Nutrient Timing: Does it Matter When You Eat?

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Nutrient Timing

What Is Nutrient Timing?

Does it really matter when you eat? Nutrient timing IS and is NOT as important as you may think. Get the facts….Plus a Bonus of 14 Balanced Breakfast Ideas to start the day off strong. Nutrient Timing Nutrient Timing is a buzz word within nutrition and health world. Simply put: “Nutrient Timing” means eating specific nutrients (such as protein, carbs or fats), in specific amounts, at specific times (such as before or after exercise, breakfast or dinner). Certainly any time we sit down to eat a meal and “put fuel in the tank,” we invest into our body’s personal health savings account—either for better or worse.

Exhibit A:

Eating a bag of Skittles for breakfast more than likely will not result in sustained energy throughout the day.

Exhibit B:

Eating a “balanced” breakfast to “break your fast” (from over night) and fuel your cell’s metabolic needs and brain power for the day probably will.  However, the claims that  “breakfast is the MOST important meal of the day” or that, “You shouldn’t eat dinner past 8 p.m.,” or that  “You SHOULD drink a protein shake 30-minutes after a workout” is NOT 100-percent accurate. As with many other nutritional pieces of advice, our belief in the importance of nutrient timing is based on misinterpreted research and biased studies. Long story short: Our body doesn’t see breakfast (or dinner or post-workout meal) like you and I see breakfast or any other meals—an exact time that we need to eat.  Instead: All it sees is “meal time”—Fuel.   What matters MORE than simply starting your day off with breakfast at 7 a.m., downing a post-workout she and eating a small dinner before 8 p.m. just because Dr. Oz said so?


  1. Nutrient BALANCE 
  2. Healthy digestion
  3. Circadian Rhythm Function

#1. Nutrient Balance:

Are you giving our body enough protein, healthy fats and real-food carbs (veggies, fruits, some starchy tubers) throughout the day? Nutrient Timing When our body is LOW on nutrients in a given 24-hour day (i.e. chronic under-eating; low veggie intake; sugar or carb-rich breakfasts like donuts or cereal; or restricting carbs or fats without accounting for energy needs elsewhere, etc.), then things become imbalanced: Our metabolism slows down to not expend additional energy We lose muscle mass We lose energy Our digestion becomes sluggish And on and on—not good things. “Breakfast”—or your first meal of the day—and the rest of the fuel you eat throughout the day is really more a matter of balance, than it is about eating at exact hard and fast times. Hence, a road block many road skippers run into? If you’re not a “breakfast person,” come 10 or 11 a.m. when a craving strikes, or lunch time rolls around, what are you more apt to do? Eat anything—even if it’s “imbalanced.” (Bring on the Doritos, chocolate chip cookies at the office or Chinese takeout)

The Bottom Line:

Balanced meals throughout the day—including your first meal of the day—help ensure balance and prevent imbalances at other meals (when we are hungry for anything). Generally, aiming to eat three times per day with enough protein, fat and veggies included as the base won’t steer you wrong.

#2. Healthy Digestion:

Are you digesting your food well?  Bloated after meals? Constipation or IBS? Brain fog? Energy dips? Difficulty concentrating or focusing? Seasonal allergies? Low immunity? Hello unhealthy gut, and hello poor nutrient absorption Digesting our food (be it at 8 a.m. at “breakfast” or 12 p.m. “brunch” or a late 3 p.m. “lunch” or “dinner”) is FAR more essential than the claim that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” After all, if you’re not digesting your breakfast (or any other meal for that matter), you won’t get the maximum nutrients from that meal anyhow. In addition, breakfast skippers who say they are “never hungry” at breakfast may actually not be hungry due to poor digestion in the first place. Lack of appetite or hunger for breakfast is often due to lower stomach acid, digestive enzymes or overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria. In addition, if you’re not digesting your food well, you’re more likely to also experience:
  • Poor sustained energy throughout the day (even if you do eat breakfast)
  • More cravings (i.e. sugar cravings, caffeine cravings or “hanger” between meals) because your cells are unable to maximize your nutrient benefits

The Bottom Line:

Eating fuel throughout the day IS important, but digesting that food is KING. Boost your digestion to maximize your breakfast power (or any of your other meals) throughout the day by:
  • Taking a probiotic one to two times per day
  • Eating 1-2 servings of fermented foods daily
  • Taking 1 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar in 2-4 oz of water before meals
  • Drinking half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day
  • Chewing your food (well)
  • And addressing (testing and treating) and underlying gut dysfunctions (bacterial overgrowth, fungal overgrowth, dysbiosis, etc.)

