Lindsay Martin, MS, RDN, LDN |
Imagine if you were running in a marathon and started the race running as fast as you can, you might reach exhaustion too quickly. The same would happen if you try to store all your energy until the very end, you may never make any progress (think of the tortoise). The key is setting an even pace that you can maintain throughout the entire race. Now, imagine this same strategy for your caloric intake. Instead of eating meals in huge chunks, think about the benefits of maintaining your energy levels at a consistent rate across the day. By scheduling your meals and snacks, and building a healthy diet, you can maximize your digestive health while preventing the development of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Let’s take a look at what a healthy eating schedule looks like on a typical day.
- Within one hour of waking up, your body has processed all the nutrients during your sleep and is ready to build energy. This is why breakfast has it’s name: break-the- fast. Choose high protein and fiber, low sugar and carb options to provide long-lasting energy without crashing mid-morning. A great example would be a slice of whole grain toast with avocado and a side of scramble eggs with a serving of fruit.
- About 3 hours later, a light, low-calorie snack should keep you energized until lunch. An example of this snack would be raw vegetables and hummus or a fruit parfait. Be sure to always incorporate a fiber and a protein as your snacks to help keep satiety and be sure to meet nutrition needs throughout the day.
- Around 12pm, about 5 hours after your breakfast, your body will need a bigger boost to keep your metabolism engaged. Here you should focus on lean proteins like chicken or fish combined with complex carbs, healthy fats, and fiber. A great lunch idea is a salmon Mediterranean power bowl salad.
- When you start to feel those afternoon grumbles kicking in, about 3 hours after lunch, grab a light and low-calorie snack.
- No less than 3 hours before bed, your meal should include protein, complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables.
The goal is to eat every 3 to 4 hours in order to keep a consistent blood sugar and promote optimal digestion. Setting this schedule consistently across days can also help curb overeating which can lead to bloating or indigestion and even under-eating and not meeting your personal goals. Scheduling what to eat and when you eat will help you maintain a balanced diet and create a more stable energy source, as your metabolism will be engaged at optimal levels all day long.
Eating a majority of calories earlier in the day and limiting how much is eaten later in the evening or through the overnight hours may help your body digest your food more efficiently (think intermittent fasting). However, there is no magic bullet when it comes to mealtimes. The right eating schedule for you may depend on many factors, including your daily routine, health conditions, and genetics. Either way, by keeping the fundamentals of mealtimes in mind while allowing yourself flexibility, you can feel confident about your meal schedule, no matter what obstacles the day has in store!