What you eat is important, but when you eat it is also something you need to think about. Whether you are trying to get leaner or perform at your best in your sport or workout, timing is a huge factor in your results. I work with a lot of people who come to me because they exercise and don’t get the results that they want. It is often because they are not eating enough at the right times, or too much at times when they don’t need it. Here is how to provide your body with what it needs and optimize your calories so your body keeps its metabolism up, does not get as stressed, and burns fat while building or maintaining muscle mass!
Eat more when you are most active
Many studies show that people who eat most of their calories early in the day lose weight more effectively and maintain weight loss better than those who eat more late at night, even if their calorie intake is the same. This may have to do with our daily hormone levels and circadian rhythm, our internal clock that regulates much of our physiological processes. When the timing of your food syncs with your internal clock, your body tends to be leaner and have lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone related to stress (high cortisol levels can contribute to digestion changes, high blood sugar, anxiety, and weight gain). For most people, this means eating when it is light out, and not eating late at night. As a parent of busy kids, I often have the choice of eating dinner at 4:30 pm or 9 pm, and I try to always pick the earlier time if I can. There is more and more research that is showing that decreasing the time you eat to 8-12 hours a day (say 7 am-6 pm) can help decrease body fat, control blood sugar, and keep your food intake in sync with your circadian rhythm. There is an app that can help you with this called “Zero”, which can help you get into this habit if you want to try it. Be sure you are aware of any interactions this may have with medications (especially medications for diabetes-talk to a nutrition professional and your physician before trying this if you are taking any medications or have any issues with your blood sugar).
Time you fuel around your workout
When you eat needs to sync with your workouts so your body does not slow down your metabolism and recovers effectively between workouts. If you are a morning exerciser, then you need to eat most of your calories by lunch time, and eat smaller meals and snacks later in the day. In this case, your breakfast(s) should provide more fuel than your dinner. Having a mid-morning snack, a healthy lunch and either an afternoon snack with a light dinner or just an early dinner is the best pattern. If you are a mid-day exerciser, then you should have a solid breakfast, a snack before your workout and then a healthy lunch to replenish your body after your workout. Then you can go straight to a healthy early dinner or have a snack and then and early dinner. If you are an evening exerciser, you still need to eat a good breakfast, a healthy lunch, an afternoon snack that is enough to give you energy for your workout, and then your dinner would be right after your workout to refuel your body. Everyone is a little different, but timing your food around your workouts and being mindful of what you are putting into your body and when can really help you get the most out of your workouts and recovery, and achieve your body fat goals.
Have a consistent daily pattern of eating
Our bodies tend to keep our metabolism up and keep cortisol down when we are not skipping meals, getting fuel in around workouts, and eating when we are most active. Plan ahead and bring healthy snacks and meals with you and take the time to eat them. Your body can get even stronger, have better workouts and get leaner if you make eating a priority. The human body is amazing and it will adapt to being underfed or overfed very quickly. Keeping your body well fueled with consistent snacks and meals through the day, with your bigger meals around workouts, and limiting food at night may be the missing link that is keeping you from your goals. So many of my clients are amazed at how much better they feel when they eat this way!
If you haven’t ever worked with a registered dietitian, planning amounts of food, timing and helping you put it all into practice is what we do! Contact us if you are interested!
Cassie Dimmick, MS, RD, CSSD