#3. Circadian Rhythms:

Are you eating at optimal times for your (personal) body’s metabolism and natural internal clock? Nutrient Timing That answer is totally dependent on YOUR body. Your circadian rhythms (i.e. when you wake, when you sleep, when you eat, when you have the most energy, etc.)  help keep your body in balance—including your liver (detoxification), pancreas (blood sugar balance), gastrointestinal tract (digestion), adipose tissue (body fat and muscle (ability to build muscle). Based on this fact, for years, trainers and nutritionists have told us that we should eat breakfast to “boost your metabolism” because this is in line with our internal nutrient-timing clock.


Research shows nutrient timing based on these claims is not what we once thought. A recent study (Wehrens, 2017) show that your schedule has the ability to reset your own internal (metabolic) clock—meaning breakfast may be your most important meal of the day…but it may not be. In other words: Even though your wake-sleep patterns are hard wired (i.e. your body wants to sleep at night, and be awake in the daylight), your metabolic patterns are not as hardwired (they can adjust). Your body does NOT see nutrient timing on the same clock that you see it (i.e. Breakfast MUST be at 7 a.m., Lunch is at 1 p.m., Dinner is at 6 p.m., etc.).  Your body IS resilient and has the power to metabolically shift the “optimal times for eating” (if it must) to help sustain you (i.e. your body wants to work for you—not against you). Unfortunately, our constant state of stress of modern times (like light exposure, screen time, lack of human connection, sedentary lifestyles, imbalanced eating habits, lack of sleep, gut imbalances), more than the time of day we eat, is REALLY what stresses out our circadian rhythms (and “metabolism”). In short: Stress management is most important than timing of meals. As long as you maintain healthy stress management habits (i.e. sleeping enough, balanced nutrition and healthy digestion), “nutrient timing” (how we’ve believed it) may not matter as much as we once thought (i.e. eating later in the morning may work better for you)—(And that’s okay).

The BIG Bottom Line:

The total amount of FUEL you eat, over the course of the day, is more important for health, body composition and fitness performance than nutrient timing myths. Your body doesn’t see breakfast, lunch or dinner like you see it. It sees fuel—and it is a natural-born human right to feed it a balance of good fuel, and support a healthy gut in order to get the most out of that fuel.


Nutrient Timing So what does a “balanced” and “gut-friendly” morning meal look like? Here are some ideas—whether you’re on the go out the door or —to put good fuel in the tank:  

Balanced Morning Meals

  1. Smoothie: Protein Powder + Coconut Milk + Banana + Spinach + 1/2 Avocado or Nutbutter
  2. Organic Plain Greek Yogurt + Coconut Butter + Berries
  3. Bone Broth with Grass-fed Butter & Collagen
  4. Cold Pressed Green Juice + Turkey or Ham Slices + Pumpkin SeedsJerky (Nitrate-Free) + Piece of Fruit + Coconut Butter
  5. Canned Wild Salmon + Avocado + Roasted Asparagus Spears
  6. Chicken Salad with Paleo Mayo + Greens + Butternut Squash
  7. Chicken Sausage + Avocado + Zucchini & Yellow Squash
  8. Hash: Ground Meat + Greens + Butternut Squash in Coconut Oil or Ghee
  9. Homemade Paleo Blueberry Muffin + Turkey Sausage
  10. Scrambled Eggs + Nitrate Free Bacon + Spinach & Mushrooms in Ghee
  11. Homemade Egg + Veggie Muffin Cups
  12. Omelet + Goat Cheese + Greens
  13. Coconut Flour Tortilla + Scrambled Eggs + Sauerkraut + Turkey Bacon
  14. Dinner Leftovers
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