We all know we are what we eat. • But could it also be true that we are when we eat, too? • The classic advice to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper sounds smart, in terms of giving your body fuel when it needs it most. Imagine a day that features black coffee for breakfast, a salad for lunch and an all-you-can-eat binge for dinner, and you see why balance is important. • Of course, this doesn't mean you can manage your weight by eating anything and everything early in the day. • But there's some evidence that, all other things being equal, timing does have an impact on weight control. A Northwestern University study published last year in the journal Obesity found that mice fed a high-fat diet during normal sleeping hours put on a lot more weight than those fed the same unhealthy diet during the mouse equivalent of daytime. The thinking is that eating high-fat foods at odd times might knock the body's circadian rhythms off, setting off a chain reaction of metabolic issues leading to weight gain. Mice, of course, are not people, and research is continuing.
What about food's impact on your energy level, your mental sharpness, your mood and even your ability to sleep? Everybody's different, but experts say that what you eat — and when you eat it — could indeed make the difference in your quest for a well-balanced body and mind.
Check out our round-the-clock guide to identify some possible solutions to your own dietary dilemmas. Experiment to see what works best for you. And for more on staying fueled during athletic competitions, see Lynn Gray's column on Page 14.
Yes, it's the most important meal of the day. But only if you eat the right stuff at the right time. That 10:30 a.m. jelly doughnut isn't going to cut it.
Aim to eat something light and nourishing 30 to 60 minutes after you get up. "Two rules for breakfast are something with protein and something with fiber," says Sarah Krieger, a registered dietitian at All Children's Hospital and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Try eggs and high-fiber toast. No time for that? Smear peanut butter on high-fiber bread and run out the door.
Rather than juice, eat a piece of fruit for more fiber and nutrients. Love coffee? Enjoy. Coffee (and tea) contain healthy antioxidants, and the caffeine will have left your system by bedtime. But work on cutting the cream and sugar, especially if you have multiple cups. Krieger notes that a single tablespoon of creamer has 20 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat.
If you work out in the morning: Keep breakfast light and give yourself at least 30 to 60 minutes to digest it. "This way, all your blood won't rush to your gastrointestinal track," Krieger explains.
New research indicates some people might burn more fat working out on an empty stomach, but hitting the elliptical as your blood sugar is dropping is a recipe for disaster.
"Have a 100-calorie snack, such as a banana or a yogurt, an hour before working out," she said.
Bonus: If you love sweets, pre-workout is the time to enjoy jelly with that peanut butter, or maybe a little syrup with your French toast (made with high-fiber bread and, please, hold the butter).
"You need insulin to build muscle. It stores energy and helps build your muscles," says Dr. Steven Masley, president of Masley Optimal Health Center in St. Petersburg and author of Ten Years Younger. By timing your sugary treat early in the day, before a workout, you maximize the chance of the insulin surge being put to good use.
After the workout: Try a good source of low-fat protein such as a hard-boiled egg, yogurt or a whey shake to feed your muscles and help you to avoid the mid-morning slump.
But make the shake yourself, using no-sugar whey protein and skim milk or water, Masley suggests.
"The store-bought shakes tend to be high in sugar and calories, negating the point of working out."
Don't overdo the protein. Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch have concluded that your body can't use more than 30 grams of protein in a single meal to rebuild muscle. More than that and you're wasting your money while unnecessarily increasing calories.
Whether you work out or not, make sure you're drinking plenty of water all day. It's easy to think you're hungry when what you really need is water.
With a proper breakfast (and, maybe a postworkout snack) in place, you should be able to pass up the doughnut cart and be pleasantly hungry for a healthy lunch.
Same rules of protein and fiber apply. Try lean meats, such as sliced chicken or turkey breast. Tuna's great, but watch out for the mayo.
Beans, including soybeans (such as edamame and tofu), are great sources of protein, Masley said, with nonfat dairy a good choice as well. Tangy Greek yogurt has more protein than regular, and makes a good addition to soups, salad dressings and is great atop fresh fruit.
An excellent lunch would be a sandwich containing chicken or turkey breast, with a bean spread such as hummus instead of mayo, on whole wheat bread. Load on the tomato slices for lycopene, and try fresh spinach instead of iceberg lettuce for extra nutrition. Make sure your bread is clearly labeled "100 percent whole wheat.''
Cautions Masley: " 'Multigrain' bread is often 80 percent white bread."
Salads are a classic dieter's lunch, but make sure you get some protein on yours, and skip creamy dressings. Soups are great this time of year, but avoid "cream of'' anything.
Listen to your body. Does a big lunch make you want to take a nap? That's timing for you. Try a lighter meal and see how your alertness fares.
••• afternoon snack
Rather than loading up at lunch, plan to refuel a few hours later.
"If you don't have a healthy snack between 3 and 5 p.m., you'll just lose it," Masley said. A smart snack now will push you through the afternoon slump and help you make much better choices at dinner.
"You want fluid, fiber and protein as your snack," said Masley, who suggests fruit or veggies with some hummus, while drinking plenty of water.
Keep in mind that dinner is your longest-lasting meal. If you dine at 6 p.m., you won't have another full meal for at least 12 hours, so it is important to feed your body for the long haul.
That should mean quality, not quantity.
Seafood, as long as it isn't fried, and lean poultry are excellent choices, especially when paired with high-fiber foods such as brown or wild rice, sweet potatoes or whole-grain pasta. And plenty of veggies.
Try something new: Masley suggests mixing rice with quinoa — a small, mild-tasting grain that's rich in fiber and protein. Find it at the health food store and at many supermarkets in the natural foods section.
Raise a glass? If you like a glass of wine with dinner, go for it, but watch your portions (women should have no more than one small glass a day; men can have two). And especially if you're watching your weight, have wine or dessert, not both, Krieger suggests. "Alcohol is metabolized much like fat, so you should view it as a substitute for dessert."
Another timing benefit to moderate wine consumption: Scientists at Northwestern University have found the antioxidant resveratrol to be estrogenic, which means it may increase female sexual appetite. But just like protein, more is not better. In women, excessive alcohol is linked with estrogen-fueled breast cancers. In men, among other things, it contributes to impotence. So much for that romantic evening.
If you are not a wine drinker, get your resveratrol by eating grapes for dessert. This could also keep your hands out of the potato chips.
If you exercise in the evening . . .
Krieger suggests eating your dinner (a light one, to be sure) an hour or so before you work out. She says that exercise stifles appetite, so when you return home from the gym you'll be less likely to experience evening cravings and make poor choices. If hunger does strike, though, a protein shake will put a healthy end to it.
••• evening snack
If you need an evening snack, make sure you give yourself plenty of time before turning in.
"Do not eat anything two hours before bed, especially not carbs, such as a bowl of ice cream," Masley cautioned. "You store (calories) more efficiently at night, so if you eat something bad, it'll store better at night than during the day."
Even if weight is not an issue, beware of late snacks if you're a light sleeper. Some researchers think eating high-fat foods before bed can disturb sleep patterns. (Remember those Northwestern mice?)
Low-fat, protein-rich edamame is a great way to keep your hands busy while watching TV. A glass of low-fat milk or a cup of yogurt can also be a soothing way to end the day. If you like something warm, heat the milk, or enjoy herbal tea as a calorie-free way to unwind before drifting off to sleep.
And if you wake up with thoughts of a midnight snack, remember: Your healthy breakfast is just a few hours away.
Emin Hadziosmanovic is a local freelance writer whose work has appeared in Men's Health and other publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.