By Nike Training
Sticking to a consistent eating schedule has a larger impact than you might think.
If you're trying to fuel your body right, it's easy to get bogged down with conflicting information when it comes to when to eat and when not to. There's no shortage of advice on the ideal time for meals and what nutrients to consume when. In fact, there's so much advice and so many rules, you could spend hours each month wondering what to eat and when to eat it.
The good news? You don't have to do that.
To have the biggest positive impact on your diet, focus on your consistency, says Brian St. Pierre, a registered dietician and coach at Precision Nutrition, which is a company that advises elite and everyday athletes.
"To have the biggest positive impact on your diet, focus on your consistency"
Brian St. Pierre, Precision Nutrition
For example, you might be skipping a proper lunch during the day and subsisting it with snacks. Or you might forget to eat when you're busy and then mindlessly stress-eat whatever food is at hand. Maybe you eat well all week, and then on Saturday, it's no-holds-barred! Or you stay up until 2am binge-watching Netflix and decide to binge-eat along with it.
Skipping meals, overeating and having an irregular eating schedule have a huge impact on our bodies. According to two studies published in the journal Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, people who have a haphazard eating schedule have higher BMIs and blood pressure levels than folks who have a predictable, regular eating schedule. Erratic eating throws the hormone that regulates hunger, ghrelin, out of step. Instead of naturally cueing us to eat when our bodies need fuel, ghrelin tries to regulate the effects of our feasts or famines. The result: We stop being able to tell when we're actually hungry, leading to even more skipped meals or binging.
St. Pierre says he's seen what happens when clients accidentally skip their usual breakfast and even lunch. "At that point, it's rage hunger—eating whatever you can, whatever's available. Because you've waited so long, you just keep eating and eating to finally feel full". (It's worth noting that this scenario is different from purposeful time-restricted eating, in which you're shortening the window of time in which you eat. While the former is haphazard, and sends your body into a hunger spiral, the latter is intentional and consistent).
A ghrelin rollercoaster can have other, cascading negative health effects, according to the British researchers who conducted the recent studies. If your ghrelin is thrown off, it affects your entire circadian rhythm—the natural cycle that controls your digestion and your body's ability to metabolise food and regulate sugar and cholesterol.
"Developing a regular cadence helps to normalise your hunger hormones and your body's natural circadian rhythms".
Brian St. Pierre, Precision Nutrition
This is why developing a regular meal schedule can be so helpful, St. Pierre says. Focus on eating the same number of meals a day, during roughly the same hour-long window of time. "Developing a regular cadence helps to normalise your hunger hormones and your body's natural circadian rhythms", says St. Pierre.
As for fuelling yourself for your training? St. Pierre says that's easier to manage than you might think.
"It doesn't require slamming super-fast-digesting proteins or eating within 27 minutes of your workout", he says. "So long as you have an adequate amount of protein, which we would consider to be the size of your palm, an hour or two after training, you have maximised nutrient timing". Of course, St. Pierre adds, elite athletes who are paid based on their performance get more technical and specific with their diets, but they also have a support team to help them facilitate this 24/7.
The main goal: Make it consistent. The more you can develop dependable patterns in your eating—no matter what day it is, or how that day is going—the healthier you're going to be, and feel, overall.
Make It a Habit: Think of a meal that's always thrown off track by your schedule, and plan for a way to eat that meal at your usual time—by preparing it ahead of time, for example. Anchor this new behaviour to a habit you already have, like looking at your calendar for the week. (So, when you look at your calendar, plan time to make the meal). Each time you do this, remember to congratulate yourself; this will help make the new habit stick.