When should i eat? The question sounds like a simple one, but it is not so easy to answer. When should I eat or when is the best time to eat? That’s very difficult to say without some background information. You have to be very careful about what and when you eat, especially if you want to actually lose weight. It’s not only how many calories you consume that’s important – it’s also when you eat them. Time your meals correctly and your body will be like a well-oiled machine!
When Should You Eat? The Best Times for Meals
The diet industry and fad diets might lead you to believe that there is a precise time of the day to eat your meals that is best or “healthiest.”
But for most of us, the time of the day we eat our meals is determined by myriad factors, like our work schedules, our hunger levels, the medications we take, and even the times our family, friends, and co-workers are free to share a meal.
The fluid nature of day-to-day life means that sticking to exact mealtimes every day is challenging — and some days, it just might not be possible. Plus, the best mealtimes for you may change or evolve throughout your life.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that mealtimes don’t matter. In fact, research suggests that the time of the day we eat and the amount of time that elapses between meals may have profound effects on our health.
This article explores why mealtimes matter and how to choose the best mealtimes for your lifestyle.
Why mealtimes matter
Though many of us tend to feel like what we eat has a greater impact than when we eat, it’s important to remember that our bodies digest food differently at various times of the day.
Many of these daily fluctuations are related to circadian rhythm, the cycle that moderates our sleep-wake patterns over 24 hours. In other words, it’s the body’s internal clock, and it reacts primarily to changes in light.
We usually think of circadian rhythms as affecting how tired or awake we feel, but they also influence other physical, mental, and behavioral processes in the body, including eating and digestion
Conversely, mealtimes influence circadian rhythm. Thus, our eating habits and circadian rhythms constantly interact, though some scientists remain unsure as to exactly how much.
Still, researchers have found associations between circadian rhythm, mealtimes, weight status, and even insulin resistance, a hallmark of metabolic conditions like obesity and diabetes.
In fact, repeated disruptions to normal circadian rhythms, such as those that happen when you travel between time zones or pull an all-nighter, may increase your risk of developing a metabolic condition.
For example, a recent study of 31 police officers found that officers consumed more calories during night shifts than day shifts. Other studies have linked night shifts with irregular meal patterns, poorer diet quality, and an increase in metabolic risk factors
Mealtimes and digestion interact with natural processes in the body, such as circadian rhythm. Timing meals and digestion in a way that avoids disruption of these other processes tends to yield better health outcomes.
When Is the Best Time to Eat Breakfast?
You have probably heard many times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it’s true. Why? Because you set the pattern for your blood sugar for the rest of the day with your first meal.
You should eat within the first hour of waking to get your body primed for a successful day. Between 6 and 10 a.m. would be the ideal time to take this first meal, mainly so that you set yourself up for a second meal a few hours later.
What you eat at breakfast has a large impact on the rest of the day. You want to avoid any blood sugar spikes, which can set you up for a series of ups and downs for the rest of the day — so skip a big pastry or sugary coffee drink. Nosh on a combination of whole grains, protein and fat instead, such as whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and strawberries.
When Is the Best Time to Eat Lunch?
Your metabolism peaks each day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Aim to eat lunch between these hours to take advantage of stronger digestive function at this time.
Lunch should be a lighter meal than breakfast or dinner. You need to maintain your concentration during these hours, since you are most likely still at work or school. You also may not have the time to prepare something for yourself, so consider options such as a high-quality lunch served quickly from Forklift & Palate.
Our lunch menu includes tasty yet healthy favorites such as Blackened Southwest Chicken Wrap and Korean BBQ Glazed Salmon that give you needed protein without weighing you down with added oil. Plus, when you order ahead, you can get your meal quickly and get back to the office or classroom to take advantage of your heightened mid-day brain power.
When Is the Best Time to Eat Dinner?
You should eat dinner approximately four to five hours after eating lunch. If that falls in the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. window, you hit the last hour of your body’s heightened metabolic rate before it starts to slow.
Keep in mind that the longer you give your body between your last meal and your bedtime, the better. Your body performs a lot of maintenance tasks overnight, such as resting and renewing. If it’s still busy digesting, those other tasks don’t get taken care of.
Eat during daylight hours
“Our bodies evolved to be primed for food during the day so that we’d have plenty of energy for survival,” says Dr. Roizen. This means your body is most sensitive to insulin—a hormone that moves glucose from your blood into the majority of cells, including your muscle cells, to be used as fuel—during the day. Your resistance to insulin is highest at night, when you’re less active and your body thinks it should be slumbering. As a result, you wind up storing most of the calories you consume in the evening as fat, Dr. Roizen says.
