight and losing fat are independent goals of diet modification. Knowledge makes the effort easier and more effective.

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