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Nutrition » 5 Meals A Day: Can Smaller Portions Boost Your Weight Loss Success?

5 Meals A Day: Can Smaller Portions Boost Your Weight Loss Success?

5 meals a day plan

5 Meals A Day

Have you ever thought that 5 meals a day might be the key to helping you finally lose weight? Most of us believe that having 3 big meals a day with snacks in between is the way to go. After all, that is what many of us grew up doing. When it comes to reducing weight however, you might just want to consider adjusting to smaller meals a day as a great way to hit your weight loss goals.

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What is a 5 meals a day plan?

Eating 5 meals a day involves having breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and dinner (7). To do this, you will need to try and eat every three hours. The most important part of this meal plan (and any other diet) is to eat less calories  each time.

Eating 5 meals a day for weight loss: Is this possible?

Can you truly shed those extra unwanted pounds by eating 5 times a day? Yes, you can. According to Harvard University research, eating frequently can help you shed weight (3). People who are obese tend to eat less frequently than those who at a healthy weight and also formerly obese persons.

It should be noted though, that being on a calorie deficit meal plan has to do with more than how many times a day you eat. For example, let’s say you have two sisters eating 1200 calories a day each. One chooses to divide her total consumption into three meals, while the other opts to ‘graze’ and eat the same calories through 5 meals a day. At the end of 4 weeks, the chances are that both sisters will have lost the same amount of weight (3).

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What should I eat for a 5 meals a day diet plan menu?

An important fact to note is that consuming 5 meals a day does not mean filling up on snacks alone. You need to have actual food and a well-balanced diet for you to lose weight and make sure that you are getting all the necessary nutrients that an adult requires.

Some healthy weight loss foods that should be included in your 5 meals a day for weight loss are:

  1. Leafy greens such as collard greens, swiss chard, kale, and spinach
  2. Fish such as salmon, tuna, cod, trout, sardines, and mackerel
  3. Lean beef, eggs, and chicken breast
  4. Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, and green beans
  5. Beans, peas, lentils, and legumes
  6. Whole grains such as barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, oatmeal, and popcorn
  7. Whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
  8. Berries – raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, and grapes.
  9. Nuts – pistachios, walnuts, cashews, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts
  10. Avocados for healthy fats
  11. Healthy oils like olive, safflower, hemp, flaxseed, coconut and sunflower oil.
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Sample of a 5 meals a day diet plan menu

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, an adult’s total daily calories should come from the following (8)

  • 45% – 65% carbohydrates
  • 10% – 30% protein
  • 20% – 35% fat

You should aim to consume your daily calories in the 40:30:30 ratio (40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat) for healthy weight loss. While you can change up these ratios, the 40-30-30 meal plan works best as it does not require you to cut any carbs, grains, dairy, or meat out from your diet. It also provides you with the sufficient macronutrients needed to stabilize blood sugar, putting you at levels that keep you energized throughout the day (4).

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One day 5 meals a day plan menu

Breakfast

Spaghetti Squash Egg Cups

350g spaghetti squash, 2 tsp cooking oil, 25g green onions, 1 large egg white, 1/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper, to taste, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 8 large (50g each) eggs

These measurements make 4 egg cups. A serving is 2 egg cups

Cals: 288. Fat: 18 g, Carbs: 13 g, Protein: 19 g

Snack

Pumpkin Spice Roasted Chickpea Trail Mix

1 can chickpeas, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 5 to 6 drops of stevia, 1/2 cup unsweetened large flaked coconut flakes, 1/2 cup almond slices, 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Cals: 155. Fat: 7 g, Carbs: 18 g, Protein: 16 g

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Lunch

Harvest Salad with chicken

30g greens, 30g Romaine lettuce, 2 tablespoons red onion, 8 pecan halves, 1/4 apple thinly diced, 2 tablespoons dried tart cherries, 40g cucumber, 2 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese. – This makes two servings

Dressing (8 servings) – 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup plain 1% kefir, 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon agave nectar, 1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Cals: 352. Fat: 23 g, Carbs: 18 g, Protein: 20 g

Snack

Apple Pie Oat Muffins

2 cups oats, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 2 teaspoons apple pie spice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup applesauce, 1 medium apple, 1 large egg white, 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey, 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 1/3 cup dried cranberries.

