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Meal Timing: When Should You Eat?

by Mara Welty July 06, 2023 7 min read

 Meal Timing: When Should You Eat?

Most of us understand the nitty-gritty of a healthy diet. That is, the nutrients of it all. Some of us have had the food pyramid etched into our brains ever since first-grade health class, while others of us ditched the greasy fries and syrupy milkshakes for leafy greens and healthy fats after watching an illuminating documentary. 

No matter when you begin prioritizing your nutrition, the essentials remain the same: Healthy meals require a balance of complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats. And, of course, vitamins and minerals are always recommended. But what do you know about meal timing?

The rather elusive concept of meal timing refers to the practice of structuring your meals and snacks throughout the day in a strategic manner. It involves considering when and how often you eat, as well as the distribution of macronutrients within those meals. 

While meal timing is not a strict requirement for everyone, some individuals may find it beneficial in optimizing their nutrition and overall health.

What Is Meal Timing?

At a base level, we should be feeding our bodies on a consistent schedule to deliver the nutrients they need to perform various critical functions, such as maintaining:

  • Healthy blood pressure
  • Healthy cholesterol levels
  • Immune function
  • Energy levels

However, meal timing provides structure to the meals and snacks you eat throughout the day. Although, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Much like intuitive eating — a practice that encourages people to listen to their body’s internal cues to determine when and what to eat (and when to stop) — meal timing greatly depends on your body’s needs, as well as your unique health and fitness goals. 

So, does meal timing matter? It may. Growing evidence suggests that meal timing may play a critical role in metabolic regulation and the circadian clock.

In fact, your circadian rhythm and your metabolism have a very close relationship. Your circadian rhythm is an internal process controlled by the brain that regulates your sleep-wake cycle within a 24-hour period. Primarily, the cycle responds to light and darkness. 

The “master clock,” found in the brain, regulates “peripheral biological clocks,” found in various organs throughout the body, such as the liver, kidney, heart, and skeletal muscles. A peripheral clock is also found in the intestine. 

Food acts as an external cue to these clocks, helping to synchronize them with the external environment. Combined, the three factors — food consumption, light/darkness, and the internal clocks — play a role in establishing your daily metabolic rhythms. 

In a study published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, researchers found that only 1 in 8 adults in the United States have optimal metabolic health, making meal timing all the more important. 

Per this study, metabolic health was defined as having ideal levels of:

  • Blood sugar
  • Triglycerides
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Waist circumference measurements

While your metabolism only plays a small role in weight loss support, a healthy metabolism can help: 

  • Increase energy levels
  • Clear your body of toxins
  • Improve sleep cycles
  • Support heart health

Interestingly, a recent study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that Americans’ eating habits have changed over the last 40 years. 

Since the 1970s, adult women have decreased their daily caloric intake from meals, from 82 percent to 77 percent. And they’ve increased the amount of snacks they eat during the day — from 18 percent of total caloric intake to 23 percent. Similar reports were recorded among men.

Additionally, the number of men and women who ate a total of three meals a day also declined. In other words, it was found that Americans eat around the clock — our eating habits can’t be pinned down.

That said, there is no meal timing schedule that meets the needs of every individual. You must factor in your own sleep cycle and life responsibilities, as well as when you’ll have time to find or prepare food. 

Meal Timing 101

Meal timing takes into consideration the timing of your meals and snacks in relation to your body's natural rhythms and energy requirements. As such, it involves aligning your food intake with your daily activities, exercise routines, and individual needs to support your overall health and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, energy levels, and metabolic function. 

That said, there are a few key aspects of meal timing that are important to understand if you want to incorporate it seamlessly into your lifestyle:

