When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight—through optimal nutrition and weight loss—a balanced diet is key.
That’s why I often encourage you to plan your meals ahead of time… because what you eat matters a great deal.
But over the last several years, it’s become increasingly clear that when you eat may be just as critical.
This growing field of study is called “chrononutrition.” But there’s more to it than eating breakfast at 8 a.m.; lunch at 12 p.m. noon; and dinner at 5 p.m.
In fact, some recent research shows exactly what you should eat for breakfast to ensure your healthy diet really delivers all the nutrition it has to offer…
And it can even help you grow SUPER MUSCLES!
Breakfast of champions
We all know that you need protein to build and maintain muscle mass as you age, no matter what your weight.
But researchers at Waseda University in Japan wanted to see whether your body’s ability to use that protein changes based on the time of day you consume it.
To test this theory, they fed lab mice two meals daily: One meal was higher in protein; the other was lower in protein. They found that a higher protein intake at breakfast fueled muscle growth significantly MORE than higher protein intake at dinner.
In fact, muscle growth was a whopping 17 percent higher in mice that ate protein at breakfast rather than dinner—even when their overall protein intake was lower.1
Researchers also found that consuming branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) earlier in the day boosted skeletal muscles. (BCAAs form the cornerstone of my very own A-List Diet, for good reason.)
Then, to better analyze why eating earlier in the day may have this effect on muscle function, researchers repeated these dietary experiments on mice missing specific genes that control circadian rhythms. (These rhythms dictate sleep-wake cycles, as I discuss on page 5. And prior research suggests that the bioavailability of both protein and BCAAs is dependent on this cycle.)
In mice with no set circadian patterns, researchers did NOT find the same muscle changes—confirming that timing really was the primary factor here.
Now granted, this was a mouse study. But this team also took their research a step further to investigate whether the same patterns apply to humans. And here’s what they found…
Eat more protein
The same experiment was conducted with 60 women aged 65 years and older. And once again, the women who loaded up on protein at breakfast rather than dinner showed better muscle function.
This finding has pretty big implications. Especially when you consider the popularity of convenience breakfasts like cereal and muffins—which are high-carb, low-protein choices that wouldn’t make for a good meal any time of the day.
So if that sounds like your daily breakfast routine, I hope this research encourages you to make healthier choices, once and for all. And not only for breakfast…
In fact, I would make the argument that people need to be eating more protein, period. Not just in the morning.
For years, the medical establishment has been telling us to cut down on protein intake—some terrible advice that’s likely the primary contributing factor behind the rise in sarcopenia (the loss of muscle mass and strength).
I mean, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a paltry 7 ounces of meat per day for the average 130-pound woman. But research consistently shows that the daily dose of protein should be at least DOUBLE this amount… if the goal is to improve muscle mass and reduce frailty and weakness as we age.2
That’s why I always recommend the following: Eat your body weight in grams of protein on the days you’re not exercising. And on the days that you are (which, hopefully, is more often than not), eat 1.5 times your body weight.
I realize that may sound daunting. But if you include protein with every meal—in the form of organic eggs, nuts, and/or grass-fed and -finished meat—you shouldn’t have too much trouble reaching this goal. You can even add a whey protein shake to your routine once or twice daily, to help.
After all, a high-protein meal, from fresh, local sources, will always be a superior choice to any pre-packaged, convenience “meal”… no matter when you eat it. Unless, perhaps, you’re eating while burning the midnight oil…
Don’t eat late at night
As recent research just revealed, circadian misalignment may negatively affect muscle function as we age, no matter how much protein or BCAAs we consume. But this misalignment also plays a much bigger role in our modern obesity crisis than anyone ever imagined…
Laboratory experiments have shown that mice, after being restricted to an eight-hour window of eating, were slimmer and healthier. And—even when they took in just as much food as mice who ate around the clock, they gained LESS weight. They experienced LESS liver damage. And their levels of inflammation were LOWER.3
Plus, another recent lab study showed that mice with feeding times confined to their normal circadian patterns were the only ones to lose weight on a reduced-calorie diet. That’s despite the fact that the day-feeders (remember, mice are nocturnal) were eating the same exact amount of food.
This would suggest that, when translated to human circadian rhythms, nighttime eating is enough to sabotage your diet completely—even if you’re eating healthy foods during the day.
Now, once again, these two studies were done in mice. But trials featuring human patients reveal many of the same patterns. Making it clear that routinely eating during hours that are intended for sleep make it harder—perhaps even impossible—to lose weight or stay slim.
So, strive to eat earlier rather than later in the day. (I personally only eat between noon and 6 p.m.) And pay close attention to WHAT you’re eating. Your waistline, your overall health, and importantly, your MUSCLES will only benefit as you age.
Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?
As I revealed on page 7, when you eat is vitally important to healthy aging. And research suggests it’s important to enjoy your meals earlier rather than later in the day.
But if you’re not exactly a breakfast person, don’t sweat it. Here’s why…
It may come as a surprise to anyone used to hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but news flash—when it comes to weight loss, it’s not.
As part of one recent meta-analysis, Australian researchers examined data from 13 different randomized, controlled trials. Each trial observed breakfast’s effects on weight change, as well as its impact on calorie consumption.
In a nutshell, results showed that:
Eating breakfast doesn’t help you eat less throughout the day
You won’t gain weight because you skip breakfast
That’s right. Metabolic rates didn’t slow when breakfast was skipped. In fact, weight loss outcomes were better among the subjects who passed on the meal.1
Why? Well, the answer seems pretty clear to me: Intermittent fasting (IF)—that is, a structured way to restrict eating windows within your sleep-wake cycle—does a body good.
As I’ve explained here before, there are a few different approaches to IF:
Alternate day fasting (ADF) is when you alternate days of “normal” calorie intake with days of significant caloric restriction. (Fewer than 600 calories for men, and fewer than 500 calories for women.)
The 5:2 approach is when any two days in a single week are fasting days. Then, the other five days consist of “normal” calorie intake.
Time restricted eating (TRE) consists of designated eating “windows” in your day—typically restricted to four to eight hours, during which you enjoy your meals. This is generally the easiest approach for most people to stick with long-term. (It’s the one I follow.) And guess what? It usually means skipping breakfast.
In other words, you can still lose weight while enjoying high-protein meals throughout the day—whether or not you enjoy breakfast regularly. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you’d like during non-fasting periods. But you may be surprised how delicious (and nutritious) following a healthy, balanced diet can be!
I always recommend a Mediterranean-type diet, chock-full of organic produce, lean protein, nuts, and even some dark chocolate! For additional guidance, order yourself a copy of my very own A-List Diet, available under the “books” tab of my website, www.DrPescatore.com.
- AyoamaS, et al. “Distribution of dietary protein intake in daily meals influences skeletal muscle hypertrophy via the muscle clock.” Cell Reports, 2021; 36 (1): 109336 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.109336
- PasiakosSM, et al. “Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial.” FASEB J. 2013 Sep;27(9):3837-47.
- Hatori M, et al. “Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet.” CellMetab. 2012 Jun 6;15(6):848-60.