Eating seems pretty straight-forward: Your stomach rumbles and you re-fill it with healthy fare. But even if you’re loading your plate and cup with the right fuel, your timing may actually be compromising how beneficial those nutrients are. Even nourishments as simple as water can be optimized to keep you hydrated and happy. Check out these five foods and drinks that you’re probably consuming at the less-than-ideal time.
“Most Americans are getting an average of 13 grams of protein in the morning, and double or triple that with dinner,” says Arizona-based nutritionist Michelle Dudash, R.D., founder of the new online meal planning program, Clean Eating Cooking School. Loading up on the muscle builder at your last meal isn’t bad, but the perks that come with the nutrient will serve you better earlier in the day. “Protein can help with satiety and feeling full, which can be a huge perk to start the day with in order to reduce cravings and avoid snacking,” she explains. Plus, it’ll help keep your energy up, mind focused, and help you make better decisions at lunch thanks to those reduced cravings—all things that don’t serve you as well in the p.m.. Shoot for 25 grams before noon, which includes your breakfast and mid-morning snack. Dudash suggests sprouted grain toast topped with a hard boiled egg, a glass of regular milk, and half a cup of nuts; or a smoothie with 2 tbsp hemp seeds, 1 tbsp almond butter, .5 cup milk, and fruit, then a quarter cup of mixed nuts.
Fresh juice and smoothies are a great way to pack a punch of nutrition into one meal, but chopping, juicing, and cleaning the machine every day can be a bitch. You’d certainly save time if you could juice everything on Monday for fresh blends the rest of the week, but what you’re drinking Wednesday isn’t nearly as good as the original concotion. “Most vitamins will reduce over time when exposed to certain things. Vitamin A, D, K and riboflavin (a B vitamin), for example, are highly sensitive to light. Vitamins A, D, C and folic acid (a B vitamin) are highly sensitive to oxygen,” Dudash explains. Once you even cut into a fruit, those crucial nutrients begins to break down. A two-day-old juice is certainly still better than no juice at all, but the longer you take to drink the produce potion, the less of a nutritional powerhouse it becomes.
Not that you needed scientists to tell you, but an endless amount of research has confirmed that coffee improves alertness, focus, and therefore productivity. That means that caffeine is an invaluable aid when you need a little pick-me-up. However, a team of Candian researchers studied the brain rhythms of adults and found that our brains naturally perform best between 8:30 to 10:30 a.m—the same hours most of us are trying to score that jolt of java. “You should take advantage of your natural alertness and instead utilize caffiene when your brain is at a lull of productivity,” Dudash explains. That hits most of us right after lunch, around 1 or 2 p.m.
Let’s get something straight—carbs are not the enemy. Unless you practice a high-fat, low-carb diet and your body has become fat adapted, carbohydrates provide the fuel to power you through a grueling sweat session, burning more calories and building more muscle, Dudash explains. But loading up right before a workout can actually hurt your chances of that perfect body. A new study in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found that eating carbs before exercise can decrease the fat oxidation rate—how your body burns fat—that comes from a workout, but not if you eat carbs after your workout. “Your body needs to focus less on digesting the food and more on pulling energy so you can perform optimally,” she explains. Your body will pull from your carb reserves, which are built up by eating the nutrient throughout the day. Better timing is to eat the nutrient immediately after working out along with protein when the carbs can help fuel your muscles to repair themselves.
With zero calories or additives, H2O is most certainly the healthiest drink you can use to wash down a meal. But your waistline would be better served drinking water before a meal instead of with it. “The brain can confuse hunger with thirst, so drinking a glass of water when you think you’re hungry may actually satisfy your appetite and help avoid unnecessary overeating,” Dudash says. Plus, since water fills your stomach with a zero-calorie substance and your brain has a delay on registering fullness, a cup of agua can help you feel fuller once you start chowing down so you eat less.