Eat More Calories in the Morning than the Evening

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“Eat More Calories in the
Morning Than the Evening” Why are calories eaten
in the morning less fattening than calories
eaten in the evening? One reason is that more
calories are burned off in the morning due to
diet-induced thermogenesis. That’s the amount of energy the body
takes to digest and process a meal, given off in part as waste heat.  If you take people and give
them the same meal in the morning, afternoon, and night,
their body uses up about 25% more calories to process it in the
afternoon than night and about 50% more calories to
digest it in the morning.

That leaves fewer net calories in
the morning to be stored as fat. Let’s put some actual numbers to it. A group of Italian researchers
randomized 20 people to eat the same standardized
meal at 8 a.m. or 8 p.m., and then a week later had them all
come back to do the opposite. So, each person had a chance to eat the
same meal for breakfast and dinner. After each meal, the subjects were
placed in a “calorimeter” contraption to precisely measure how
many calories they were burning over the next three hours. The researchers calculated that
the meal given in the morning took about 300 calories to digest,
whereas the same meal given at night used up only about 200
calories to process. The meal was about 1200 calories,
but given in the morning it ended up only providing
about 900 calories compared to more like
1000 calories at night.

Same meal, same food, same amount of
food, but effectively 100 fewer calories. So, a calorie is not just a calorie.
It depends on when we eat them. Why do we burn more
calories eating a morning meal— is it behavioral or biological? If you started working the graveyard shift, sleeping during the day, and working all night, which meal would net you fewer calories? Would it be the “breakfast” you had
at night before you went to work or the “supper” you had in the
morning before you went to bed? In other words, is it something
about eating before you go to sleep that causes your body to
hold on to more calories, or is it built into our circadian rhythm, where we store more calories at night
regardless of what we’re doing? You don’t know, until …

You put it to the test. Harvard researchers randomized people
to identical meals at 8 a.m. vs. 8 p.m. while under simulated night
shifts or day shifts. 212182419-4404221989589894-6661240455960617524-n And regardless of activity
level or sleeping cycle, the calories burned to process
the morning meals were 50% higher than in the evening. So, the difference is explained
by chronobiology; it’s just part of our circadian rhythms to burn more meal
calories in the morning. But why? What exactly is going on? How does it make sense for our body
to waste calories in the morning when we have the whole day ahead of us? Our body isn’t so much wasting
calories as investing them. When we eat in the morning our body
bulks up our muscles with glycogen, which is the primary energy reserve
our body uses to fuel our muscles. But this takes energy. In the evening, our body expects to be
sleeping for much of the next 12 hours, so rather than storing blood sugar
as extra glycogen in our muscles, it preferentially uses it
as an energy source, which may end up meaning we burn
less of our backup fuel which is body fat.

In the morning, however, our body
expects to be running around all day, so instead of just burning off breakfast, our body continues to
dip into our fat stores while we use breakfast calories
to stuff our muscles full of the energy reserves we need to
move around over the day. That’s where the “inefficiency”
may come from. The reason it costs more calories
to process a morning meal because instead of just burning
glucose (blood sugar) directly, our bodies are instead using up energy
to string glucose molecules together into chains of glycogen in our muscles,
which are then just going to be broken back down into glucose later in the day.

That extra assembly/disassembly
step takes energy— energy that your body takes out of your
meal, leaving you with fewer calories. So, in the morning our muscles are
especially sensitive to insulin, rapidly pulling blood sugar
out of our bloodstream to build up glycogen reserves. At night, though, our muscles
become relatively insulin resistant. Our muscles resist the signal
to take in extra blood sugar. So, does that mean you get a higher
blood sugar and insulin spike in the evening compared to eating
the same meal in the morning? Yes. In that 100-calorie difference
study, for example, blood sugars rose twice as
high after the 8 pm meal compared to the same meal in the morning. So, shifting the bulk of our
calorie intake towards the morning would appear to have a dual benefit— more weight loss, and better
blood sugar control.

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