Many diets are quick to tell their followers what to eat, but they usually fail to mention that eating different foods at different times makes a difference too. Eating foods at different times of the day, and in relation to other activities, and in different combinations, can drastically influence the way that the body utilizes nutrients.
The Most Important Meal of the Day
Breakfast is often called the most important meal of the day, and it certainly can be. A good breakfast can set the pace for the rest of the day, so it can help to start off with a lot of protein. Protein has a way of sitting in the stomach and helping us feel full longer, which can prevent too much snacking, or over-eating at lunch. This feeling can also be improved by swapping out refined grains for whole grains, which are higher in fiber, which helps to keep us feeling full, as well as helping to move things through the digestive system at a healthy pace.
Another benefit to starting out the day with protein is that it helps to insure that the body will have protein that it can use to build muscle throughout the day.
Many people also start the day with a cup of coffee, which has a number of dietary benefits. In addition to the health benefits of coffee by itself, caffeine boosts the metabolism for a short time, which helps to passively burn a few calories. Furthermore, you can make good use of that caffeine boost by working in a quick exercise like a morning walk.
Be aware, however, that some studies show that coffee and tea can prevent the body from utilizing iron for a short time, and iron is important to the muscles just like protein, but without all of the credit. Fortunately, most of most peoples’ iron comes from red meat, which is not a traditional part of most breakfasts. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, however, so it may not be doing today as much good as it would be as a snack later in the day.
If you’re not a coffee drinker, give breakfast cereal a shot. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, and milk adds calcium and some protein. Be careful when picking cereals however, as there are a lot of places to go wrong, and reading the nutrition info is a must.
Planning Around Exercise
Planning foods and drinks around exercise can be an important part of being sure that the body has what it needs to make the most of it’s work out.
Naturally having water along is important to insure adequate hydration, and if you’re really working up a sweat, it can be good think about electrolytes as well. Unfortunately, many sports drinks also have added sugar, which can be counter-productive to people trying lose weight. Slicing a lemon, orange, or cucumber into a water bottle can provide those electrolytes without a lot of added sugar.
As for the post-work-out, while having protein and iron in the system before an exercise can make it available for building muscle, having a protein rich snack after the work out can help the body maintain and rebuild muscles that undergo wear and tear during exercise. Calcium, which is important for muscle contraction, can also be depleted after a work-out. A smoothie can be a great way to replace some of that calcium and protein, and blending in some colorful fruits can help replenish other vitamins and minerals too, as well as electrolytes. Some people even make their own protein smoothies by adding powdered milk to their smoothies, which increases the calcium, protein, iron, and some other minerals, without drastically changing the flavor or texture of the smoothie. Remember though, adding protein to your diet only makes a difference if you aren’t already getting enough.
Different Day, Different Lunch
The kind of lunch that one eats should depend on their other planned activities. If you already got a workout in, going for a more filling lunch like a sandwich or a heavy soup shouldn’t hurt, but if the plan is to do more of the heavy lifting in the afternoon, a lighter lunch like a salad could prevent cramps later in the day.
Salads have the potential to be more substantial than they often get credit for, as a well-crafted salad will contain a lot of vegetables, but also a fiber source, some cheese, a protein, and some healthy oils from a good dressing.
Snacking on a Diet?
While most diets don’t encourage snacking, consider it. Many dieticians believe that eating little snacks throughout the day prevents over-eating at meals. Eating low-calorie foods like nuts and seeds can help these snacks from piling up, as well as giving the body lots of healthy fats.
Another good time for a little something sweeter is right after a heavy dinner. Something sweet on the tongue can serve as a signal to the brain that the meal is over, so it can help make the meal more satisfying.
One time not to snack, however, is right before bed. The body actually puts quite a bit of energy into digesting food, and eating food too close to bed can mean a poor night’s sleep, and naturally a poor night’s sleep can make a person more likely to make poor choices the following day. It is also hard for the body to recover and be up for more exercise the next day if sleep is interrupted.
On a similar note, while many people find that drinking alcohol before bed helps them to fall asleep, that sleep is often not as rewarding as natural sleep. Just like a lack of sleep can lead to poor decision-making the next day, too much alcohol can lead to poor decision-making that night, as alcohol affects judgement centers of the brain, and it would be a shame for too much drink to ruin a good day’s diet. This is likely to happen anyway, as alcohol is an energy-yielding nutrient that can pack quite the caloric punch if one gets carried away.