Fasting at night or in the morning? Listen to your biological clock

In recent years, diet trends such as Intermittent Fasting have popularized the practice of delayed or restricted eating for many individuals looking to manage caloric intake.

Still, many people open to restructuring their schedules have the same question: When is the right time to avoid eating?

In a new study, researchers found the answer to eating (or fasting) windows lies in the circadian rhythms of the body’s biological clock.

The research was conducted by a team at Vanderbilt University.

The study tested meal time restriction by monitoring the metabolism of middle-aged and older people in a whole-room respiratory chamber over two separate 56-hour sessions—both with the same overnight fasting period.

In the first set of tests, the researchers presented one of the three daily meals as breakfast whereas in the second session, the team presented food equal in nutrition to the same people as a late-evening snack.

They found that, while the two sessions did not differ in the amount of food eaten or the amount of physical activity of the participants, the daily timing of nutrient availability coupled with the body’s increased metabolism during sleep (thanks to the body’s circadian rhythms) flipped a switch on fat burning:

In each instance, late-evening snacking delayed the body’s ability to target fat stores for energy and instead caused the body to target the readily accessible carbohydrates newly introduced into the body.

The team says the late-evening snack session resulted in less lipids oxidized than in the breakfast session.

This confirms that the timing of meals during the daytime and nighttime cycle affects how ingested food is used versus stored, and that any food ingested prior to bedtime will delay the burning of fat during sleep.

The study has important implications for eating habits, providing evidence contrary to a recent trend of skipping breakfast and suggesting instead a daily fast from supper to breakfast to help boost weight management.

The lead author of the study is Carl Johnson, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Biological Sciences.

The study is published in the journal PLoS Biology.

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