Summary: Losing weight isn’t just a case of restricting the foods or calories you eat, it also comes down to when you eat. Skipping breakfast and snacking late at night delays the body’s fat-burning mechanisms.
The balance between weight gain and weight gain loss is predominantly determined by what you eat, how much you eat, and by how much exercise you get. But another important factor is often neglected… Published February 27 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, research conducted by Kevin Kelly, Owen McGuinness, Carl Johnson and colleagues of Vanderbilt University, USA shows that it’s not just how many calories you eat, but WHEN you eat them that will determine how well you burn those calories.
Your daily biological clock and sleep regulate how the food you eat is metabolized; thus the choice of burning fats or carbohydrates changes depending on the time of day or night. Your body’s circadian rhythm has programmed your body to burn fat when you sleep, so when you skip breakfast and then snack at night you delay burning the fat.
The researchers monitored the metabolism of mid-aged and older subjects in a whole-room respiratory chamber over two separate 56-hour sessions, using a “random crossover” experimental design. In each session, lunch and dinner were presented at the same times (12:30 and 17:45, respectively), but the timing of the third meal differed between the two halves of the study. Thus in one of the 56-hour bouts, the additional daily meal was presented as breakfast (8:00) whereas in the other session, a nutritionally equivalent meal was presented to the same subjects as a late-evening snack (22:00). The duration of the overnight fast was the same for both sessions.
Whereas the two sessions did not differ in the amount or type of food eaten or in the subjects’ activity levels, the daily timing of nutrient availability, coupled with clock/sleep control of metabolism, flipped a switch in the subjects’ fat/carbohydrate preference such that the late-evening snack session resulted in less fat burned when compared to the breakfast session. The timing of meals during the day/night cycle therefore affects the extent to which ingested food is used versus stored.
This study has important implications for eating habits, suggesting that a daily fast between the evening meal and breakfast will optimize weight management.
Funding: This study was supported by a Vanderbilt Discovery Grant (to TP), the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (VICTR) award ID# VR9806 (to MB), the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center (through the Metabolic Physiology Shared Resource supported by P60-DK020593; to OPM), the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (R35 GM124685 to JJH), and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (R01 NS104497 to CHJ). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
About this neuroscience research article
Source: PLOS Media Contacts: Carl Hirschie Johnson – PLOS Image Source: The image is in the public domain.
Eating breakfast and avoiding late-evening snacking sustains lipid oxidation
Circadian (daily) regulation of metabolic pathways implies that food may be metabolized differentially over the daily cycle. To test that hypothesis, we monitored the metabolism of older subjects in a whole-room respiratory chamber over two separate 56-h sessions in a random crossover design. In one session, one of the 3 daily meals was presented as breakfast, whereas in the other session, a nutritionally equivalent meal was presented as a late-evening snack. The duration of the overnight fast was the same for both sessions. Whereas the two sessions did not differ in overall energy expenditure, the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) was different during sleep between the two sessions. Unexpectedly, this difference in RER due to daily meal timing was not due to daily differences in physical activity, sleep disruption, or core body temperature (CBT). Rather, we found that the daily timing of nutrient availability coupled with daily/circadian control of metabolism drives a switch in substrate preference such that the late-evening Snack Session resulted in significantly lower lipid oxidation (LO) compared to the Breakfast Session. Therefore, the timing of meals during the day/night cycle affects how ingested food is oxidized or stored in humans, with important implications for optimal eating habits.