Diet books regularly tout eating small, frequent meals throughout the day. Are small meals better than big meals? Eating every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day is a program used by athletes, bodybuilders, and dieters for years. Eating frequently does not give your body a chance to lose muscle, harm your digestion or slow your metabolism. Is it better though? It depends. For some people it may be a better choice. How often you eat is not as important as what you eat and how much you eat.

Fact 1. If you eat more calories than you burn you store the excess as fat. You gain weight.

There is no getting around this fact. If you want to lose weight you need to eat less calories. Conversely, if you want to gain weight you need to eat more calories. For losing or gaining weight from a calories perspective it does not matter when you eat. Three square meals a day or 3 smaller meals with a snack in between. It is all the same. Calories in and calories out.

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates have different roles in the body. Protein is broken down to amino acids and used to build muscle make other proteins vital to the body. Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose and supply energy to the body’s cells. Fat is broken down to fatty acids for cell linings, hormones and long-term energy stored in fat cells. The amount of food you eat, your total calories, consist of a ratio of protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

Fact 2. The macronutrient ratio you need is unique to you and your lifestyle.

Recommended ranges for macronutrients are 45–65% of your daily calories from carbs, 20–35% from fats and 10–35% from protein. What are the right ratios for you? That is important for you to figure out. A diet with 45% carbs, 20% fat and 35% protein is very different than a diet with 60% carbs, 20% fat and 20% protein. Take your time and figure out what ratio of macronutrients works best for you.

Fact 3. The type of foods you eat will determine your macronutrient ratio.

Your food selection will have a lot to do with your macronutrients and the calories you consume. Everything you eat is broken down to a protein, fat, and carbohydrate. If your diet is high in processed sugars and fatty foods, you are going to have a diet high in carbs and fat and low in protein. If you like eating cheeseburgers and steaks, you are going to have a diet high in protein and fat. Look at the type of foods you are eating and the macronutrient ratio you need. Change your food selection to get to the right ratio of macronutrients and daily calorie level that works for you.

Fact 4. How often you need to eat is entirely up to you.

There are no hard and fast facts saying 6 small meals a day are better than 3 larger meals. Your appetite and your weight stability have a lot to do with your outcome. If you are a big eater and your weight fluctuates up and down eating more often may be promoting overeating. Conversely, if you are an athlete and you need the calories eating 6 times a day may work for you.

Work on Facts 1, 2, and 3 first then figure out Fact 4.