You are what you eat, according to the old adage. But it seems that there’s a new rider to that: You are when you eat. Meal timing is a buzzword that’s been around for a while. What it’s about is knowing which times to eat different meals and snacks. It’s also about knowing which nutrients to include in your meals.
We all have a basic understanding of what nutrients we should be eating and how many we should consume each day. So how come we’re not losing weight or feeling better? The answer is in the timing. We may be eating meals at the wrong time of day. Or, we may be eating the incorrect nutrients at the incorrect mealtimes. It also dictates what should be eaten at an ordinary meal and a post-workout meal.
There is much literature about how to divide up your meals and snacks. Some experts believe in eating carbohydrates at the beginning of the day, calling it carb-loading. Others believe in eating carbohydrates at the end of the day, calling it carb back-loading). The most critical thing to keep in mind is what you want to achieve by timing your meals and working out what which nutrients to eat and when. The same plan is not going to work for everyone. When you start, you should approach meal timing with a degree of flexibility. You may need to make major or minor changes to find balance.
Making a significant change to your diet should be done in consultation with a trained professional such as a dietitian. This is most applicable to people with pre-existing conditions who may be affected by dietary alterations. If you’re curious about meal timing, here are some of the benefits:
18. Meal timing may help with weight loss
Studies indicate that weight loss is achieved when you eat the bulk of your daily calorie intake before 3 p.m. each day.
Recently, 420 men and women were studied over the course of 5 months. Those who ate the majority of their calories before the 3 p.m. deadline lost weight at a faster rate than those who didn’t. Their total weight loss was also higher. The body functions on a set of rhythms. When it gets fed is just one of those rhythms.
A regular intake of food spread out over the course of the day is a pattern your body becomes accustomed to. If you include specific nutrients at specific meals, it will become part of your body’s expectation, too. Changes to the schedule can take your body days to adjust to.
If your meal schedule is erratic or non-existent, your body will be in a constant state of stress. It will always keep reserves of fat to burn as energy if it doesn’t get fed. When your body gets into a rhythm with regular meals, it will burn the foods you eat at mealtimes and not store as much excess as fat.
17. Meal timing may help with muscle building
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, protein breakdown is at its highest rate in the morning. This is due to the interval between your last meal and the morning. This is a type of mini-fast. That’s why the first meal of the day is called breakfast.
Your first meal of the day needs to pack a protein punch to get you going. Protein is rich in amino acids which help build your muscles. Before your workout, you need to eat a high-protein meal or snack. Factor this meal into your daily calorie count.
Your body will convert that protein into muscle mass as you work out. The timing of this meal or snack is essential. You need to eat it 1-3 hours before you go to the gym. If you eat it before that, you’ll have lost much of the nutrient value of the food. If you eat it too close to the time of your workout, it can affect your performance and give you a stomach ache.
It’s also important to eat a small meal after your workout to refuel your body. It’s advised that you combine some of your daily protein allowance with some carbohydrates.
16. Meal timing helps you avoid the afternoon nosedive
The afternoons are the worst when you’re not eating regular meals. One study suggests that 4:12 p.m. is the time most people give in and eat an unhealthy snack to give themselves a second wind.
Your body is telling you it wants something that contains a lot of calories, fat, and sugar. Out come the donuts or chocolate. But the desired effect doesn’t last very long. Before you know it, the sugar rush is over, and you’re left feeling listless again.
If you battle with the afternoon slump, plan a small, nutritious snack. Include some protein, fruits and vegetables to add to your vitamin and mineral count. A little bit of healthy fat isn’t a bad thing. Read the labels of the snacks you buy carefully. They may contain high levels of unsaturated fats, sugar, or salt. It’s better to prepare your own than to go to a store and be tempted by the unhealthy snacks they have there.
Think along the lines of low-fat yogurt and fruit to keep you going until dinner. Falling off the wagon and having a big, unhealthy snack will disrupt your dinner and overnight fast.
15. Meal timing can improve your sleep patterns
Just as your body likes to settle into a regular eating pattern, it also prefers a consistent sleeping pattern. That’s why people who switch between night shifts and day shifts complain about struggling to sleep.
When it comes to your evening meal, timing is everything. If you eat too early, you’ll be hungry and on the lookout for a snack before bedtime. This is okay as long as it’s a healthy one. If you eat your evening meal too close to your bedtime, it can prevent you from sleeping well.
