I have gotten asked this question a countless number of times from clients, friends, and family members. I know a lot of people try eating 5 to 6 times a day or “grazing” by consuming small to moderate amounts of food at each meal because they have heard it keeps their metabolism “active” or “ignited”. I have heard people, more specifically bodybuilders, who eat anywhere between 7-10 times a day, while some of my family members/relatives eat only 2 to 3 times a day. On the other end of the spectrum, you have your intermittent fasting people(I know quite a few trainers who eat like this) who fast for a long period of time, typically 16-18 hours, then have a period of time during the day where they can eat; which can last for multiple hours. With all of this information out there, which option is best for you? The answer is: Whatever works best for you.
There is no “special” number of times that one should eat in order to maximize their gains from the gym. What I can tell you though is that most often when there are two ends of the extreme, in this case eating 7-10 times a day, or having just 2 meals a day, usually the most optimal answer falls in the middle. A study was done that looked at this particular topic, where one group of people only ate once or twice a day, another group ate frequently throughout the day(I believe it was 6 times), and another group ate 4 times a day. After the testing was completed, the group that ate 4 times a day had superior results for body composition changes compared to the other two groups. In terms of protein intake, studies have shown that it is helpful to space out protein consumption throughout the day for protein synthesis(formation of proteins in body which over time leads to muscle and other structural growth), opposed to having large amounts at one time. I personally have found that eating the popular 5-6 times a day has worked well for me, but like I mentioned, personal trainers I know love the intermittent fasting option. You should not stress about the number of times you eat per day, rather you should focus on consuming nutritionally dense foods that provide you a good of amount of micronutrients(vitamins and minerals), fiber, and satiety value, so that you are not tempted to snack, or even splurge on fast/junk food.