Diet advice often focuses on what you eat. Eat this and ignite your metabolism. Eat that and you’ll put your fitness goals at risk. Yet research is showing that it’s not just what you eat but also when you eat that matters. In other words, the key to a powerful-looking bikini-ready body may be the clock. To help your belly flatten, not bulge, here are the best times of the day to eat the foods you need to turn into an around-the-clock fat-burning machine.
7:30 a.m.: Fire up your metabolic furnace
Need to know: If you haven’t already, it’s time to beef up your daybreak meal. A study in the journal Obesity discovered that female subjects who consumed more calories at breakfast at the expense of calories later in the day experienced greater fat loss than those who took in substantially more calories at dinner than breakfast. You tend to burn more calories earlier in the day when your metabolism is higher, while later noshes are more likely to go into fat storage (aka your hips). Also, increasing the size of your breakfast produces longer-lasting satiety and reduces the amount of food you eat at lunch.
Eat this: Oatmeal
Some old standbys are worth keeping around. A 2015 investigation by the New York Nutrition Obesity Research Center found that people who spooned up oatmeal for breakfast felt less hungry and consumed an average of 31 percent fewer calories during a meal three hours later than those who dined on the same number of calories from a sugary box cereal. The soluble fiber in oatmeal slows down digestion, resulting in fewer hunger pangs and less potential for overeating. Try to avoid those instant oatmeals.
Eat this: Hard-boiled egg
Get cracking and make sure to add eggs to your breakfast routine. University of Connecticut researchers found that subjects who ate eggs during their first meal took in an average of 400 fewer calories over a 24-hour period than those who ate a carb-heavy bagel-based breakfast. The protein in eggs is more satiating than processed carbs and also can kick-start your metabolism for the day ahead. Most recently, research has shown that eggs have been unfairly labeled as bad for you.
10 a.m.: Maintain energy, reduce hunger
Need to know: A healthy midmorning snack can help tide you over until lunch and also supply much needed nutrients essential for an active body. But to prevent a fast track to fat city, you’ll need to keep those snacking calories in check.
Eat this: In-shell pistachios
The verdant nut is rich in heart-healthy fats, fiber, protein and must-have minerals. But if you mindlessly eat them, the calories could add up faster than a lawyer’s bill. So stash a bag of in-shell pistachios in your office desk or gym bag. Scientists at Eastern Illinois University found that the extra work of shelling pistachios caused people to consume 41 percent fewer calories than when they snacked on the nuts that were not in their shells. Yet, they felt just as satisfied and full.
12 p.m.: Eat now to eat less later
Need to know: Don’t let a hectic work day get in the way of your all-important midday repast. A study in the International Journal of Obesity found that women who made it a habit to consume a large portion of their overall daily calories before 3 p.m. shed more fat during a 20-week weight-loss program than those who ate more of their calories after 3 p.m.
Eat this: Whole-grain bread
When it comes to your beloved lunch sandwich, make sure it’s closer to nature. A fascinating study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research provided volunteers either a sandwich made with multi-grain bread or one made with white bread. Even though each meal had an identical amount of calories, the more processed sandwich meal required nearly 50 percent less energy to digest, resulting in a greater net calorie gain that could lead to waistline repercussions over time. It’s more difficult for your digestive system to break down fiber-rich whole grains like whole-wheat bread, which can translate into a boost in your fat-burning metabolism all afternoon long.
Eat this: Salmon
Make sure you reel in plenty of protein for lunch. Recent research shows that spreading your protein intake throughout the day is better at bolstering muscle building than eating most of it during a single meal such as dinner. And the more metabolically active lean body mass you are able to flaunt, the easier it is to torch the fat while maintaining the muscle you’ve worked at building. As a bonus, the mega-healthy omega fats in salmon also may ramp up fat burning. Add protein-rich canned salmon to sandwiches, or top salads with grilled fillets. were not in their shells. Yet, they felt just as satisfied and full.
3 p.m.: Maintain your glycogen levels
Need to know: A healthy snack at this time can put the breaks on vending-machine temptation when the afternoon slump hits. It will also give you an energy boost so your after-work workouts are more spirited affairs.
Eat this: Greek yogurt with blueberries
A University of Missouri study found that women who snacked on protein-rich yogurt in the afternoon felt less hungry and also increased the time period when they went on the hunt for more food compared to those who noshed on a lower protein snack. And emerging research suggests that the beneficial critters in the great white may contribute to trimmer waistlines. Top it off with blueberries for an even bigger fat-fighting snack. Pterostilbene, a chemical found in the blue health bombs, has been shown to help in the battle of the bulge by working to hinder fat storage.
Drink this: Matcha tea
Made by grinding up tea leaves into a fine powder, matcha delivers a wallop of antioxidants credited with helping the needle on the scale move in the correct direction. It does this by impacting genes associated with fat metabolism. The Japanese brew is also loaded with L-theanine, an amino acid that can calm your nerves when an end-of-day deadline is fast approaching.
6:30 p.m.: Fill up and fuel up to tomorrow
Need to know: When it comes to your dinner meal, the goal should be to make it as filling as possible — reasonably speaking — so the chances you’ll have a late-night ice cream or cookie breakdown are squashed.
Eat this: Chunky vegetable soup
Before you dig into your dinner meal, consider savoring an appetizer. Results of a Pennsylvania State University study showed that when participants started a meal with a low-calorie soup, they slashed their calorie intake during the entree by up to 20 percent. Kicking off a meal with a broth-based veggie soup or even a healthy salad (read: no creamy dressing!) can add volume and much-needed fiber for little caloric cost, which helps fill you up so you’re less likely to ask for seconds of meatloaf.
Eat this: Beef and bean chili
Homemade chili is a near perfect fat-fighting dinner option. The dynamic duo of protein via lean ground beef (ground chicken or turkey can be even leaner) and the fiber found in spades in beans will work wonders to keep you feeling full well into the late evening so your hands stay out of the cookie jar. What’s more, protein has a high thermogenic effect, so you’ll burn more calories during digestion than with carbs or fat.
9 p.m.: If you must snack, do it wisely
Need to know: It’s true, studies show that simply cutting down on evening snacking can help you whittle the middle. Case in point: A Northwestern University study found that women who often consumed calories after 8 p.m. were more likely to be plumper. So if you need a little nibble before hitting the hay, make sure it works for your figure, not against it.
Eat this: Air-popped popcorn
While the golden popcorn at the multiplex is a calorie bomb, the homemade air-popped variety has a mere 93 calories in a 3-cup serving, making it a less dangerous evening nibble. What’s more, the carbohydrates in popcorn work to transfer the amino acid tryptophan into your brain where it’s used to fire up the production of the sleep-promoting neurotransmitter serotonin. An important perk, considering that scientists at the New York Obesity Research Center found being sleep-deprived makes overeating during the day more likely.