Nutrient timing, the practice of timing meals to boost athletic performance, has been around for decades—even before runners started pasta-loading their marathons—but as a health-and-fitness trend, it never gained much traction. Until recently, that is.

Over the past several years, nutrient timing has generated a new wave of interest—not from extreme athletes or power lifters, but from nutrition researchers studying the impact of meal timing and composition on obesity, chronic disease and overall health. Pretty heady stuff, considering our global health crisis.

To separate clinical from conjecture, we turned to A’nna Sewall, a doctoral candidate at Cornell University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences. A’nna’s interests include exercise physiology, biochemistry, psychology, molecular and integrative physiology, and chronobiology (a.k.a., the study of natural physiological rhythms in biology).


Here’s a snapshot of what A’nna shared with StoneArch:

Don’t mess with the body’s central clock.
Chronic misalignment between the body’s central clock and the cycles of light and dark can wreak havoc on metabolism and organ function. Meaning that eating large meals late at night can throw your system out of whack—not immediately, but over time, as evidenced by the increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and GI conditions among third-shift workers.

Front-loading daily calorie intake may help reverse obesity.
We learned about an intriguing study in which two groups of obese female patients were fed 1,400 calories/day for 12 weeks. One group front-loaded their calories: 700 at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 200 at dinner. The other group was given the reverse plan: 200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 at dinner. At the end of the study, the first group (front-loading patients) had lost statistically more weight and body fat than the second group, even though both groups ate the same foods and consumed the same amount of daily calories.

Exercise increases insulin sensitivity.
Adding to the list of exercise-induced health benefits is its ability to increase our cells’ receptivity to glucose. Less free-floating glucose means less need for insulin production and less wear-and-tear on the pancreas. While “fasted-state” exercise (a.k.a., pre-breakfast workout) is more effective at building glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity than “fed-state” (post-dinner) exercise, research also shows that fed-state workouts help reopen cell receptivity to food intake which decreases the need for insulin. So whether you exercise before or after eating, you’re still doing your body a world of good.

What’s next on the nutrition science horizon?
Now that carbs and fats have each been demonized, we wanted to know what might be next on the “Don’t Eat These Foods!” list. According to A’nna, preliminary research on amino acids known to stimulate insulin production indicates a link between high-protein diets and Type 2 diabetes. But A’nna stopped far short of recommending we all go vegan. Her parting words: “Don’t skip breakfast. Eat real food. Get some exercise.” We can live with that.

A’nna Sewall is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, with a double major in nutritional science and exercise physiology and a concentration in dietetics. She is currently completing her doctoral work in nutritional sciences with minors in molecular and integrative physiology and psychology with an emphasis in biochemistry, while starting a dietetic internship at Strong Memorial Hospital. A’nna is also a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.