The Best Times to Eat Meals
You’ve been hitting the gym recently, going to those fitness classes, maybe even trying your hand at weight-lifting. You’ve been sweating more than you ever thought was possible without passing out from dehydration. And you’ve been trying to eat less and healthier. However, you’re still not seeing the results you thought you’d see by now.
Don’t give up just yet. The problem might not be how you’re exercising or eating, but when you’re doing these things throughout the day.
The human body runs on its own internal clock, which is about the same length of time as a typical day. This internal, biological clock is called the “circadian rhythm,” which keeps your body functioning properly on its own schedule. This helps your body cope and adjust throughout the day to environmental changes, in addition to telling your body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to perform certain behaviors, such as eating.
When you eat meals and snacks each day can affect your body’s metabolic regulation, body-weight regulation, obesity-related disease management and your sleep cycle. The timing of your meals just might be that missing puzzle piece in your weight-loss journey.
So, when should you be eating each of your daily meals?
Breakfast: Eat between 6 a.m. - 9:45 a.m.
If you’re up and at them, one of the first things to do is eat breakfast. Ideally, you want to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. The longer you wait to eat in the morning, the longer your body has to go without the hunger-quenching effects of protein, fat and fiber - foods you should be eating for breakfast to keep you fuller and more focused throughout the rest of your day. Since we wake up in a fasted state, we have to top off our glycogen stores with healthy carbs like unsweetened oatmeal, which will energize your body and keep you more active during the first half of the day (Try this recipe for creating a delicious, healthy breakfast bowl).
Consuming high-protein breakfasts between 6 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. is linked to reduced body fat gain and less hunger throughout the day, compared to those who wait until after 10 a.m. to eat breakfast, according to a 2015 Obesity study.
Data from the National Weight Registry shows 80% of people who successfully lost 30 or more pounds ate breakfast like clockwork every day and were able to keep the pounds off.
Mid-morning snack: Eat 2-4 hours after breakfast
Now, a mid-morning snack is not mandatory to eat, especially if you ate a late breakfast (after 10 a.m.) or a heavy one.
You should eat your mid-morning snack two to four hours after breakfast, since that is the amount of time it takes the body to digest and absorb the food you eat. After this window, your body enters a state of fasting, which is when you top off your energy and blood sugar levels with a snack. Snacking at this time also prevents you from overeating at lunch.
An ideal mid-morning snack is a handful of almonds or a nice dallap of Pecan Smash on a piece of multigrain or whole wheat toast. You’ll eat fewer calories over the course of a day when you munch on these high-protein snacks.
Lunch: Eat before 3 p.m.
One 2016 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate lunch earlier in the day, before 3 p.m., were more successful in losing weight compared to those who ate lunch later. A previous study in the International Journal of Obesity supported these same conclusions. Participants lost about 25% less weight if they ate the bulk of their calories after 3 p.m.
Afternoon snack: Eat 2-4 hours after lunch
The idea behind an afternoon snack is similar to that of the mid-morning snack, but should be considered mandatory. A filling afternoon snack keeps blood sugar levels stable, which is important. Stabilized blood sugar levels will prevent your body from producing more insulin, which tells your body to store more fat. Your afternoon snack also prevents you from overeating at dinner.
Those who snack in the afternoon tend to eat significantly more fruits and vegetables compared to non-afternoon snackers. An increased consumption in fruits and vegetables is linked with healthier weights, so get to snacking! Try pairing Pecan Choco with fruits and veggies for a delicious, healthy afternoon snack.
Dinner: Eat between 5 - 7 p.m. (-ish)
In a Brigham Young University study, researchers had 29 men set a kitchen cut-off time at 7 p.m. for two weeks. After this, they were monitored for another two weeks, where the men could eat whenever they wanted. The study found that these men ate 244 fewer calories on average when they stopped eating after 7 p.m. It wasn’t because these men ate dinner any earlier or ate any differently. Setting a cut-off time on eating eliminated post-dinner snacking, resulting in less calorie consumption.
Another study found when people who usually ate ⅓ of their calories between 6 p.m. and midnight put restrictions on eating between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., they lost weight and slept better at night. A longer overnight fast gives your body time to reach a state of ketosis, which indicates your body is using fat for energy instead of sugar.
Keep in mind that these are not deadlines and you aren’t doomed if you’re not eating at these exact times. These are guidelines to help you plan your meals if you’re trying to lose weight and are hitting a plateau in your journey, or want to just become healthier in general. The biggest takeaways: eat breakfast, snack two to four hours after any meal and don’t snack after dinner. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other whole, nutrient-rich foods. Listen to your body’s hunger-cues and make sure you eat when you’re hungry, but not ravenous. Stop eating when you’re satisfied, but not when you’re completely full or still hungry. Pretty simple. Happy eating!