If you like to watch what you eat and lead a healthy lifestyle, it's likely that you are always willing to research extensively to plan your eating habits. You spend hours on the internet, looking for healthy recipes, the list of superfoods you can add to your cart and follow fitness influencers for tips and tricks. While we do our best to eat right, is that enough? What impact does the timing of your meals have on your health and fitness? Find the answer as nutrition experts share their insights on how to time your meals perfectly for better health.
First of all, what makes for a perfect meal?
According to dietician and founder of Fisico Diet Clinic, Vidhi Chawla, there is no perfect time for a main meal. "Breakfast, lunch, or dinner can all be your primary meal as long as it includes the essential proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. All meals are important, and the nutrients can be distributed among these meals," she explains.
Save the best for the first half
While there is no right or wrong time to eat a nutrient-packed meal, there is an ideal time, and it is the first half of your waking day. “Our metabolism is at its optimal best in the first half of the day and generally slows down in the evening. As a result, the food we eat during the day is better digested,” says Chawla.
Malika Singh, certified integrative nutrition and health coach, too, swears by this mantra, “It's beneficial to have your breakfast and lunch as the biggest meals of the day and keep dinner light and frugal. This enables better sleep and boosts metabolism.”
Dietician Gauri Anand, Founder of Balanced Bites by Gauri, too believes in the same. "Eating your main meal during the middle of the day can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent overeating later in the day. The best time to eat your main meal is between 12 pm and 3 pm. This is when your body's metabolism is at its peak, and your digestive system is able to process food efficiently. Eating during this time can also help regulate your appetite and prevent snacking later in the day."
On the other hand, eating your main meal late in the evening can have negative effects on your health. "This is because your digestive system slows down as the day progresses, making it harder for your body to digest and absorb nutrients. Eating a large meal before bedtime can also disrupt your sleep and lead to weight gain," she adds.
Set the tone for the day with a good breakfast
According to the experts, breakfast should always be high in fibre and warm. Chawla says, “Our metabolism requires a mild boost in the morning, making a warm breakfast essential. You can consume oatmeal, porridge, or even boiled eggs that improve digestion and prepares the stomach for the day ahead. And eat breakfast within two hours of waking up.”
Urging us to keep the momentum through the day, Chawla continues, “Lunch should be substantial and high in nutritional value. Have your lunch preferably between noon to 3:00 pm, depending on your schedule. Your dinner, the last meal of the day, must be consumed three hours prior to bedtime and keep it light.”
The link between your main meals and your sleeping pattern
Good or bad, our body gets used to a certain cycle or routine that we follow. According to Singh, the relationship between our sleep and food plays an instrumental role in our physical and mental well-being. “Our main meals must be in sync with our circadian rhythm, which is our sleep-wake pattern over the course of a 24-hour day. When our meal timing is misaligned with our circadian rhythm, the chances of obesity and metabolic disorders like insulin resistance are higher. To ensure you are optimally nourished to meet your daily energy requirements, always let your daily schedule, work demands, and circadian rhythm guide your food intake time.” This means that breakfast doesn't necessarily have to be consumed at 7:00 a.m., even if you work night shifts. You can have it at 1:00 p.m. if that's when you wake up. Having said that, it is always healthier to have a fixed time for all your meals every day.