British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Acute effects on metabolism and appetite profile of one meal difference in the lower range of meal frequency

Astrid J. Smeetsa1 c1 and Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantengaa2

a1 Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD, Maastricht, The Netherlands

a2 Top Institute Food and Nutrition, P.O. Box 557, 6700 AN, Wageningen, The Netherlands


A gorging pattern of food intake has been shown to enhance lipogenesis and increase body weight, which may be due to large fluctuations in storage and mobilisation of nutrients. In a state of energy balance, increasing meal frequency, and thereby decreasing inter-meal interval, may prevent large metabolic fluctuations. Our aim was to study the effect of the inter-meal interval by dividing energy intake over two or three meals on energy expenditure, substrate oxidation and 24 h satiety, in healthy, normal-weight women in a state of energy balance. The study was a randomised crossover design with two experimental conditions. During the two experimental conditions subjects (fourteen normal-weight women, aged 24·4 (sd 7·1) years, underwent 36 h sessions in energy balance in a respiration chamber for measurements of energy expenditure and substrate oxidation. The subjects were given two (breakfast, dinner) or three (breakfast, lunch, dinner) meals per d. We chose to omit lunch in the two meals condition, because this resulted in a marked difference in inter-meal-interval after breakfast (8·5 h v. 4 h). Eating three meals compared with two meals had no effects on 24 h energy expenditure, diet-induced thermogenesis, activity-induced energy expenditure and sleeping metabolic rate. Eating three meals compared with two meals increased 24 h fat oxidation, but decreased the amount of fat oxidised from the breakfast. The same amount of energy divided over three meals compared with over two meals increased satiety feelings over 24 h. In healthy, normal-weight women, decreasing the inter-meal interval sustains satiety, particularly during the day, and sustains fat oxidation, particularly during the night.

(Received July 18 2007)

(Revised October 08 2007)

(Accepted October 25 2007)

(Online publication December 06 2007)


c1 Corresponding author: Astrid Smeets, fax+31 433670976, email


Abbreviations: DIT, diet-induced thermogenesis; NPRQ, non-protein RQ; SMR, sleeping metabolic rate; TFEQ, Three Factor Eating Questionnaire; VAS, visual analogue scale