When should you eat your biggest meal of the day?

Choosing the right foods at the right times so your body can function optimally is important. A lot of focus is usually put on ‘what’ to eat, this time we’re spotlighting the ‘when’, especially when it comes to the size of your daily meals.

How much fuel does your body need?

Fuelling your body is an individual process because your day is uniquely yours. The list of differences from person to person is endless. What time you get up, how much you do before breakfast–like preparing the kids for school or working out, what time you start work and how you get to work all affect how much energy you require. Then there’s your daily list of activities once you start your workday–whether you sit at a desk or are out and about at clients, how you spend your lunch break, and if your days differ from one to the next… the list goes on and on.

So, if we’re asking the question: “When should you eat your biggest meal?” your own personal routine should be the first thing you ponder. The next thing should be: what do you want to achieve for your body?

For example, do you want to lose weight? Do you need to build muscle mass? Whichever individual goal we want to achieve, we all want to have sufficient fuel in us throughout the day so we have the right amount of energy to get the important things done. 

The worst feeling is having eaten a little while ago, and then as you’re about to take on your biggest project for the day, your stomach cries: feed me!

Hamster stuffing carrots into his mouthThis may be happening because we’re eating our biggest meal at the wrong time of the day. 

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? 

Memories of your parent’s asking you if you’ve eaten all your breakfast as you head off to school may come to mind. Well, research does show morning meals utilise calories more efficiently, so don’t forget to thank your parents for their innate wisdom. 

“Recent studies in humans have shown that ingested calories are apparently utilised more efficiently in the morning than in the evening and this is manifest through improved weight loss, even under iso‐energetic calorie intake,” according to the Medical Research Council.

A recent study, The Big Breakfast Study: Chrono‐nutrition influence on energy expenditure and bodyweight, showed that breakfast as the biggest meal is the best strategy for weight control. However, if you train at 4am, eating a big breakfast is not possible–but if you wake up at 5 and train at 8, then a big breakfast can become a part of your morning routine. This option is available if your schedule allows it. 

If you’re watching your weight then eating a big breakfast is a good idea!

When it comes to effective weight loss, if you’re hoping to see even better results when you look in the mirror, a read of our Honest Guide to Weight Management will help aid you on the best choices to manage your weight.

Download Guide

Salad lunch bowl of greens beetroot sesame seeds tomato and feta cheese with pomegranate

Waiting for Lunchtime? 

Thinking of eating loads at lunch? Well, most of us do–because we get to take a break from our workday to sit and have a meal, stocking up on the energy in a big way. It’s okay. Don’t be deterred from eating your biggest meal at lunch if you're not a huge breakfast fan. 

Be mindful of what makes up the basis of your meal. If your plate is filled with fast-releasing carbs, this could cause you to feel tired in the middle of the day (the afternoon slump). But, if your lunch consists of mostly protein and veg, you should be a feel energised for the rest of the day.

Having your biggest meal at lunch is not as efficient as eating your biggest meal at breakfast. But (and it’s a big BUT), eating a bigger lunch instead of a big dinner has a positive effect and added benefits, especially if you’re deciding between lunch and dinner.

Dinner table, with a warm salad bowl, a couple both tuck into the salad at the same time with their own forks.

Be wary of eating your biggest meal for dinner

But, with that being said, one study did find that those who make dinner their largest meal tend to have an easier time maintaining muscle mass while dieting. So again, it all depends on your personal goals. Making dinner your largest meal may help you lose more fat and less muscle. So, if you’re looking to bulk up your guns (💪💪), make dinner your biggest meal of the day–but choose a protein-rich meal.

The thing to be cautious about when making dinner your biggest meal of the day is that digestion takes roughly three hours and you may or may not be staying up that long. If dinner is your biggest meal of the day, but you haven’t sufficiently digested your healthy yummy din-dins, it could negatively impact your sleep especially if you already have trouble sleeping. 

Eating a large meal before bed can lead to things like bloating and abdominal discomfort and that will impact your sleep. So, if you suffer from insomnia, sleep apnea or narcolepsy, try make dinner your smallest meal of the day–a smaller meal will bring you better quality Z’s. And, getting proper sleep is as important as eating and exercise! 💤=🍎=🏃=👌

A close up of a lady saying no to doughnuts and yes to an apple.

Did somebody say snack? 

Something we may love more than our sleep time is snack time. 

The AHA definesany eating occasion with less than 210 calories as a snack.” So now that we know what constitutes a snack, let's agree upfront that the whole day’s snacking should never overtake the biggest meal of the day in size.

Scooby and shaggy eating Scooby Snax

Today meals make up 77% of calories while snacks contribute 23%. This means almost a quarter of our daily intake is eaten in the form of snacks. To make sure your snack time doesn’t become your biggest intake of the day, be mindful as to what and how you snack throughout the day. If you don’t need to snack, that’s okay. But if you do, here are a few tips to make sure it’s not out of control:

  • Instead of an energy bar, choose a piece of fruit with nut butter or 30g of nuts
  • Instead of chips, opt for plain popcorn, which is a whole grain
  • Instead of cookies, satisfy your sweet tooth with homemade trail mix that combines dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, apples, etc), nuts and seeds. Trail mix should be limited to 30g. Note: While a trail mix is a healthier alternative it is EXTREMELY calorie dense and the portion should always be controlled.

In summary...

As we can see, a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work–even when figuring out when we should eat our biggest meal. Depending on what we want to personally achieve will determine when our biggest meal of the day should be. The reality is that we are all unique with bodies that adapt differently to certain environments, and the same goes for ways of eating. 

Remembering to be mindful of what we put in our body, and snacking on healthy foods during the day as a lifestyle choice, will ensure we see the benefits in the mirror soon enough. So, when you’re deciding on your biggest meal of the day, start with you, and your day, and your goals. 

Because you’re worth it!

A healthy eating plan and fitness programme starts with what works best for you. DNA testing for fitness and nutrition has proven to show sustained success in those who use it. Diet Fit provides a simple, personalised and easy to follow plan for those trying to improve their nutrition.

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