Not only is it important to be mindful about what you eat, but studies show that when you eat can also have great effects on your overall health.
Our bodies follow a specific 24-hour circadian rhythm that carries out essential functions and processes. Our rhythms influence our multiple internal systems, including eating and digestion. As a result, our bodies digest food differently at various times of the day.
According to multiple studies about the relationship between meal timing and circadian rhythms, meal timing is frequently reported as a time cue for the circadian system. This means our circadian rhythms, metabolism and nutrition are intimately linked .
Timing meals and digestion in a way that avoids disrupting your circadian rhythm helps lead to the following health outcomes:
- Decreases risk of obesity and other metabolic diseases
- Prevents insulin resistance
- Promotes metabolism regulation
- Helps with weight loss
- Increases energy
- Reduces metabolic risk factors for chronic disease
There is no single best mealtime schedule that works for everyone since eating habits and schedules, individual genetics, and how our bodies regulate circadian rhythms can vary. With this in mind, here is a list here is a list of scientifically proven tips to follow when developing your mealtime schedule.
Restrict Your Total Eating Timeframe to 12 Hours or Less
Studies have found that restricting the total number of hours in your day during which you eat can help assist in weight loss efforts and improve metabolic health overall . Prolonging the total amount of time you eat during the day can affect your circadian rhythm and digestion cycles.
The Benefits of Breakfast
The saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is popular for a reason. Studies have found that skipping breakfast may affect diet quality, leading to a higher calorie intake during lunch and less nutritious food overall throughout the rest of the day .
As a rule of thumb, Northwestern Medicine determined that the best time to eat breakfast is within an hour of waking up.
This serves two purposes:
- Prevents breakfast from blending into a mid-morning snack
- Benefits weight loss efforts
Overall, it is important to consume more calories during breakfast rather than during later meals.
Eat an Earlier Lunch
Lunch should be about 4-5 hours after breakfast. An earlier lunch will help weight loss efforts and contributes to a healthier microbiome, the bacteria in the gut that affect overall health .
The goal is to not get overly hungry between meals, but eating a snack that includes a mix of protein and carbohydrates can also help structure your mealtime schedule if you are unable to eat lunch within the recommended time .
Avoid High Calorie Meals Just Before Bedtime
Similar to when to eat lunch, it is recommended to eat 4-5 hours after lunch but also to eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Eating too late has been associated with the following:
- Higher levels of fat in the blood
- Higher risk for chronic disease
- Body’s ability to digest sugar
- Acid reflux at night
Overall, if you start your day around 7 a.m. you shouldn’t eat dinner any later than by 7 p.m.
Eat 1-2 Hours Before a Workout and Again Within 1-2 Hours Following
If your schedule involves high intensity physical activity during the day, there are scientifically proven time frames to fuel your body before and after a workout. Eating 1-2 hours before a workout gives your meal enough time to digest before engaging in high intensity exercise and benefits blood sugar control . Additionally, eating post-workout also ensures you are adequately refueled afterwards.
Research suggests that the time of the day we eat has profound effects on our health, but it is important to consider individual factors when determining your mealtime schedule. While the tips above are scientifically proven to help sync your meals to your circadian rhythm, there are numerous other factors including medication schedule, daily routine, and work life that affect when you can have a proper meal.
Regardless, considering when you intake the bulk of your calories during the day can help your overall health outcome.