The above measurements are enough for 12 muffins. One muffin = one serving

Cals: 100. Fat: 1 g, Carbs: 20 g, Protein: 3 g

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Dinner

Turkey Sausage, Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

1 tbsp olive oil, 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion, 1 large sweet potato, 13 oz cooked turkey sausage, 4 cloves garlic, 6 cup low-sodium chicken broth, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp ground cumin, 3/4 tsp ground coriander, 1/4 tsp chili powder, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 4 cups chopped fresh kale, 1 can dark red kidney beans.

Note: The above measurements make 6 servings

Cals: 317. Fat: 9 g, Carbs: 37 g, Protein: 16 g

Total calorie intake for the day: Cals: 1212. Fat: 58 g, Carbs: 106 g, Protein: 64 g (12)

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The Bottom Line

Can eating 5 times a day help you lose weight? Yes, it can, but only if you eat the right things and in the right way. The timing of your meals is of less significance than your choice of quality, portion sizes, and overall calorie intake. Snacking on fruit rather than candy and having whole foods rather than fast, convenient meals will positively benefit your weight loss more than just following the clock.

You should always try to eat meals that contain less calories , even when you are consuming healthy meals and snacks. Physical activity/working out also helps you lose weight more. A person who chooses to eat 5 light  meals a day with workouts will lose weight faster than one who eats the same diet but has a more sedentary life.

As usual, talk to your doctor or dietitian each time before making any changes to your diet. What works for someone else might not be the best plan for you, especially if you have a medical condition. Make an appointment with your doctor and outline any dietary and workout changes you are considering, that way you can have professional advice for the way forward.

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FAQs

How to eat 5 meals a day for weight loss

If you would like to begin eating 5 meals a day for weight loss, here are some tips to make the process easier, healthier, and wholesome for you.

  • Determine your daily energy requirements

Before thinking about what you shall be eating through the week, first you need to determine how much you eat a day and how many calories you need to cut out. You can do this with an online calorie counter or by downloading a reputable calorie counting app. Make sure to use a calculator based on the Mifflin St-Jeor equation. 

Once you have this number, you should cut the usual number by 500 to 1000 calories per day. It is best to start small, so just try cutting 500 calories. This number will help you safely lose 1 to 2 pounds a week.

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  • Plan out your 5 meals a day

Once you have determined how many meals you need to eat a day to lose the extra pounds, divide them by 5 to determine how many calories each meal should have. For example for

  1. 2000 cals a day, each meals should be about 400 cals
  2. 1500 cals a day = 300 cals per meal
  3. 1200 cals a day requires about 240 cals per meal

Remember that each meal does not have to be exactly 240, 300, or 400 calories; if it surpasses or goes over the recommended number, it is still fine. However, your tally at the end of the day should not be over your total daily recommended intake.

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  • Do not eat less than 1200 calories a day

Eating less than 1200 calories will most likely lead to low energy, muscle loss, and possible nutrient deficiencies. If your calculations for daily energy  requirements  are lower than 1200, it is better to readjust your overall goal allowing for a slower, healthier, and more sustainable weight loss journey.

  • Meal Prep

Failure to meal prep is among the biggest reasons why many people are unable to stick to their diets. Due to our busy lives, it is sometimes impossible to have time to cook. This leads us to convenient fast food options or ordering in from restaurants. You can easily go over your calorie intake eating like this.

Instead, choose a day of the week – Saturday or Sunday – where you can prepare and portion out all the meals and snacks that you will consume during the week. This way, even when you are in a hurry, you already have healthy nutrient-dense food within your allocated caloric intake program.

  • Remember to exercise

Frequent meals tend to work better with athletes or physically active people than with sedentary people. Choose to take a walk instead of taking an Uber, opt to take the stairs rather than the elevator, dance more. Always have a meal or snack before your workout to give you energy and then after exercising to help to repair your muscles and replenish the energy lost (6).

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5 meals a day: How many calories should I eat?

This depends on what your goals are. Most women require about 2000 calories to maintain their weight while men require about 2500 calories a day. When going about losing weight, women require 1500 calories while men require about 2000 calories.

