When it comes to eating healthily, in the right amounts and maintaining your body shape, we’ve heard so many different rules, it’s a little exhausting. Some people say you can eat whatever you want as long as you hit around 1,200 calories a day, others say throw out calorie counting, just eat whatever you want as long as the foods are “clean.”
Healthy eating advice get even more crazy when you throw timing into the mix. We’ve been told to only eat carbs in the morning, or to try intermittent fasting, or to make sure we only eat certain snacks at night. It can all feel so contradictory and leave your head spinning.
While we're at it, here's another question for you: Which meal should be the smallest of the day? Are we better off eating six small, similarly-sized meals throughout each day? Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? We’ve been told the French eat lunch as their longest and heaviest meal of the day and they look pretty great. We set out to find an absolute answer, consulting both experts and research. Here's what we found:
What The Research Says
Have you ever had a crazy day at work that involved a skipped breakfast and skimpy leftovers at your desk? After a full day of activity and little eating, you come home completely ravenous and feel as though you could eat your entire kitchen. That pattern of consuming all your calories at night can leave you feeling awful, and for good reason, according to science.
According to one study, those who eat most of their calories in the evening hours, during a delayed lunchtime of approximately 4 p.m., may have poor blood sugar metabolism, which could over time lead to insulin resistance issues and weight gain.
Another study published in Pharmacological Research found that participants who ate more calories at breakfast experienced greater weight loss than those who ate the majority of their calories at dinner. Researchers concluded from the observational study that there was a “negative impact of later meal timing and calories distribution on body weight and metabolism.”
Additionally, many reviews suggest that “light” and “heavy” meals can be categorized beyond mere calorie count. One review suggests that consuming 20 to 40 grams (where you fall in the range depends on weight) of high-quality protein every three to four hours is the most supportive of muscle protein synthesis, a process that aids in muscle repair and growth. Additionally, this type of eating promoted improved body composition. As we’ve learned before, a body composed of more muscle and less fat is more likely to have a higher metabolism, which would help with weight loss.
This sentiment was echoed in a study from the journal Steroids that suggested your “heavy” meal of breakfast should contain both protein and carbohydrates in order to support a healthy weight.