The Best Time to Eat Dinner Revealed

See how timing your dinner can maximize nutrition and workout benefits.

February 9, 2016
woman eating dinner at restaurant
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Let's be honest for a minute: How many times have you finished work, headed out for a workout, and not sat down to dinner until 9:00 or 10:00 at night? While those nights are occasionally unavoidable, the healthier thing to do is make sure that you're eating dinner with plenty of time to digest before bed. Eating before bed doesn't necessarily cause you to gain weight, but it may make you feel uncomfortable.

More: Your Guide to Post-Workout Protein Consumption

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"In general, eating your dinner as early as possible is best," says nutritionist Jordan Dubé, MS. "You never want to go to bed on a full stomach. You should finish eating at least an hour before you go to bed, if not more. Try to lean more toward two hours, though we know that's not always possible, especially with later-in-the-day training. But give yourself time to digest before bed."

You're much more inclined to eat that salad and enjoy it at 6:30 p.m. The urge to order a burger and fries is much greater if you are starving at 10:00 p.m. "There's somewhat of a circadian rhythm, where we're likely to put on more fat at night, but it's more about the propensity to take in extra calories—the night-bingers are the ones in trouble," Guest says. "It's the late-night munchers that are in surplus of calories most often."

More: What and When to Eat to Hit Your Fitness Peak

You may also want to have an early dinner for training purposes: If you're planning on exploring fasted state training, you need to go between 10 and 14 hours without eating. That's easiest to do by simply training when you wake up.

You may want to break this rule and eat dinner later if you are not a big breakfast eater. "A lot of people need to have their pre-exercise meals the night before," explains Guest. "It's because they just can't get in a big enough meal in the morning if they want to train at 7:00 and get up at 6:00. There just isn't time to digest, so people get up and have something light, or have nothing."

More: 5 Foods That Help Replenish Electrolytes

If you're capable of making healthy choices later and can keep dinner nutrient-dense, it's not going to utterly derail your diet to eat a bit later at night. Just try to give yourself at least an hour to digest before hitting the sack. However, a dose of protein right before bed can benefit muscle recovery on heavy training days. If you notice—possibly by logging your meals for a week or two—that the later your dinner is, the larger or less nutrient-dense it tends to be, focus on eating dinner earlier to avoid the dreaded binge.

 

Adapted from Fuel Your Ride