In a typical nutrition discussion, we always hear about how much to eat and what to eat, but timing is often overlooked. When you eat certain types of foods can make a noticeable difference in your satiety, energy levels, muscle gain, and fat loss. This is because our bodies don't operate with the same efficiency all day. We operate in a cyclical fashion, our hormones increasing and decreasing with our circadian rhythms. The way our bodies operate when preparing for wakefulness is very different to how it functions when preparing for sleep and recovery. We can take advantage of these differences to increase fat loss by simply changing the timing of when we ingest carbohydrates.
The theory of chrononutrition, or strategic dietary timing, is not a new concept. It's the theory behind some of the most popular body recomposition diets such as Intermittent Fasting, Carb-Backloading, and Carb-Nite. Carbs are not inherently bad. They are useful tools that can help or hurt your body composition goals depending on how and when you use them.
When planning your diet, it's essential to make sustainable choices. One of the biggest hurdles we face when trying to lose weight with dieting is managing hunger and maintaining control. The following is a simple timing strategy that will help you lose bodyfat without battling constant hunger.
What you choose to include in this meal can make or break your entire day. The prevailing myth is that you should eat most of your carbohydrates at breakfast so that you will have all day to burn them off. Unfortunately, this is not how the body works.
Upon waking, your body is in fat-burning mode. When you eat a meal high in carbs, insulin is secreted from your pancreas, which shifts the body from fat-burning to fat-storing mode. Insulin binds to insulin receptors on cells to prompt cells to absorb the sugars and use them for fuel or store them as fat. The drop in blood sugar will leave you feeling drained and hungry within just a couple of hours, making you much more likely to look for a quick pick-me-up. For most of us, this means looking for more sugar. So by eating a high-carb meal for breakfast, you stop your body from burning fat, and set yourself up for craving carbs all day. The goal is to avoid blood sugar spikes in the morning to blunt insulin's effects. By doing so, you can control your hunger throughout the day and minimize fat gain.
Breakfast should be a substantial meal containing about 1/3 of your daily calories. The bulk of the meal should be proteins and fats with a small amount of low-glycemic carbohydrates. Aim to consume 30-50 grams of protein which will support muscle mass, boost metabolism, and keep you feeling full. Eat 20-30 grams of fat for some sustained energy, and limit carbohydrates to 25 grams or less. If you are more muscular and have less than 30lbs of fat to lose you could potentially consume more carbs for breakfast.
Another approach would be to skip breakfast entirely, which is the premise of Intermittent Fasting. This method has been shown to promote many health benefits, especially among men. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work as well in women or people with blood sugar dysregulation. It has not been shown to offer any advantage in muscle gain or fat loss compared to eating three meals a day.
This meal should be similar in composition to breakfast and not contain any fast-digesting starchy carbs. Eat plenty of vegetables and load up on proteins and fats. Again, the goal here is a feeling of satiety and sustained energy.
Try to eat dinner 3-4 hours before bed. This should consist of adequate protein and fats as well as the remainder of your daily carbohydrates. If you are consuming any starchy carbs, this is the time to consume them. This is a great strategy for fat loss, and studies have shown improvements in bodyfat, blood sugar control, hunger, sleep onset, and sleep quality.
After keeping your insulin levels low all day, your insulin receptors will be highly sensitized, but the level of sensitivity depends on how active you've been. You will enhance this sensitivity by performing a challenging resistance workout sometime between lunch and dinner. This will allow you to eat a significant amount of carbs, and nutrients will be preferentially stored in muscle cells instead of fat cells. If you've been mostly sedentary, this is still the best time to consume the majority of your carbs, but keep it on the lower end.
Aim to control blood sugar by eating only small amounts of low-glycemic carbohydrates for breakfast and lunch, ideally fewer than 25 grams.
Keep protein and fat intake steady throughout the day to minimize hunger and support muscle mass.
Allow for more carbohydrates during the last meal of the day, but at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Try to limit snacking because it makes the body dependent on food for energy. It stops the liver from learning how to free up fatty acids in the body for fuel. You should have regular meal times with 4-5 hours between meals. If you find yourself becoming hungry between meals, try adjusting your meals to include more protein and fat, or less carbs. As your body becomes better at using fat for energy, you will no longer feel the need to snack.