What’s the optimal timing for meals and exercise?

Every week, there seems to be a new study or analysis on these questions, such as the one I reviewed in last week’s Nutrition Diva podcast, and others that I’ve tackled in countless other posts and podcasts over the years.

Having spent so much time reviewing all this evidence, I thought I’d share with you my typical eating/exercise schedule.

But before you jot that down, let me be crystal clear:

I’m not exercising on an empty stomach because research shows that this will maximize fat burning. I exercise first thing in the morning because if I wait until afternoon or evening, I’m simply less likely to do it. And because I find it very unpleasant to exercise with any food in my stomach, I exercise before I eat anything. (My workout partner is the opposite: she feels much better if she eats a light breakfast before exercising.)

What's the optimal timing for your workout? The one that results in you exercising more regularly Click To Tweet

I don’t wait until 10:00 am to eat breakfast because research shows that this will have a positive impact on metabolism or appetite or later consumption. That’s simply when I get around to it.

I don’t time out my meals and snacks to optimize my insulin metabolism or growth hormone production. That’s just when I tend to get hungry or have a break in my schedule.

I don’t eat dinner late because that’s thought to be advantageous. (If anything, eating earlier seems to be preferable from a biological perspective.)  I eat dinner late because I like to decompress at the end of the day by taking a walk or working in the garden before starting to prepare dinner.  I also don’t have small children clamoring to be fed. One way or another, it always seems to be 8:00 before we’re sitting down–but that works fine for my household.

What are we trying to optimize here?

Look, If I were training for a body-building competition, my priorities might be a little different. I might be willing to sacrifice convenience or comfort in order to eek  out some incremental gain in workout efficiency. If I were struggling to control my blood sugar or having difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, then I’d have to consider whether my eating patterns could be contributing to those difficulties.

As it is, this routine allows me to stay fit and healthy without undermining other priorities, such as enjoying my meals, doing exercise that feels good, and having time for friends, family, and work. What would work best for you?

The ideal timing for meals & exercise depends on your lifestyle & personal preferences. Click To Tweet

My point is simply that determining the ideal timing for your meals and exercise probably has less to do with the latest article in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism or the Journal of Applied Physiology, and more to do with your lifestyle, schedule, and personal preferences.

If your routine means that you’re getting regular exercise, eating well, and maintaining a healthy body weight (or moving in that direction), without stressing you out or making you miserable…that is about as optimal as it gets.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

2 thoughts on “What’s the optimal timing for meals and exercise?

    1. What do I eat pre-exercise? Absolutely nothing except water and black coffee. I’m not hungry when I wake up and I know my muscles have plenty of glycogen stored from my evening meal. (I’m also not exercising more than 60 minutes.) Plus, as I say, I feel really gross if I have anything in my stomach when I exercise.

      There’s one more added bonus. If I am lingering too long over coffee or get distracted by work long enough to feel the first twinges of hunger, it reminds me to stop what I’m doing and get to the gym, so that I can eat!

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