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What is the best time to eat?

Posted by mylife | Posted in Health & Wellness, Nutrition | Posted on 16-07-2011

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Most of us eat all the time without giving it a second thought.  We snack on this or that and typically just eat when we’re hungry instead of at specific selected times.  So much of our energy goes into figuring out what to eat that we often totally forget that when we eat can have just as much significance on getting the body you want.  Don’t get me wrong, food choice is very important.  I’m not about to tell you that you can get away with eating junk as long as you are strategic about your timing.  Sorry to rain on your parade.

What I am saying though is that controlling when you eat done in conjunction with controlling what you eat will have a greater impact on your weight loss, fat burning, or muscle building efforts than focusing on either independently.  The real juice here – which I’ll get into more below – is that even the folks who are very meticulous about meal timing do not see the results they could because they may be eating at the wrong times, especially if they’re just listening to what’s “trendy” in health and fitness.

With that said, I don’t think that there is actually one best time to eat period.  If that were the case I’d be recommending eating one time per day, which would be pretty ludicrous for most people (although it certainly works for this guy).  What I am suggesting is that there are better times during the day to eat than others.  I’m not going to get nit picky about the best time to eat dinner or even the best time to eat carbs.  Nor will I go into the best foods to eat after a workout or the best foods to eat to lose weight – in this post (but check the site later for those articles).  Although these little tidbits are important, they don’t matter as much in the beginning when you’re just trying to lay down a basic template.  Simply eating generally healthy foods at the right time is usually much more effective for people who are trying to see results than trying to eat like a monk from the get go.  In the long run, dietary adherence is often more important than the type of diet itself.

Eat Earlier in the Day or Later?

Like I mentioned above, this is all about the general timing of meals as opposed to the idea that eating at one specific time each day is better than others; the main idea I want to let loose here is that eating later in the day may have some benefits over eating earlier.  Specifically, eating more of your calories in the latter half of the day is better for maintaining lean tissue and burning fat. Of course, the earlier eating wasn’t a horrible approach either since – in the same study – it was shown that this more typical strategy results in more general weight loss. Since the effectiveness of later eating is contrary in some ways to popular belief, this is where letting go of that trendy mainstream fitness speak is helpful, as is switching your mindset so that you’re open to testing assumptions.

The idea behind the effectiveness of this strategy here is twofold: that eating at certain times is more beneficial in terms of long term adherence to that particular approach, (i.e. eating at night is easier to stick to then eating earlier in the day, thus the entire diet would be easier to stick to) and that eating at later times also produces more beneficial modulations in hormone levels which play a key role in lipolysis (fat burning).

The studies above as well as this study here demonstrate that eating later in the day has a positive impact on several hormones including insulin, leptin, and adiponectin which, again, have a big influence on both satiety (feeling full so you don’t wreck your diet) and your body’s overall fat burning ability.  According to the research it may also lower certain inflammatory markers meaning it could be healthier overall.

Carbs don’t Sprout Horns and Grow a Tail After Six PM

It may or may not have started in ancient lore, but for as long as I can remember, a lot of the mainstream fitness advice tossed my way for a long time included in it the idea that carbs were very bad for you if consumed later in the evening.  And if you think about it, it makes sense.  Why?  Because you’ve been horse fed this crap forever, that’s why!

Just kidding…kind of… I’ll concede that it wouldn’t have been that hard to believe.  Logically it was realistic to think that eating carbs later in the day was bad when people tell you that you don’t need them since you’re less active and probably lounging on your couch.  To some extent it makes sense – and still makes sense, but here’s the thing:

it’s not the eating of carbs later in the day that is bad, if they are truly “back loaded” (eaten mostly later).  It’s the behaviors that most people associate with eating carbs – and food in general – later in the day that are bad.  What are these “behaviors”?  Easy: eating a LOT of food the rest of the day as well, among other things.  Most people that binge later in the day (as opposed to those who specifically plan to eat later) have other bad habits, i.e. sedentarism, alcoholism, high caloric intake, poor food choice, high stress levels, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think carbs can be bad if consumed in excess instead of strategically at certain times to maximize fat burning or muscle building.  It’s just that, as long as you are consuming less earlier in the day (of any type of calorie) there is often room for – and benefit to – consuming more later, especially if you are working out regularly.

What about Breakfast?

I thought I’d throw this little bitty in at the end here just to shell out a little more info that supports the idea of eating later in the day.  To answer the above question would be to go against everything I said this post was about since I noted that I wouldn’t be talking about what you should eat, only when. But I realized that the title is perfectly fine because it forces me to reveal the fact that I rarely eat breakfast. Yep, you heard right.  I don’t obsess over “breaking my fast”.  If anything I fast longer and don’t eat until a few hours after waking up.  And you know what?  My already low body fat has gotten lower and I’ve maintained my muscle mass with this approach.  My results attest to the power of intermittent fasting and how you can skip a few meals to burn fat or build muscle.

But the really cool thing is the convenience factor.  If you’re like a lot of people and you’re super busy in the morning but like to eat big dinners with friends without caring about counting calories, then intermittent fasting is the way to go.  The studies above, as well as tons of anecdotal experience show that it’s great for burning fat and building muscle and probably just as beneficial to your health.

So let go of some of those past assumptions. Think about your health and fitness instead of just blindly following the crowd.

For extra info on intermittent fasting you can check out fellow trainer Martin Berkhan’s site leangains.com.  It’s packed with tons of info and a lot of success stories.

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