Meals rich in saturated fat may affect your ability to sleep. This includes food such as pork, lamb, dairy products and red meat. Instead, stick to lean protein for your evening meal such as chicken or fish. But make sure it’s broiled or baked, not deep-fried in unhealthy oil. Roast turkey is also a good idea.
Add fibrous vegetables to your meal to aid your body with digestion. Your body does not need a lot of carbohydrates overnight as you will not be expending much energy. If you eat a meal consisting mainly of carbs, your body will convert it into fat for storage during the night.
14. Meal timing may lower your risk of diabetes or other metabolic disorders
Eating a set of regular meals each day can do wonders for blood glucose levels. Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to convert sugar into energy. The blood sugar levels continue to rise and the symptoms of diabetes appear.
If you’re eating huge meals instead of more frequent, smaller meals, you’re putting a lot of sugar in your body at one time. This may be difficult for your body to process. With smaller meals, your blood sugar levels will be lower, and it will be easier for your body to process the sugar.
People who are pre-diabetic are starting to show some symptoms of diabetes. For many, a simple change in diet and a change in their approach to when they eat their meals can prevent them from needing to use insulin. You’ll still be ingesting sugar in the fruits and vegetables you eat, but you’re giving your body more of a chance to deal with it.
People with diabetes report that when they stabilize their mealtimes, their blood sugar levels respond positively. The diabetes is managed with a rhythm of meals at regular intervals.
13. Meal timing may help you conceive
To conceive a baby, the female reproductive system needs to ovulate. This is the process whereby the egg is produced. After ovulation, if the egg is fertilized with sperm, pregnancy will follow. A slight hormone imbalance can affect your ability to conceive.
The health of the prospective mother is vital for conception. Meal timing during the time you’re trying to conceive can help boost your fertility.
A recent study of the connection between meal timing and fertility was done by Tel Aviv University. It found that starting the day off with a substantial breakfast, eating a smaller meal at lunchtime, and saving the smallest meal for the end of the day improves fertility. It enhances the body’s insulin sensitivity, lowers the levels of the male hormone testosterone, and increases the frequency of ovulation.
Eating smaller meals during the day and in the evening helps to prepare you for pregnancy. While pregnant, many women prefer to eat in smaller quantities at more frequent intervals. This can be due to nausea in the beginning. In the latter stages of the pregnancy, you might not be able to eat big meals without getting indigestion.
12. Meal timing may make your workouts more effective
Eating before and after a workout is critical. If you go into a workout with the wrong fuel in your body, you’re going to struggle. You’ll become fatigued, and you won’t get the maximum out of your gym time.
People you see at the gym who get sick halfway through a workout have either not eaten at all or they’ve eaten the wrong types of food. The food you eat before a workout should be a small meal or snack that is rich in protein.
Eating after a workout is necessary to refuel the body for the rest of your day. It’s a good idea to eat a combination of carbohydrates and proteins after a workout. Your body has burned a lot of proteins and sugar during your workout, so you need to replace it.
You also need to replace fluids as a priority as you’ll have lost a lot during your workout through sweating. Time is precious, and it’s only natural to want to make the most of it. When you go to the gym, you want to get the best workout session your body can give you. Feed it properly to make sure you get it.
11. Meal timing makes you feel happier
When you don’t eat regular meals, your blood sugar dips and you can become unpleasant to be around. Many people become very irritable when they don’t get food. You need to eat smaller meals that include some carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates can give your serotonin levels a boost. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone that you need to make you feel happy and relaxed. Your meals or snacks should also contain some fat, like peanut butter. It is an excellent energy source that lasts far longer than sugar.
Many people who have depression have low levels of serotonin. They are inclined to comfort eat or binge when they feel depressed. They eat carbohydrates, which make them feel better because of the serotonin boost. People with anxiety may also turn to unhealthy consumption of carbohydrates to ease the symptoms of their condition.
Avoid wanting to binge on food in large quantities by eating smaller, more regular meals. They can help you to manage your mood and make you a nicer person to be around. There’s nothing worse than trying to deal with a hungry coworker.
10. Meal timing may decrease your appetite
If you stick to 3 large meals a day at vast intervals, you’ll be ravenous once you sit down to eat. This can lead to overeating and weight gain. You’ll eat way more than you need to so that you can satisfy your appetite.
