What time of day should you eat? How many meals a day should you have? Should you skip breakfast? These (and many more) are timeless nutrition questions that if you do some research, you’ll find several seemingly irrefutable answers.
At The Natural Athlete’s Clinic however, we’re realists and stick with what works.
How many meals a day should you have?
If you divide up all the calories you’d normally eat in a day, no matter how you slice it, your body fat won’t change over time. In a study of women who consumed massive breakfasts (in terms of percentage of total daily calories consumed) in comparison to small dinners, and visa versa, no changes in fat loss were noted. However, large breakfasts do tend to “set blood sugar straight” for the day, matching food intake to our circadian rhythms that control our metabolism. Breakfast eaters have significantly reduced metabolic risk factors and improved blood sugar control over the duration.
When we eat, it does have an affect on our brain’s internal clock, which in turn controls our circadian rhythms – our body’s schedule of when hormones are released. All of this directs your metabolism and organ function. Over the long term, erratic meal timing increases your risk of developing type-2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?
It depends on who you ask! If you’re into intermittent fasting, and you commit to eating healthy foods later in the day, then it may not be the most important meal!
Otherwise, those who skip breakfast (and don’t have a plan) tend to eat compulsively for the rest of the day. And no, they’re not eating salads and chicken breasts compulsively – think donuts, pastries and the usual office junk food fare.
Breakfast skippers wind up with poorer diets overall and increased risk of weight gain/obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Remember what I said earlier about how breakfast/timely eating ‘sets’ blood sugar for the day? A habit of consuming a wholesome breakfast meal has a long lasting and important effect on metabolism and chronic disease risk factors.
Again, it’s all about having a plan and direction to your strategic meal timing. Athletes who skip breakfast still have a caloric need that needs to be met. Skewed meal timing ends up coming back to bite them at night, which is typically met by cravings for high calorie, sweet stuff (ice cream, cookies, etc).
The body isn’t wired to process a bunch of sugar at night – this sets up a ripple effect and also increases risk for long-term metabolic dysfunction. Our bodies don’t produce a lot of insulin in the evening (because biologically the body is preparing for sleep and recovery) so slamming a ton of sugary, high glycemic foods down the hatch will prove to be a metabolic beatdown!
Late night eating (and that’s after 8pm or so) is undoubtedly associated with obesity. People who consume more than a third of their total daily calories at night have twice the risk of becoming obese. There are several studies looking at the combination between of breakfast and late night eating increasing risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and inflammatory blood markers.
IF you must eat a lot of calories at night, do make them very low glycemic (low in sugar) – think eggs, nut butters, proteins, and cheeses. Ideally though you’ll eat breakfast, lunch, a second lunch and a light (low glycemic) dinner – the pattern is to consume more of your calories earlier in the day when you’re active and or recovering from a workout. It’s the most ideal eating pattern to avoid increasing your risk of those metabolic diseases!
Special thanks to Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., CCSD!