New research claims that eating directly before going to sleep might increase your risk of developing either breast or prostate cancer (depending which you own), an unfortunate development considering my penchant for gorging on peanut butter pretzels moments before passing out. Specifically, the research found that having dinner after nine o’clock—or falling asleep within two hours of eating—boosts your risk of developing prostate cancer by 26 percent and breast cancer by 16 percent.
But the idea that late-night snacking messes you up isn’t exactly news. We previously wrote about how late-night snackers consume more calories, have trouble sleeping and experience chronic heartburn:
“According to Jason Boehm, a board-certified nutrition specialist, the exact time depends on when you go to bed, but it’s generally a good idea to shove a cork in your mouth around three hours beforehand. ‘It takes about three hours to digest a typical dinner of 600 calories that includes some protein, carbohydrates and veggies,’ he explains. If that’s impossible: ‘Give yourself at least two hours to digest before lying down to sleep,’ says Boehm.”
So that’s dinner sorted out. But what about the other end of the day? Breakfast gets (erroneously) described as the most important meal of the day, but does it still count if you don’t get around to breakfast till 2 p.m.? Figuring out the optimal breakfast time to reap the most health benefits is a little more complicated, since it depends on your morning routine. With that in mind, here are your best options…
Before Working Out
If you hit the gym in the morning, you might want to eat at least a light source of carbohydrates (like a piece of fruit) approximately one hour before beginning your workout. That’s because your glycogen (the sugar that fuels your muscles) and blood sugar levels drop overnight, which may result in dizziness, nausea and reduced motor skills. This will obviously prevent you from pumping to your best ability.
After Working Out
If you feel better exercising on an empty stomach—and your goal is weight loss—you may have better luck eating after working out. A 2010 study published in The Journal of Physiology examined the effects of a high-fat, high-calorie breakfast on three separate groups: One who ate before exercising, one who ate after exercising and one who didn’t exercise at all. After six weeks, those who ate before exercising and those who didn’t work out gained weight. Meanwhile, those who ate breakfast after exercising gained no weight and actually burned fat.
It’s not completely understood why exercising on an empty stomach produces better results, but one possible theory is that it encourages the body to burn more body fat for fuel, rather than relying on those carbohydrates that you just ingested.
Before 10 A.M.
If you’re not a morning gym-goer—and you don’t necessarily have a morning routine—eating breakfast before 10 a.m. is always a good rule of thumb. A 2011 review of 15 studies on the effects of eating breakfast in children and six on adults found that it was generally associated with lower body weight, and almost all of these studies defined breakfast as a meal eaten before 10 a.m. So that’s that.
*angrily stares at bag of peanut butter pretzels all night long*