What Is the Best Time to Burn Calories? Food, Fitness, & Metabolism

7 minute read

When it comes to losing weight, calories matter. We start counting calories when we eat, and we start keeping track of the calories we burn when we exercise.

Following our caloric intake and usage has become tantamount to a healthy lifestyle for some. However, there are some factors to consider when you are planning out your daily calories.

Recent studies have found that you burn more calories during certain times of day, which could shine new light on old weight loss routines.

Why Your Schedule Impacts Your Weight

Research has found that the body burns ten percent more calories in late afternoon as compared to the morning hours of the day. The link reinforces what we already know about the relationship between our circadian rhythms and eating and sleeping schedules.

Circadian rhythms (your internal 24-hour clock) govern our sleeping patterns, but it seems they also impact metabolism. Recent studies have attempted to determine why eating and sleeping irregularities (activities that contradict the normal circadian rhythm) interfere with weight gain.

What scientists discovered is that we burn more calories in the afternoon and early evening and fewer calories when the temperature is coolest, which is typically nighttime. It’s another good reason to keep an eye on the calorie counts on menus.

Your internal clock is dictated largely by the presence of sunlight. Second to this is the fact that you fast during the night while you sleep.

Activity during the day and typically resting at night causes your internal clock, or circadian rhythm to set a certain way. Your metabolism then functions according to this clock to best provide you with energy when needed.

It has long been understood that what we eat can impact your health and weight, but this new information adds more pieces to the puzzle. It is more than what we eat. We also have to consider when we eat and how our body will burn the energy.

If we are eating excess calories at a time when metabolism is slow, the risk for gaining weight will be much higher. Preventing weight gain can be achieved through watching what and when you eat.

Making Your Schedule Work for You

When it comes to staying healthy and keeping weight off, it is important to remember that your internal clock and metabolism do not follow the same clock on the walls. These recent findings that link metabolism and circadian rhythms could be the next best thing in successful dieting.

By understanding how your body burns energy through the day, you can effectively plan your meals and maintain a healthy weight. It’s also important to understand just how many calories you should be burning each day.

Whether you are staying up late working on a project, binge-watching a TV show, or just can’t sleep, your metabolism has already shut down for the day. You may be awake, but your body will not be burning many calories.

This means that if you are awake and eating (or eating to help you stay awake), you will not be efficiently burning off the food you consume.

In the morning, your internal clock gets going after a fasting period (sleep). This is to ensure that your body gets the energy needed to get you started and ready for the day.

| Related: Why Regular Fasting Can Be a Safe, Natural Way to Long Life |

Eating breakfast at different times each day or missing it altogether can impact your metabolism for the day. When done for an extended period of time, your body becomes inefficient at burning calories, negatively impacting your health and weight.

Graveyard Shift Metabolism & Fitness

For those working late-night shifts, it was believed that you could gradually change your circadian rhythm, and therefore metabolism, to match your lifestyle. Studies were conducted to evaluate if this was a possibility and found that it cannot be done.

Coming home after a shift has you seeing sunlight, which is the number one trigger for getting your circadian rhythm going. Our internal clocks appear to be hard-wired and nothing can change that.

What this means is that we have to work around our built-in internal clocks. Timing your meals and exercise around this and fitting them into your schedule is the best way to stay healthy.

When you time your exercise to match circadian rhythms, you stand the best chance of burning calories more efficiently and keeping weight off. It is also possible that your exercise will burn the same amount of calories regardless of the time of day.

Exercise allows you to burn calories at the time of activity, so you should schedule this for when you are most active during the day. Your resting energy works in line with your circadian rhythm, and this should dictate when you eat your meals.

| Related: High-Intensity Workouts Can Slow the Aging Process |

It may seem difficult, but you can schedule meals according to your internal clock even when working late-night shifts. Here are a couple tips:

Eat before you leave: A meal taken just prior to heading out in the late afternoon will benefit your energy levels to get you through the night. Late afternoon and evening is also when your metabolism is in full swing so you will use the energy rather than convert it to fat for storage.

Breakfast last: You can eat breakfast when you get home, as this is the next optimal time for metabolic function. Remember to eat lighter during this meal, since you will likely be heading to sleep right after.

This replenishes energy used during the night without increasing your risk of gaining weight.

The Bottom Line

You can’t change your internal clock, but you can change your behavior. Even if your lifestyle requires you to be awake at night and asleep during the day, understanding how your metabolism works will go a long way in promoting health.

To avoid weight gain, time your meals and exercise according to your metabolism as opposed to your schedule.

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