However, these numbers are not set in stone. Age, size (height and weight) and amount of physical activity a day determine how many calories one should ingest any given day for weight loss or maintenance (13).

Someone trying to gain weight or build muscle will need to eat more than someone trying to lose weight. Here is what a 5 meal a day diet plan menu for someone trying to build muscle would look like (1). You can determine your estimated daily energy intake by using an online calculator that uses the Mifflin St-Jeor equation.

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Breakfast

Protein pancakes – 2 servings

1 cup raw oats, 1/2 cup liquid egg whites, 1 cup cooked chickpeas, 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 pinch salt, 1 tsp powdered Stevia

Cals: 504. Fat: 6 g, Carbs: 67 g, Protein: 45 g

Pre-workout

Chips and salad – 1 serving

2 cups stemmed and torn mustard greens, 1/8 cup almonds, 1/4 avocado, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1 salt to taste, 2 cups organic mixed greens, 1 cup goji berries, 1/2 whole sprouted-grain tortilla, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp honey, salt and pepper to taste

Cals: 1558. Fat: 73 g, Carbs: 182 g, Protein: 42 g

smoothie
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Post-Workout Meal

 Smoothie

1 fl oz water, 1 cup frozen blueberries, 1 scoop dymatize iso-100, 1 oz raw maca powder, 1 scoop dymatize glutamine powder

Cals: 303. Fat: 2 g, Carbs: 42 g, Protein: 30 g

Dinner

Salmon and mixed greens

1 tbsp olive oil, 1 salt and pepper to taste, 6 oz salmon fillet, 1/4 cup pico de gallo, 2 cups organic mixed greens

Cals: 735. Fat: 25 g, Carbs: 85 g, Protein: 42 g

5 meals a day for weight loss
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Snack

Creamy Tuna, Cucumber Canapés, And Spicy Roasted Pepitas

1/2 thinly sliced cucumber, 1 tbsp olive oil, 5 oz tuna, 1/4 cup raw pepitas, 1 tsp sriracha

Cals: 361. Fat: 20 g, Carbs: 6 g, Protein: 40 g

Total intake for the day: 3461. Fat: 126 g, Carbs: 382 g, Protein: 199 g

As you can see, this meal plan is quite different from the other weight loss plan above. Having many small meals a day as opposed to three big ones does not matter, as long as your calorie intake does not change.

If you are looking to lose weight by eating 5 meals a day, first, be sure to reduce your usual calorie intake by 500 to 1000 calories (2). This puts your body in a calorie deficit, thus allowing you to lose weight. You should also try and incorporate more physical activity in your day to day.

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What time should I eat my 5 meals a day?

It is advisable to eat your meals every two to three hours (5). An example of having 5 meals a day every three hours would be as follows

  1. Breakfast – 0700 hrs
  2. Snack/2nd breakfast – 1000 hrs
  3. Lunch – 1300 hrs
  4. Snack – 1600 hrs
  5. Dinner – 1900 hrs

Why is it important to eat 5 meals a day?

If you are still not convinced that consuming small meals 5 times a days is better that having 3 main meals like you have been used to, here are some benefits of switching to eating 5 meals a day

  • Decreasing hunger

When you opt to just have three bigger meals throughout the day, you tend to feel quite hungry in between breakfast, lunch and supper. This leads to snacking, where more often than not we choose unhealthy food options since they are usually readily available and convenient.

On the other hand, when you eat 5 meals a day, every three hours, you do not give your body time to be extremely hungry. Since you are less hungry, you are bound to eat less at every given meal time (11). It is a fantastic plan for preventing overeating.

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  • Eating fewer calories

As stated above, eating frequently means that you will feel less hungry in between and during meal times. The good thing about this is that you will inadvertently end up consuming less food and fewer calories. Lower energy  intake usually leads to weight loss due to a calorie deficit.

  • More opportunities to consume healthy snacks

The best part about knowing that you have to eat every few hours is that you are bound to plan ahead. When you do this instead of waiting until the last minute, there is a higher chance that you will pick or prepare a healthy snack/meal. This increased intake of fruit and vegetables in your diet replaces junk food leading to the potential weight loss.

