We’ve all heard the old saying “you are what you eat.” In recent years however, it’s become increasingly evident that when is just as important as what, or how much, you consume.
I recently attended a lecture on sports nutrition that focused on the timing of calorie intake during endurance races. Athletic performance, it seems, can be impacted by when an athlete eats. Eating easily digestible carbohydrates 60 minutes before a long race and then again grazing on gels, “shots” or bars at 30-60 minute intervals once a race starts helps an athlete maintain blood sugar over a long period of time. When the competition is over, a protein rich replacement, such as chocolate milk, prevents protein breakdown. It makes sense to feed your body fuel when it is working the hardest and then replacing slowly and logically, rather than starving and gorging afterward.
It turns out that when and for how long you refrain from eating also has an impact on breast cancer recurrence.
The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living Study (WHEL) results presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium last December found that breast cancer survivors who typically didn’t eat for at least 13 hours overnight had a 36% reduction in the risk of breast cancer recurrence compared to those with a shorter duration of overnight fasting. So that means if a woman has dinner at 6:00pm and then breakfast after 7 am the next morning, she is reducing her risk of recurrence by simply forgoing the late-night snack. In fact the study also showed that women who fasted during the nocturnal hours also slept more and had lower levels of blood proteins related to diabetes and other conditions linked to inflammation and elevated blood sugar levels.
What if you’re neither an endurance athlete nor breast cancer survivor? When you eat has an impact on you, too.
In his best-selling book A Short Guide to a Long Life, Dr. David Agus advises readers to Never Skip Breakfast. “Your body needs a metabolic jump-start to begin the day,” says the leading cancer doctor. “Skipping those morning calories to lose weight is one of the worst habits a person can develop. Front-loading your eating in the early part of the day will prevent you from overconsuming later, help you burn more calories, and allow you to get a wallop of nutrients when you need them.”
Dr. Agus has also found that waiting too long to eat after rising causes an increase in stress hormones that actually encourage your body to retain fat.
What should that breakfast include? Although nutrition gurus differ on the exact menu, it’s pretty well accepted that the closer you get to the ingredients themselves, the healthier the meal. Oatmeal, eggs or yogurt are going to be easier to digest and sustain you through the morning better than a highly-processed “on the go” cereal bar. Try to make a conscious effort to eat early enough in the evening to allow for that 13 hour fast, and then to eat a healthy breakfast soon after waking up. Let me know how you feel!