The best times of day to eat fats, carbs, and protein
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
• It's important to create an eating schedule that optimizes certain foods at the right times, according to experts. • Start off the day with a breakfast high in protein to increase energy levels •Eat complex carbs in the evening to regulate leptin, the "satiety hormone."
Making time in the day to get enough nutrients can make a huge difference in your health and happiness, and knowing what times of the day are best for certain food groups is even better. Knowing when to eat certain nutrients in the day for optimal body performance, brain activity, and a balanced mood will help you be more productive at work, in your workouts, and when out in social situations.
As a certified health coach, I work with clients on putting their bodies and minds at a huge advantage, where they're able to effectively get through the day's tasks, stay alert and energized, and feel balanced enough in their schedules to sleep and eat well. While it's best to get a good balance of protein, fats, and carbs, there are certain periods in the day that are better suited for these nutrients, where the body is best able to absorb, digest, or use them in a healthy manner. Here are the best times of day to eat fats, carbs, and fats, according to some top nutritional experts. With a few simple tweaks in your eating schedule, you'll find your body to be running at optimal speed and have more energy and motivation in your day.
1. Avoid excess protein at night.
According to Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, over email with Bustle, "if you are more prone to indigestion, it's best to refrain from high fat and hard to digest proteins late in the evening and a nice PM snack of whole grain oatmeal and cinnamon may be better tolerated." Stick with something simple in the late hours if you're known to have stomach issues after meals.
2. Eat protein at breakfast.
While Shaw says that you should just listen to your body (sometimes that muffin in the a.m. might be just what you need, Shaw adds), eating protein has been found to be super beneficial for powering the day. Shaw likes an "egg omelet for breakfast." You can also make protein muffins, by trading a few simple, refined ingredients for complex ones.
3. Eat healthy fats at breakfast.
According to Pamela Nisevich Bede, MS, RD of Abbott, over email with Bustle, "when consuming foods high in fat, aim to consume at breakfast or mid-morning, and healthy options include nut butters, protein-rich eggs, or whole milk Greek yogurt. Bede explains, "the fat in these items will provide energy that not only can be burned off throughout the day but in addition, fat is a satiating nutrient and will tide you over and help to avoid cravings that might pop up early, should you only have simple sugars or carbs for breakfast."
4. Avoid fatty foods at night.
According to Susan Berkman, a registered dietitian at The Ohio state University Wexner Medical Center, over email with Bustle, "meals should contain a small amount of each type of macronutrient, however, there are some circumstances where your body has a higher demand for a certain type of nutrient." Eating too large of quantities of high-fat items could be problematic late at night. "It can take 2-4 hours for fat to digest, so if you eat it too late in the evening, your body won’t have as much time to utilize this energy before storing it," says Berkman.
5. Eat carbs before working out.
"Before you exercise, nourish your body with carbohydrates. These will provide the kind of 'fast acting' energy that you need when you are physically active," says Berkman. Your body needs an immediate source of energy, so aim for something that is in the 150-200 calorie range, rather than something that is too dense. "Watch the fiber in those whole grains and fresh fruits," cautions Bede. “If you’re looking for a quick, light pre-workout snack, look for an option with quality carbohydrates that’s lower in fat and fiber, like a bar and some protein," advises Stephanie Perruzza, MS, RD, CDN & KIND Health & Wellness Communications Specialist, over email with Bustle. Perruzza recommends Pressed by KIND Strawberry Apple Chia "with some protein from ½ ounce of almonds or 1 tablespoon of nut butter.”
6. Eat protein & carbs after working out.
"After a workout, you need to replenish your body with carbs and protein – within 30 minutes," says Berkman. "As your body works to repair and build your muscles, you need protein to provide essential amino acids needed in this process, and since you’ve depleted your glycogen stores while exercising, you need to replenish this by eating carbs," Berkman explains. "Nutrient timing post-exercise calls for a mix of carbs and protein (in a 2:1-4:1 ratio) within 45 minutes post exercise," adds Bede. Try a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and almonds, or a slice of toast with a banana and peanut butter.
7. Eat complex carbohydrates at night.
According to Bede, "the best time to consume carbohydrates is in the evening at dinnertime, as blood samples from the research subjects showed eating carbs in the evening beneficially modified leptin - a satiety hormone - and adiponectin, a protein that regulates insulin secretion." However, eating healthy carbohydrates in modest portions is key, as "a contrasting theory that many dietitians have adopted recently is to recommend eating the bulk of your carbohydrates for the day at breakfast as your body will then burn off the carbohydrates early in the day and burn fat for the duration." However, "this theory remains unproven in a scientific study," adds Bede.
8. Eat protein throughout the day.
"Protein intake is best spread throughout the day according to research recently published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," says Bede. "The study showed that doubling your daily protein intake can help you build more muscle and burn more fat when you’re cutting calories and performing high-intensity exercise," adds Bede. "You’ll want to break this intake into 3-5 doses throughout the day and aim to consume at least 30 grams of protein at most meals and snacks," Bede recommends. There are some great ways to add protein to your diet in these smaller amounts for sustained energy.
If you're hoping to prep your body for whatever it may need to tackle with fuel and resources, consider shaping your eating habits and schedule to better fit these time periods. Your body will appreciate the extra care.