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Does Meal Timing Play a Role in Improving Nutritional Intake?

An apartment with a terrace pool and a view of the sea may look nice, but if the building's foundation is weak, the unit would quickly collapse. Similarly, starting your day with apple cider vinegar (ACV) early in the morning and adding a plant-based protein powder post-workout may be a great way to detox your body and strengthen your muscles. Unfortunately, if you do not stick to a healthy, regular eating pattern or do not have a fixed eating schedule, your body will not be able to reap the benefits. Whether you wish to lose fat, gain muscle mass, or simply stay fit, it's equally important to time your meals and make minimal deviations from them on a regular basis to achieve the best health outcomes.

Don’t believe us? You can try it yourself. Eat a snack at around 3 p.m. for three consecutive days. On the 4th day, you’ll observe that your stomach starts to growl around the same time if you skip or delay the snack. That’s how our bodies adapt to our eating habits. Your gut will try to produce gastric juices and send out hunger signals generated by ghrelin, the hunger hormone, depending on your eating pattern. If you do not have a fixed eating pattern or if it changes every alternate day, your body, especially the gut system, gets confused.

By confusing your gut with uneven eating habits, you don't just lose out on important nutrients and caloric requirements but also put yourself at risk of developing various health issues, including metabolic disorders. Hence, scheduled eating is very important. Meal timing can impact our nutritional intake by influencing many biological processes. Having regularity in meal timing is important for the smooth functioning of these processes. Let’s gain some insight into it through this article.

Importance of Scheduled Eating

Eating at a predetermined time on a regular basis helps your body absorb maximum nutrition by influencing your Circadian rhythm, the digestion process, and improving athletic performance.

Impact of Meal Timing on Circadian Rhythm

If you find yourself delaying or skipping your meals for those unplanned meetings, strict deadlines, or household chores, chances are you are stressing out your body clock too. Our body has an internal regulatory system known as the circadian rhythm or the body clock. It regulates our sleep, eating, and wake cycles during the course of 24 hours. This internal clock is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain, which is influenced by the light signal that it receives throughout the day. While exposure to light influences the hypothalamus to wake up, darkness signals the body that it is resting time.

Staying in sync with the internal clock of your body also helps you absorb maximum nutrition from the food you eat and provides your body with optimum energy at different times throughout the day. The circadian rhythm influences the timing of your meals and the body’s metabolic rate by regulating hormones. Our body is able to digest food and drinks best under the presence of light, which means our metabolic rate, i.e., the rate at which our body burns calories, is high during the day and lowest at night as we are expected to sleep/rest at night. The circadian clock does so by regulating the release of the cortisol hormone. The old saying "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper" is based on the same principle. So, if you eat a heavy meal during the day, the entire energy released will be used up as your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Whereas, if your dinner contains a lot of calories, the circadian rhythm is disrupted, and the body will store the extra energy as fat, as your BMR is slow at night. Certain superfoods like apple cider vinegar, when taken on an empty stomach regularly, can also help boost your metabolism.

Following a regular pattern helps your body clock perform smoothly, while an erratic eating or sleep pattern disturbs the same.

Impact of Meal Timing on the Digestive System

Our digestive system gets used to the eating pattern we follow most days and sets its time for the release of digestive juices accordingly. Eating too much at once or eating at random times, confuses the gut and hinders its optimal functioning, leading to gastric troubles such as acidity, bloating, constipation, acid reflux, or even diarrhea. Our stomach acid is released at regular mealtimes for food digestion. When we skip or delay our meals, this stomach acid manifests as heartburn or tends to erode our gut lining, causing ulcers or indigestion. Our bodies are robbed of the vital nutrients that food is supposed to give us if it is not properly digested.

Impact of Meal Timing on Metabolic Disease

Apart from malabsorption and digestive disorders, erratic eating habits can lead to the onset of metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. An extended period of fasting followed by overeating could result in an unexpected rise in blood glucose levels, which prompts an immediate sugar spike and might be followed by a drop (hypoglycemia). This extra sugar is frequently turned into fat and stored, which further raises your chance of becoming obese. These factors contribute to metabolic diseases.

Impact of Meal Timing on Exercise

The type of meal, timing of the meal, and portion size of meals play a crucial role in sports nutrition as well.

Pre-Workout: Not eating at the right time or undereating may affect your athletic performance by causing symptoms like dizziness, fainting, hypotension, or hypoglycemia. Overeating triggered by erratic eating can also impact your sports performance by making you sluggish and lethargic or causing gastric discomfort. Keeping a meal gap of 1-3 hours prior to exercise for a light snack and a 3–4 hour meal gap for a heavy snack is recommended for optimal performance.
Post-Workout: The timing of the meal gap is important post-workout too, as it determines how efficiently your body will utilize the nutrients to recover and rebuild muscles after exercise. Consuming a plant protein shake within 1 hour of exercise is considered the best. Some of the best plant protein powders available commercially are enriched with a superior amino acid profile containing BCAAs, along with digestive enzymes that are easy to digest. Whether through food or supplements, remember to maintain the time gap.

A Sample Meal Schedule 

Time of the Day 

Meal 

 5 AM 

Wake Up 

5:30 am 

Start with a detox drink like organic apple cider vinegar 

6 am 

 Eat a light carb (A Pear) or carb + protein snack (A Granola Bar) 

 

7:30 AM 

Post-workout, consume an organic protein powder in your smoothie 

9 am 

Eat a carb + protein-rich breakfast 

(1 bowl of Muesli with milk) 

 

11 am 

 Eat a light-carb snack ( An orange) 

1 pm 

Have a lunch that includes fiber, carbs, proteins, and healthy fats 

(A multigrain vegetable stuffed falafel wrap with minty curd dip) 

3 pm 

Repeat a light-carb snack 

(A cup of papaya) 

A low-calorie drink (Coconut Water) 

5 pm 

Eat a protein or fiber-rich snack 

(Sprout salad) 

7 Pm 

Dinner (Vegetable sticks with pita Bread and low-fat hummus) 

9 pm 

A light protein bedtime snack (One cup of milk) 

 

Wrapping Up

Eating at a certain time on a regular basis aid in maximizing nutrient absorption by your body. Erratic eating patterns, on the other hand, can impair biological functions including digestion, circadian rhythm, and sports performance. So, whether you are trying to boost your metabolism by drinking apple cider vinegar, rebuilding your muscles with plant protein, or simply want to get fit, make sure to regularize your meal timings as well.

References

https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000476

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0748730419892105

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6520689/

https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.1413965111

https://wellbeing.jhu.edu/blog/2022/12/09/timing-is-everything-why-eating-on-a-regular-schedule-supports-overall-well-being/

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286342650_Ideal_Time_Gap_between_meals_Stomach_as_a_batch_reactor_Literature_Review_pH_analysis

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045506

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