With meals that are scheduled for specific times and occur more frequently, you’re less likely to experience such overwhelming hunger pangs. Once you’re in a rhythm with your meals, your body will remind you when it’s time to eat.
But you won’t approach mealtimes like a hungry lion, gorging yourself on everything in sight. Instead, you’ll respond to mild feelings of hunger with a healthy meal or snack to keep your stomach happy until the next meal time.
Eating smaller meals can also reduce the size of your stomach. The stomach stretches from being overfilled by constant overeating. It then takes more food to satisfy the stomach and make it feel full. If your stomach size reduces, you’ll feel more satisfied with less food. You get to focus on enjoying a meal and seeing it as a social occasion instead of a method of survival!
9. Meal timing may help you to concentrate more
Keep your brain in tip-top condition by timing your meals and keeping them small. Include small snacks between meals. Focus on healthy eating.
Bingeing on chocolate and high-sugar foods will not help your concentration at all. They give you a sugar rush. For a short period, you’ll feel boosted and able to concentrate. But it won’t last long. Before you know it, the sugar high is over, and you come down from it. This can leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic with your concentration and memory at an all-time low.
Include food rich in zinc and iron, as these compounds improve memory and concentration. They are found in lean red meat, fish, shellfish and chicken. You also get them from whole-grain bread and breakfast cereals.
Omega-3 fats are known as brain food. Tuna, salmon and prawns are rich in omega-3 fats. Eating smaller meals on a regular basis keeps your brain fed with these essential nutrients to keep you functioning at peak levels. If you wait too long between meals, you’ll go through periods in the hours leading up to meals where your concentration will lapse.
8. Meal timing may help your immune system
Your immune system defends your body against attacks from germs, bacteria, and viruses. It also eliminates free radical cells in your body which can cause diseases such as cancer. Such an important system needs to be augmented and nourished so that it can work productively and keep your body safe.
Many of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals we absorb during eating are just what our immune system needs. But when you eat big meals, your digestive system eliminates many of them before your body even gets to absorb them.
Eating smaller meals at shorter intervals allows your body to absorb all the compounds it needs to use to strengthen your immune system. When planning your meals, take into consideration foods that boost your immune system. They include garlic, mushrooms, nuts, berries, fish and yogurt.
You can also get immune boosters from yellow, red and orange fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits are rich in Vitamin C, which is good for your immune system. The meat, dairy products and eggs you eat contain high concentrations of B Vitamins, which are essential for a good immune system.
7. Meal timing may help you cope with stress
Stress is an inevitable part of our daily lives. There are different types of stress you can experience. Positive stress is what motivates you to push yourself harder to achieve a goal. Negative stress is brought on by work, relationships and home circumstances. It can be debilitating and has an adverse effect on your body.
You might think stress is an emotional condition, but it manifests itself through the body and its functioning. The best thing you can do for your body during a stressful time is to make sure you eat sensibly. When under stress, people tend to skip meals or binge on comfort food, usually carbohydrates. This is the worst thing you can do for your body.
The minute your body experiences stress, it produces the hormone cortisol. This is referred to as the stress hormone. Prolonged stress can cause declining levels of cortisol. If you eat smaller meals at more regular intervals, you can feed your body the nutrients it needs to help you focus and concentrate on dealing with the situation.
You can process and manage your stress without relying on cortisol to help you. If you’re experiencing a prolonged stress episode, it’s best to consult your doctor.
6. Meal timing may reduce your risk of dementia
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are on the rise. They are devastating conditions that affect the quality of life of the sufferer and his/her loved ones. It has begun to emerge in recent research that there are many aspects of your diet and lifestyle that you can adapt to avoid developing these conditions. They may only delay the onset, or they may lessen the severity of symptoms.
The foods that you should include in your diet are foods that are rich in vitamins C and E. Flavonoids are antioxidants found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Curried foods are essential as they have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-amyloid properties.
The latter is a compound that prevents amyloid proteins from grouping together and forming plaque. Include folate in your diet from dark, leafy greens. Folate helps to regulate homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that can negatively affect brain function.
