The last key element you need to factor in when building your diet is meal timing, which refers to when you are eating your meals over the course of the day.
Does it really matter? At the end of the day, when it comes to overall weight loss, the answer is mostly no. The primary determinant of whether or not you see the scale go down is whether you are in the calorie deficit you need to be.
This said, when you eat will influence the type of hormones you produce in your body, which can have a slight impact on the rate of fat burning taking place and on whether you are losing fat or lean muscle mass.
So while it does matter, it’s not something that you want to get too obsessive about. If you can optimize your meal timing, great, if not, don’t be paralyzed in fear that you won’t see success. As long as your calorie intake lines up properly, you’ll still get results.
For those who want to go that extra mile and optimize their meal timing, how should you do it?
First and foremost, you need to optimize your pre and post workout meals. If there is one time of the day where it will make a difference in your results, this would be it.
Pre workout, you want to focus on avoiding too many complex carbs and instead focus on lean protein. Why? If you eat a huge dose of complex carbs prior to your workout, you’ll be providing your body with all the energy it needs. Therefore, it won’t have much reason to turn to body stores as fuel. By keeping this meal lower carb then, you maximize fat burning. And, by getting in enough protein, you protect your lean muscle mass. Strive to eat this meal 60-90 minutes prior to hitting the gym. This might be a serving of grilled chicken with some salad and a little olive oil dressing.
Post workout, the strategy is different. I recommend waiting about 45 minutes after you exercise to start eating. This will help you maximize the extra fat burning that takes place after exercise has been performed, improving total fat loss. After this period focus on a higher carb meal with complex carbs. This will provide the carbohydrates necessary for rapid muscle glycogen replenishment.
A typical meal here might be some white fish along with a serving of baked sweet potato and a serving of broccoli.
The other two times of the day when meal timing can influence results is right before bed and first thing in the morning.
Avoid eating within the two to three-hour window prior to going to bed. If you do, your body will be up digesting food for the next few hours, making it hard to fall asleep while also reducing your quality of sleep.
Finally, if you can, I recommend skipping breakfast. While there’s no harm in eating breakfast, by skipping it can help push the barrier on fat burning, giving you a slight edge.
To this note, you may also want to consider intermittent fasting, which has you forgoing food for 16 hours of the day, allowing an ‘eating window’ for about 8 hours, usually placed in the time period before you go to bed for the evening.
Intermittent fasting may help to increase insulin sensitivity, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, which can then improve your ability to use dietary carbohydrates as a fuel source, rather than storing them as excess body fat.