Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Body fat and your “Bird” Status.

Early BirdScientists, nutritionists and dieticians frequently engage in the argument as to whether fat loss is just a matter of “calories in, calories out” or if other things have a more significant long-term impact.  Specifically, do food quality and macronutrient choices affect body compositions?

For many years now, experts have touted the benefits of eating a breakfast high in protein as being the key for being lean.  They say that people who eat earlier in the day tend to be leaner and lose fat easier. Moreover, there is some scientific literature that strongly suggests that eating too much late into the night is quite detrimental to fat loss efforts.

As such, it seems clear that it is not as simple as “calories in, calories out,” no matter certain “experts” say. Now there is a study that suggests that sleep habits play an important role also.

The Study

In a Finnish study, reported in the journal Obesity, 1,854 random people had their sleeping habits and eating behaviors monitored. Researchers wanted to test how their circadian rhythm (chronotype) affected what they ate and when they ate it. The subjects were mandated to keep food logs and to take photos of every meal.

The Results

The Early Birds, those people who woke up early and went to bed early, made better food choices than the Night Owls.  Early birds were seen to consistently make healthier choices throughout the day.

An interesting observation showed that night owls generally ate less protein and more sugar in the morning, while also consuming less protein but higher fat foods in the evenings (after 8PM).  They also had higher incidences of insomnia.

In the study, both groups ate roughly the same number of calories each day.  The researchers concluded, “Postponed energy and macronutrient intake timing of evening types with unfavorable dietary patterns may put them at higher risk of obesity and metabolic disturbances in the future.”

They also noted that timing of energy intake (when you eat) may have major effects on metabolic health: “Energy intake timing may have substantial effect on metabolism independent of total energy intake and quality of diet.”

The Theory of Self-Control

There is an unofficial theory of “Self-Control” that suggests that self-control wanes in the evening, so it makes sense that the later you stay up, the unhealthier your choices may be.

Practical Implications

Your “bird” classification, whether you are an Early Bird or a Night Owl, is based in part on your natural internal clock and circadian rhythm. Some people are just wired one way or another, though most of us fall somewhere in the middle and have a choice.

Regardless of your status, eating a high protein breakfast is highly recommended.  Numerous studies show that this strategy is a clear winner in the battle to stay lean.  Keep the carbs and fats minimal and sugar levels nearly zero.  This is why I wrote this article here The Case Against Cereal for Breakfast about how bad breakfast cereal is for you.

As far as limiting the damage at night, it is best to try to stop eating about 2-3 hours prior to bed. This is not always easy, and cravings tend to be stronger in the evenings. So, how do you protect yourself from these cravings?  I would recommend eating a high-protein dinner, since protein will keep you more satiated.  In addition, keep your carbs under control by choosing healthy, complex carbs, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and quinoa.  Adding in small amounts of healthy fats from nuts or dairy can help as well.

One other recommendation, there are a number of decent natural supplements that can help with better sleep.  Please stay clear of pharmaceuticals for sleep though.  They will NOT improve the quality of your sleep, but rather make it worse.

References:

Chronotype differences in timing of energy and macronutrient intakes: A population-based study in adults

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