Red wine is full of antioxidants, especially resveratrol. It is suitable for your brain and body and helps in the fight against free radicals. Keeping meal times regular and including foods from all the nutrient groups allows you to feed your body a cocktail of foods that will actively help you avoid dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
5. Meal timing may lower levels of inflammation
Inflammation can happen anywhere in the body. From your veins and arteries to your skin, you can suffer from inflammation. Your brain and organs can also become inflamed. Swelling and warmth characterize inflammation.
Inflammation is a sign that your immune system is fighting off some foreign invader. The immune system’s white blood cells are working to combat an infection. There is increased blood flow to the area which explains the redness and added warmth in the inflamed area. The extra fluid in the area causes swelling.
Meal timing is essential when you are battling inflammation. You need to give your immune system a boost to help it ward off the attacker.
Smaller meals eaten more frequently tend to supply the most nutrients to the body. This allows the body to absorb all the vitamins and minerals you have ingested and then enable them to bolster the immune system. You should immediately increase your intake of fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins A, B, C and E, as they are great immune boosters.
4. Meal timing may help your body detox
The body eliminates liquid waste from the body as urine or perspiration after the liver and kidneys process it. Food waste is processed and removed via the digestive system as feces. It is essential that your organs are given enough time to process waste and eliminate it.
When you eat big meals, there is a deluge of waste and toxins imposed on your organs. They may struggle to process the waste. If the kidneys cannot dispose of all the liquid waste, it goes into the bloodstream. The toxins in the blood are then carried far and wide across the body.
Smaller meals allow the organs in your body to process and dispose of waste correctly. There won’t be a build-up of toxins in your system. Your body can detox itself without the need for intervention.
Keeping your system clear of toxins is essential for your overall health and well-being. Most noticeably, it improves the health of your skin. When you get rid of a build-up of toxins, you’ll find yourself feeling better in general and far more energetic.
3. Meal timing may help your digestive system
The digestive system is very important. Its health and well-being can have far-reaching ramifications for the rest of your body. From the time food enters your mouth until the time it leaves the body as excrement, your digestive system is hard at work.
In the stomach, acids are released to break the food down. It then travels through the intestines where the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals get absorbed for use all over the body.
If your digestive system is not working correctly, you will be prone to symptoms such as ulcers, diarrhea or constipation. Certain foods may make your situation worse. For instance, if you eat acidic food and you have an ulcer, it will be excruciating.
The digestive system works best when you are eating a balanced diet consisting of all the food groups. It is also preferable not to overwhelm it with lots of food only once or twice a day. Your digestive system is not overloaded if you have set, regular meal times throughout the day. Smaller meals give your digestive system a chance to operate at its best potential.
2. Meal timing may get you the most out of your food
The food we eat is full of nourishing nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Well, the healthy food is anyway! Our bodies process, store and use these compounds for a variety of reasons. They promote general health and are the reason we have energy and vitality. They play a part in keeping all our organs working optimally and keep our immune system fighting off the bad guys.
Smaller meals allow for the highest absorption rate of food. If you eat at regular times, your body is programmed to absorb nutrients from the food and put them to use.
When you eat a few big meals in a day, or you do not eat regularly, your body doesn’t get to absorb all the nutrients. Before it can do so, they’re being expelled together with the other waste.
Think of it like driving your car with a leaky gas tank. Instead of all the gas going to pump the engine and keep your car moving, a lot of it gets spilled on the road. It’s a waste of a tank of gas. Your body is the same. The nutritious foods you eat do not get adequately utilized if you don’t eat them in small, regular portions.
1. Meal timing may help your muscles recover
A strenuous workout can leave you stiff and sore. This is a sign of microscopic damage to the muscle that was incurred during the heavy exertion. The muscles heal themselves, and the stiffness and pain go away. If they don’t, it’s a sign that you might have a more serious muscle injury.
An essential food group for the healing of sore muscles is protein. That’s why it is advised that you consume protein before and after a workout. When you combine these two small meals into one that you have either before or after your workout, the effect won’t be the same.
If you only eat before, you’re liable not to be as energetic as you should be as you’re too full. And if you decide to work out on an empty stomach and eat afterward, good luck. You’ll be lightheaded and dizzy before you’re halfway through your session.
You should also include some carbohydrates in your post-workout meal to give you energy for the remainder of the day. Time your meals to coincide with your workouts and try to keep a regular schedule so your body can get into a meal-exercise rhythm.