But between after-work Spin classes and evening cocktail hours, you can’t always expect to pack in all your nourishment before the sun sets, especially during the winter months when it gets dark as early as 4:30 p.m. A more realistic option: “Try to eat during a 12-hour window each day—for example, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then go on kitchen lockdown after that,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of The Hunger Fix.
Don’t skip breakfast
Research has found that morning eaters tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and less chance of having a heart attack or stroke. There are also weight-loss benefits: Women who took the time for a sizable breakfast (think eggs, toast, and fruit rather than a quickie bar) lost more weight after 12 weeks than those whose largest meal was at dinner, according to one study published in the medical journal Obesity. They also had lower levels of blood sugar, insulin, triglycerides, and hunger hormones such as ghrelin. In addition, nearly 80 percent of people who have successfully lost and kept off at least 30 pounds report eating this meal every single day, according to the National Weight Control Registry.
All this said, if you can’t stomach a full-fledged meal before noon, don’t stress about it. “The most important thing is to have something—even if it’s small—in your stomach within two hours of waking up,” says Tamara Duker Freuman, RD, author of The Bloated Belly Whisperer. Just make sure your breakfast includes a mix of high-fiber carbs as well as protein to help curb hunger. Two of her favorite choices: a slice of sprouted bread topped with egg and avocado, or Greek yogurt and berries.
Tips for Maintaining an Optimal Eating Schedule
Balancing work or school, exercise and proper eating can be challenging. Follow these tips to help fit everything in:
- Plan ahead: Do as much meal prep in advance as possible so you can have your meals ready at optimal times. For instance, whip up a batch of chili and bake chicken on the weekends for easy weeknight reheats.
- Experiment: Try changing your eating times slightly each day, and when you hit the optimal mix, add in exercise to see how it impacts you. While you may have exercised at night your whole life, your body may respond better to mornings now that you eat differently.
- Kill two birds with one stone: You can multitask by heading to Spooky Nook Sports for a round of basketball or field hockey or to hit our climbing wall. When you’re done, dash over to Forklift & Palate for a well-balanced dinner.
Whatever schedule you come up with, be sure to emphasize whole foods and wholesome ingredients. You can’t go wrong when you eat fresh foods such as Forklift & Palate’s fare.
How to time meals for optimal workouts
The best times to eat before and after a workout depend on the type of exercise you plan to do.
A high intensity workout or an intense cardio session may require more precise meal timing. On the other hand, a leisurely activity like walking lends greater flexibility.
For pre-workout meals, eating an hour or two before you exercise helps fuel your muscles. Just remember to give your meal enough time to begin digesting before you start any high intensity activities.
For post-workout meals, eating within 2 hours of finishing an activity may help replenish your energy stores and repair any muscle protein damage that occurred during the exercise.
Still, scientists have a lot to learn when it comes to exercise and mealtimes. For example, some recent research suggests that eating before a workout rather than afterward may benefit blood sugar control.
Other studies have found that some people may perform better during aerobic exercises like running while still in an early-morning state of fasting.
Research on this topic is still emerging and sometimes contradictory, and it may depend on personal factors like individual health and the type of workout. Thus, more studies are needed.
Choosing your meal times
Though the best mealtimes will ultimately vary from person to person, there are some general suggestions for timing meals.
Keep these three rules of thumb in mind when planning your mealtimes.
- Eat earlier when possible. Many studies have linked earlier mealtimes to better health outcomes, compared with eating late at night.
- Limit your daily window of eating. Keeping your entire caloric intake for the day within a 12-hour time frame reduces the risk that digestion will interfere with your body’s circadian rhythm.
- Consider your circadian rhythm. Your body may not digest and process your meals as efficiently while it’s also releasing melatonin — specifically late in the evening or during the very early morning hours.
These guidelines may be useful when trying to decide upon a consistent meal routine to follow.
However, you’ll likely want to consider some individual factors as well, such as:
- Health conditions. Many medications must be timed with meals and may dictate when you need to eat. Conditions like diabetes also require eating at certain times of the day to maintain proper blood sugar levels.
- Your daily routine. We often time our meals around work schedules and personal obligations. That may mean eating earlier or later than you would ideally like to. In this case, maintaining consistency may still help limit disruptions to your circadian rhythm.
- Type of meal. On days when you have no choice but to eat later in the evening, choosing small, nutrient-dense, yet simple meals can aid digestion and limit circadian rhythm disruptions.
- Your instincts. Mealtimes will likely fluctuate from day to day. It’s important to trust your instincts and allow yourself to eat when you’re hungry, even if it’s at a different time of the day than you planned.