Mealtime 101

By Nancy Clark, MS, RD

Meals and snacking patterns have changed over the past 40 years. Many of us are eating fewer calories from meals and more calories from snacks. As a result, I get questions from both athletes and non-athletes alike about how and when to best fuel their bodies. Food consumption affects the central clock in your brain. This clock controls circadian rhythms and impacts all aspects of metabolism, including how your organs function. Erratic meal timing can thus impact the development of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. If you define breakfast as eating 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories within two hours of waking, about one-fourth of U.S. adults do not eat breakfast. This drop in breakfast consumption over the past 40 years parallels the increase in obesity. Breakfast skippers tend to snack impulsively and end up with poorer quality diets and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity.   

Most active women and men can and should enjoy about 500 to 700 calories four times a day: breakfast, early lunch, second lunch, and dinner. To overcome the fear that this much food will make you fat, reframe your thoughts. You are simply moving calories in your pre- and/or post-dinner snacks into a substantial and wholesome second lunch. The purpose of this second lunch is to curb your evening appetite, refuel your muscles from your workout earlier in the day, and align your food intake to your circadian rhythms.