A piece of advice that you’ll often hear when trying to lose weight is to avoid eating late in the day. For your overall weight, it’s the amount and types of calories that are more important than when you eat them.

Calorie Balance

Calorie balance (and only calorie balance) dictates whether you’ll lose, gain or maintain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat and create a calorie deficit, your body will rely on fat stores for extra energy and you’ll lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn and create a calorie surplus, your body will either store the extra energy as fat or, if you’re working out, increase the amount of muscle that you have which will result in putting on weight. If you eat and burn an equal amount of calories, you will maintain your current weight. There are two sides of the calorie balance equation; diet and exercise. That’s two variables that you can control to give yourself faster and healthier results.

At the end of the day, the amount of calories you eat is what matters as far as weight is concerned. If you eat 2,500 calories per day, it doesn’t matter whether you eat three big meals or six smaller meals, the overall calorie count is what matters.

Timing of Meals

Weight isn’t the only measure of fitness that most people care about. Body fat percentage and lean body mass are two other important barometers of health which can be influenced by how often you eat.

Eating large meals tends to increase fat storage. If you eat a meal that is 1,000 calories, your body is flooded with extra energy that it doesn’t need. Whenever the body has a large volume of energy come in, it uses what it needs and stores the rest as fat. This would work fine if your body regularly used body fat for energy, unfortunately, it doesn’t like to.

When you start burning energy, your body first uses glucose and glycogen. Next, depending on how intense the physical activity is, your body can breakdown muscle tissue to use for energy in a process known as gluconeogenesis. This is because fat provides energy at pace that isn’t fast enough to accommodate high intensity activity. To overcome this issue, it’s best to eat smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day. This way your body can burn the energy as it comes rather than storing it as fat.

Small More Frequent Meals

Instead of eating three large meals, eat smaller meals and fill the space between them with small, healthy snacks. Eating a smaller amount of calories in one sitting will allow your body to better handle the energy. Only eating around 500 calories per meal or snack will allow your body to burn most of the calories right away without storing any as body fat.

Slow Digesting Foods

Focus on filling most of your meals and snacks with calories that are digested slowly. Good examples include lean proteins, unsaturated fats and complex carbs. Some good meal and snack options include chicken breast, lean cuts of beef, 100% whole wheat products, oats, brown rice, beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, tuna and eggs.

Nightly Energy Needs

The answer to the question of staying away from food at night isn’t that you should avoid calories all together. The answer is that you should avoid excessive and unhealthy calories. Even though your calorie needs may decrease at night, your body still needs nutrients. Repair and recovery of damaged muscle tissue primarily happens mainly at night while you’re asleep. If you don’t give your body the energy it needs, you won’t get stronger or bigger.

Nighttime Meal Options

Good nighttime meals and snacks include foods that are high in lean proteins that will promote the recovery process. Examples of these foods are eggs, milk, protein shakes, chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and tuna. Avoid foods high in sugars and simple carbs as they will be digested very quickly and add to your body fat percentage.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it’s your overall calorie intake that will decide whether or not you lose or gain weight. If you’re eating too much, even the best meal timing won’t help you.

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