Unfortunately there are people who assume that a healthy lifestyle only equates to diet and exercise. But as you may soon realize, many concepts under diet often go unnoticed, despite carrying so much weight on a healthy lifestyle. One of these concepts is meal timing. Some research suggests that meal timing is almost as important as the food you eat. Let’s look at this concept to determine why meal timings are essential for healthy living.
Perhaps this is the question people are asking these days before knowing the importance of meal timing. You will find many searches related to this, such as whether late-night snacking is okay or eating past 8 pm is healthy for weight loss. However, even before we answer this, here are some things you need to remember:
Calories Never Change
A calorie remains a calorie, regardless of the time you consume it (2). So, consuming a banana after 8 pm does not make it unhealthy as opposed to having it in the afternoon. Similarly, eating ice cream in the morning does not make you acquire more calories than if you would have it at night. This means that the time you have your meals in no way affects the food’s calorie count.
The Weight Loss Principle Remains
Perhaps you might have heard of several theories about eating specific foods at particular times to trigger weight loss. This is the source of the theory of meal timing for fat loss. But according to WebMD, weight loss is in no way influenced by the time of the day you eat (2).
Instead, the basic principle of weight loss is to consume fewer calories than your body burns (2). The emphasis on fat loss is not on when you eat but on how much and whether you participate in physical activity (2).
Is Nutrient Timing A Thing?
Before we delve into when you should eat for different goals, let us look at the nutrient timing concept. It may be particularly important to time macronutrients, especially among highly trained individuals, for exercise performance and body composition (3).
Generally, the concept involves systematic planning and the consumption of whole foods, dietary supplements, and fortified foods. The argument is that timing your energy intake and the ratio of specific ingested macronutrients may enhance recovery and tissue repair (3). Additionally, it has been linked to a better mood after an intense or high-volume workout and increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) (3). This means that nutrient timing may bring you one step closer to your fitness goals.
Meal Timing For Better Results
Although we have determined you cannot meal time for weight loss, some foods are better consumed at specific times. Such dietary patterns are thought to be associated with enhanced metabolism and a better lifestyle. Here are some of these foods and the recommended timeline to have them:
Your energy level may plummet in the midafternoon, and in such times, you are encouraged to grab a snack. But it is worth noting that the issue is not the idea of having a snack but choosing your snack.
If you are following a healthy lifestyle, it would be best to stick to healthy snack ideas which provide a balance of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Some healthy snack options to revive your energy levels include kale chips, nuts, hummus with celery or carrot sticks, and Greek yogurt with berries (1).
Pre-workout meal timing is important because it influences how much fuel you have for your workouts. A lot of people often work out on an empty stomach. If we dig deep into what science says, it recommends eating before exercising. But not minutes before your exercise regimen as some people think.
According to WebMD, it is advisable to eat a couple of hours before you start exercising (5). It should be fuel with healthy complex carbs, such as wheat toast, brown rice, whole-grain cereals, and pasta (5).
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Fruits and veggies are also recommended as they can power you through your routine. Although most people go for protein shakes, unfortunately, consuming them before your workout is not an appropriate time. That is because they take longer to digest (5).
So, opt for healthy carbs before, and if you need protein, be sure to avoid the big boost. For example, if you feel hungry minutes before your workout, go for a banana or an apple (5).
After Workout Meals
Eating after a workout is important because, during this time, your body tries to rebuild its glycogen stores and repair and regrow your muscle proteins. It is also important because it helps fight fatigue, dehydration, and hunger.
But it is worth noting that you should not eat anything and everything. Instead, fitness experts recommend eating complex carbs and protein after your workout. Additionally, they recommend eating within one to two hours after finishing your workout (5).
You can either have a snack or a meal. It all comes down to your preferences. Some snack options after your workout include a protein-rich smoothie, PB&J, yogurt and fruit, a turkey sandwich with veggies, pretzels and low-fat chocolate milk (5). Also, of course, remember to drink plenty of water to replace the fluids you lost during your sweat session.
Meal timing for bodybuilding mainly adheres to the principles of nutrient timing. For example, one recommendation is carbohydrate consumption before and throughout your resistance exercise regimen to promote euglycemia and higher glycogen stores. As a result, you hope to lessen muscle damage and facilitate greater acute and chronic training adaptations (4).
Similarly, bodybuilders sometimes consume at least 10 g of essential amino acids before and after their workout. Again, it could be in free form or a protein bolus of about 20–40 g (4). This is intended to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, in the hopes of maximizing muscle mass (4).
Additionally, bodybuilders or exercising individuals, for that matter, must evenly space their protein feedings. Do not have all your protein in one meal a day. That is unrealistic. Instead, you are advised to evenly space them after every 3 hours during the day to continuously promote muscle protein synthesis (4).
There is no standard time on when you should drink water. Instead, you have to keep hydrating throughout the day. Drinking enough water is paramount for it prevents dehydration and helps with body processes like digestion.
Despite this, people still do not get enough water. You can try drinking more water by enhancing its flavor by adding things like mint leaves or citrus fruits like lemons. Alternatively, you can go for a sweet taste and add a few strawberries.
If not, WebMD also recommends taking foods with high water content. These include fruits and veggies such as watermelon, zucchini, celery, iceberg lettuce, cucumber, strawberries, and cauliflower (5).
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Oatmeal is very filling, especially when you have it for breakfast. They are the perfect breakfast option when you have a busy day. That is because they contain a fiber known as beta-glucan that makes you feel full for a long time (5).
So, having some oats keeps hunger pangs at bay while still benefiting from its other associated health benefits. For example, evidence shows oats are complex carbs that can boost serotonin levels in your brain. As a result, you may be calmer throughout the day despite what is thrown at you (5).
If you plan to get pregnant soon, you may already know that getting more folate is not up for debate. That is because folate is one of the essential nutrients for a growing baby. So, you will find your doctor asking you to consume more foods rich in folate, and suggesting that you take a folic acid supplement.
This timing is crucial because it helps you get enough of these nutrients before you conceive. Some excellent food choices rich in folate include leafy green veggies, oranges, peas, lemons, melons, bananas, and strawberries (5). Some you may find in the form of a prenatal vitamin.
Alternatively, your doctor may also recommend consuming more foods that are thought to encourage fertility. Research shows some of these foods include whole grains, full-fat dairy, and protein from plant sources instead of from animals (5).
The Bottom Line
Meal timing is a crucial concept in the fitness world due to its massive impact on the results. It would help if you consumed meals before and after your workout and throughout your day to maximize the results. Based on the above, it would be best to consult a professional before making any tweaks to your diet plan.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on for decision-making. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 8 healthy snacks to help you maintain energy levels (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Diet Truth or Myth: Eating at Night Causes Weight Gain (2009, webmd.com)
- International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nutrition and muscle protein synthesis: a descriptive review (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What to Eat When (2021, webmd.com)