Does Meal Timing Matter
One question we get asked a lot is along the lines of “I don’t get home from the gym until 9pm is this too late to eat?” The simple answer to this is no, but as always there are a few things you need to understand before you can understand this in context to your situation.
24-hour Energy Balance
If you have been a GymCube member for a while now then you already know how this works but let’s refresh your memory. Your body uses energy throughout the day in order to help you function. The more you move and the more intense the movement is the more energy you burn. We measure this energy in Kilo Calories (kcal) when you do a predictive equation to work out what your daily energy requirements are this is measured over the 24-hour period. So, if your maintenance kcals are 2,500 per day that’s split over 24-hours, including sleep.
When you eat food, delicious food, the macronutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) within that food are broken down and used for energy. If you put too much energy back in, more than you burn up in a 24-hour period, and if this is done consistently over a period of days or weeks, your body will store much of the excess as body fat.
It literally doesn’t matter when you consume those kcals, whether you stop eating at 6pm, as some might suggest, or you skip breakfast and only eat in the PM, or eat them all in one sitting. The most important mechanism is 24-hour energy balance. You won’t get fat if you get in from the gym at 9pm and then eat dinner. Not unless that post gym late night dinner consists of enough kcals to put you into an energy surplus for that day and this happens often enough to put you into a surplus for the week.
Want to know more about calories? Read these two articles:
There is a concept known as nutrient timing which isn’t quite as complicated as it might sound. For most people timing your meals and macronutrients isn’t necessary, so long as you are in an energy deficit you will lose weight, regardless of the timing of your meals. But, for sporting performance sometimes it’s necessary to time certain nutrients. Here’s a couple of examples.
Muscle Protein Synthesis
Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) is a mechanism that prevents the catabolism (shrinking) of muscle tissue and, actually, helps to build lean mass. We won’t go too deep into this because, unless you are an elite level bodybuilder or power athlete, you won’t get much benefit from worrying about this. But, essentially, consuming a 25-30g portion of protein every 3.5-4 hours helps to stimulate MPS, which is why you’ll see those gym bros chugging down their protein shakes after a workout. However, if you eat 4 portions of protein a day at normal 3-4 hour intervals you get the same effect naturally without even having to think about it. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and then, maybe a shake before bed, sorted. This is part of the reason that we recommend you have a source of protein with each meal.
You may have heard of this, this is when you eat certain amounts of carbohydrate dense foods at designated times. Again, for fat loss it isn’t really important, so long as you are in an energy deficit it really doesn’t matter when you eat your carbs. But, if you play a sport or train hard in the gym, maybe you do 60-90minute resistance workouts, you can get some benefit in terms of performance and recovery by timing your carbs. For example, eating around 60-100g (1g per kg) of carbohydrate 30-60 minutes before training (assuming the training is of a reasonably high intensity like weight lifting) it may make you train harder in that session. Likewise, having a similar amount of carbs post workout will aid muscle recovery. But, this would only be necessary if you are in a big deficit and total carbohydrates within the diet are low or if you are planning another training session later that day, in which case a combination of 3:1 carbs to protein would be best to optimise muscle glycofen replenishment (that’s the fuel stored in your muscles).
In short, you don’t really need to worry about nutrient timing and if this is something that you feel you need due to sporting goals then get yourself a nutrition coach.
Here’s some further reading to clarify these points:
The only other considerations you need to take into account are personal preferences and your schedule. For example, if you are training late at night and then eating a heavy meal you might find it difficult to sleep. If this is the case then eat heavier during the day and have a light snack like a protein smoothie, some Greek yoghurt and fruit or a small bowl of granola after training instead then do some kind of de-stressing practice to help your body relax after the stimulation of exercising.
If you find that you have little appetite first thing in the morning then you don’t have to eat breakfast but if this leads you to bingeing on chocolate biscuits while sitting at your desk at work then plan ahead and have something satiating that you can eat as soon as your appetite wakes up. In other words, listen to your body and adjust accordingly.
- Energy balance is measured over 24-hours
- It doesn’t matter what time of day you eat so long as you are in an energy deficit (if fat loss is your goal) over the 24-hour period
- Meal timing can be a useful tool for keen athletes but isn’t necessary for the general population
- Be sensible, if eating a big meal at night affects your sleep eat lighter later and heavier earlier
- Planning your days to keep you on track is ideal #SexyBatch