  • Reduced levels of insulin and bad cholesterol

A clinical trials done in 1989 showed that a ‘nibbling diet’ reduced fasting serum concentrations of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B. The research also showed that eating frequently may also have positive changes to insulin secretion (10).

An increase in amounts low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (bad cholesterol), and apolipoprotein B puts you at higher risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. On the other hand, a higher amount of insulin in the body may cause insulin resistance leading to hyperinsulinemia or type 2 diabetes once the pancreas shuts down (14).

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  • Lowers chances of nutrient deficiencies

When you are eating 5 meals a day, it’s quite hard for you to eat the same thing for all five meals. Even when you meal-prep making your lunch the same, you will be selecting differently between meals and breakfast. Through frequent consumption of smaller meals, you are more likely to consume different foods which adds a sense of versatility to your diet when compared to the regular large meals. This versatility ensures that your body consumes adequate concentration of minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients.

  • May increase your metabolism

Eating smaller, more frequent meals may aid in making your metabolism since your body is always burning off calories. Skipped meals can contribute to a slower metabolism that contributes to weight gain (9). People with faster metabolism tend to burn more energy and therefore won’t gain weight as easily.

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Are there any cons to eating 5 meals a day?

Yes, there are. They include

  1. Overeating – This will only happen if you opt for snacks that don’t satisfy you. Whenever to choose to eat, make sure that you will be satiated. Small meals do not mean that you should starve yourself. Neither does being on a caloric deficit diet. If you do not eat enough, chances are that you might overeat later and you will end up not losing weight.
  2. Mindless eating – Whether you are having 3, 5 or 6 meals a day, you should always be mindful of what you are consuming. In this case, a snack does not mean a whole bag of potato chips, eaten while watching Netflix. Neither does it mean eating all the fruits in one sitting. Your snack/small meals should be nutritionally dense and should fit in your daily allocated energy  intake (3).

In this case, the advantages seem to outweigh the disadvantages greatly. How well this small meals, 5 times a day plan works, depends on you and your meal choices.

If you are interested in healthy meal plans, you may be curious about other methods of supporting your body health. Supplement a proper meal plan with some exercise and take up this 20 Min Full Body Workout at Home.

DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. 5 Perfect Fitness Meals To Fuel Your Day! (2018, bodybuilding.com)
  2. Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
  3. Eating Frequency and Weight Loss (2015, health.harvard.edu)
  4. Get in the Zone With a 40-30-30 Diet Plan (2018, livestrong.com)
  5. How to Eat 5 Small Meals a Day (2012, webmd.com)
  6. How to Eat Five Small Meals a Day to Lose Weight (2019, livestrong.com)
  7. How to Lose Weight by Eating 5-6 Times a Day (n.d, livestrong.com)
  8. How many carbs should dieters eat for weight loss? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
  9. How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High (n.d, health.clevelandclinic.org)
  10. Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency (1989, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  11. Should you eat three big meals or many mini-meals? (2017, edition.cnn.com)
  12. What 1,200 Calories Looks Like (Fall Edition) (2019, blog.myfitnesspal.com)
  13. What should my daily intake of calories be? (2019, nhs.uk)
  14. What to know about hyperinsulinemia (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
Clare Kamau

Clare Kamau

Clare is an excellent and experienced writer who has a great interest in nutrition, weight loss, and working out. She believes that everyone should take an interest in health and fitness, as not only do they improve your way of life, but they can also have a significant impact on your health.
As a writer, her goal is to educate her readers about the ways they can reprogram themselves to enjoy exercise, as well as break free from bad eating habits. In her articles, Clare tries to give advice which is backed by scientific research and is also easy to follow on a day-to-day basis. She believes that everyone, no matter their age, gender, or fitness level, can always learn something new that can benefit their health.

Soraya Ziou

Soraya Ziou

Hi everyone! I am a Canadian Registered Dietitian (RD) who graduated from the University of Ottawa, Canada. I worked at the Montreal Pediatric University Hospital and the Ottawa Heart Institute before joining the International Clinic of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. With a strong interest in community nutrition, I worked in Haiti and in Syrian refugee camps affected by the scourge of malnutrition. I am passionate about food and its science!

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