When it comes to stabilizing your blood sugars, timing can be everything. From the hour of your first meal of the day to how late you eat at night, the timing of your meals can heavily dictate how well your blood sugars are managed on a daily basis. When my clients are in the habit of eating healthy still see peaks and valleys in their numbers, we sit down to re-evaluate when and how often they are eating. Here are five strategies to help you with better meal timing and keeping blood glucose in check:
1. Eat within the first few hours of rising
Among the majority of my new clients, breakfast is the most-skipped meal of the day. Many people feel they don’t have time for breakfast, which is unfortunate because it truly is the most important meal – especially if you have diabetes.
When you’re sleeping, your body is in a fasting-like state. When you wake up, eating within the first couple of hours can help break that fast (hence the name “breakfast”). And although it may seem like you’re saving yourself from extra calories or spiking your blood sugars, skipping breakfast can end up backfiring. You may find yourself over-eating at your first meal or gravitating more toward starchy or sugary foods. What’s worse, if blood glucose levels indeed drop too low, the body will send out hormones to release stored glucose into the blood stream, spiking your sugars and making it even harder to regulate your numbers throughout the day when you do finally eat.
If you’re strapped for time, try to at least grab a small, balanced bite – pair a bit of protein with a high-fiber carbohydrate like peanut butter and whole-wheat toast, or a hard-boiled egg and fresh fruit.
2. Avoid Eating Right Before Bedtime
It may be tempting to sneak in that late-night snack right before bedtime, but you may want to think twice if you’re seeing elevated blood glucose levels in the middle of the night or early morning. Not only can over-eating close to bedtime hike up blood sugars when most people are the most sedentary during the day, but having heavy or fatty foods right before dozing off can lead to disrupted sleeping patterns, which may affect hormone regulation.
There are some exceptions. If you are on medications at nighttime that require to be taken with food or have been told you suffer from the dawn phenomenon, a light snack before bedtime may be necessary. In this case, try choosing a lighter option like veggies, fruit or plain Greek yogurt, which is high in protein and won’t send blood sugars surging.
3. Eat Frequently
A consistent eating routine can help avoid dramatic peaks and valleys in blood glucose ranges and can help you reach a more stable blood glucose level from morning to night. This typically means eating frequent, small but wholesome meals about every three to four hours.
Whether you eat six small meals per day or three square meals with small snacks in between, the end goal is to never feel too full after eating and to go into your next meal not feeling famished. Eating consistently and choosing nutritious foods filled with fiber, protein and healthy fats can help to keep blood glucose and energy levels stable throughout the day.
4. Breakfast like a King, Dinner like a Pauper
One of the greatest pieces of advice that I often pass off to my clients came from the book, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan, in which he encourages readers to “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” In other words, eat the majority of your calories when you plan to use them.
Here in the U.S., it is not uncommon to grab a pastry and coffee for breakfast and call it good. Or worse, skip breakfast altogether, thereby leaving most people feeling increasingly hungry as the day goes on and starving by the time dinner comes around. This can be detrimental if you are trying to stabilize blood glucose values.
Rather than waiting until your evening meal to catch up on eating, try thinking about where you are the most active throughout the day to plan where you need your larger meals. For most, this is going to mean eating a larger breakfast and tapering off on your food intake with a light dinner.
5. Eat Before and After Exercise
Exercising regularly is an excellent way to help manage blood glucose. But you need to make sure you eat something before and after long and intense bouts of physical activity to avoid major lows in blood glucose levels.
In general, if you’re working out beyond 60 minutes at a moderate-vigorous intensity, you will want some food in your system a couple of hours prior to your activity and something within the first hour afterwards to get glucose back to stable levels. This is especially important if you are planning to exercise far before or after your main meals.
Not sure how much you need to eat or if you should add in extra snacks? Everybody is different and may have different needs. Learn what’s best for you by testing blood sugars before, during, and after your workout so that you can track any fluctuations in your numbers. If you find that your blood glucose is getting too low during a workout, try keeping a small snack in your gym bag, such as a banana. It’s always a good idea to check with your doctor about medications you’re taking as well, and how to best plan around exercise to avoid any scary lows.