  • Establish regular eating patterns – Consistency is key when it comes to meal timing. Aim to establish regular eating patterns by consuming meals and snacks around the same times each day. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and supports a sense of structure and routine. It may also help promote healthy digestion. Set specific times for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, and try to adhere to them as closely as possible.
  • Factor in your daily activities – When planning your meal timing, take into account your daily activities and schedule. If you have a physically demanding job or exercise regularly, you may need to adjust the timing and content of your meals to provide adequate fuel and recovery. For example, consuming a balanced meal containing complex carbs and protein before a workout can enhance performance, while a post-workout meal can support muscle repair and replenish energy stores.
  • Prioritize breakfast – Breakfast is often referred to as the most important meal of the day, as it jumpstarts your metabolism and provides essential nutrients after an overnight fast. Aim to have breakfast within a couple of hours of waking up. Include a combination of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to provide sustained energy and keep you feeling satisfied throughout the morning. Studies have also found that consuming most of your calories during the morning is optimal for your health.
  • Listen to your body’s hunger cues – Like intuitive eating, one of the fundamental principles of meal timing is paying attention to your body's hunger cues. Eat when you feel genuinely hungry, and stop eating when you feel comfortably full. This approach to eating helps regulate your food intake and ensures that you’re fueling your body when it needs nourishment, rather than relying on external cues or arbitrary meal times. Practicing mindful eating during meals can also bolster the effect of meal timing and allow you to slow down and savor each bite.
  • Include nutritious snacks – Snacking can be a valuable component of meal timing, especially if there’s a long duration between meals or if you have increased energy needs. Choose nutritious snacks that provide a balance of macronutrients and support your energy levels. Opt for whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, or yogurt, and avoid overly processed snacks that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats.
  • Avoid late-night snacking – Unless your lifestyle demands it, it’s best to avoid eating late at night. Eating during the night can cause your ghrelin levels to spike, a hormone that’s responsible for feelings of hunger. It also suppresses a hormone that’s responsible for feelings of satiety. Additionally, one study found that late-night eating can lessen the amount of calories and body fat your body burns.
  • Be flexible – While establishing regular eating patterns is important, it's also crucial to be flexible and adapt to different situations. Life can be unpredictable, and there may be times when sticking to a rigid meal schedule is challenging. Instead of feeling stressed or guilty, focus on making the best choices you can in those circumstances. Remember that overall consistency and balance are more important than occasional deviations from your usual routine.
  • Hydrate regularly – In addition to meal timing, hydration also plays a significant role in supporting overall health and well-being. Make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day, as hydration affects digestion, metabolism, and energy levels. Aim to consume water with your meals and carry a reusable water bottle with you to stay hydrated on the go.

What Is Nutrient Timing?

A close cousin of meal timing, the idea of nutrient timing refers to eating certain foods at a particular time to reach your health or fitness goals. This idea greatly depends on the anabolic window — a theory centered around the idea that, after exercise, your body enters an anabolic state. 

It’s believed that eating lean protein and carbohydrates during this time, which lasts about 30 minutes, can:

  • Boost protein synthesis
  • Mitigate muscle breakdown
  • Replenish glycogen in the muscles, providing them with energy

Many athletes also prioritize eating two to three hours before working out to maximize strength and endurance during training. Carbohydrates are essential here, as they provide the muscles with their primary source of energy. Protein is also important, as it can help facilitate muscle growth, and healthy fats can provide your body with an extra boost of energy if/when carb sources become depleted. 

The best pre-workout meals are those that are easy to digest, such as lean protein shakes. As an added bonus, shakes made with whey protein powder can help support muscle synthesis before and after a workout. 

Shake Things Up With INVIGOR8

Meal timing schedules are not universal — when and what you eat will depend on your daily routines and responsibilities. That said, eating consistently day-to-day can help regulate both your circadian and metabolic rhythms to help support full-body health.

At INVIGOR8, we understand that timing is everything. That’s why we developed our convenient and easy-to-make protein shakes.  No more having to worry about how to increase protein intake. Our shakes aremade with protein powder ingredients that can be whipped up quickly, and they deliver a bounty of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals whenever you need them. They’re also a healthy meal replacement that can help curb hunger, build muscle and lose weight naturally.

Explore our line of delicious protein shakes and weight loss kits today to make your next meal time unforgettable.

Sources:

Tufts. The Importance of Good Nutrition.

Healthline. Think You’re Metabolically Healthy? Only 12% of Americans Fit the Bill.

AHA Journals. Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association.

WebMD. What Is Nutrient Timing?

Precision Nutrition. All about nutrient timing.

The Washington Post. It’s not just what you eat, but the time of day you eat it.

Healthline. What Is an Anabolic Window?

Healthline. Pre-Workout Nutrition: What to Eat Before a Workout.

About the Author

 Mara Welty
Mara Welty

Mara Welty is a copywriter who specializes in health, wellness and CBD topics. With a background in journalism, she aims to deliver engaging, research-based content that builds trust and engages readers through informative storytelling.

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