From a cup of coffee in the morning to the mid-afternoon slump after a heavy lunch, experience tells us that the timing of food consumption is just as important as the types of food we consume daily.
It is the latest addition to a personalised nutrition strategy, where eating patterns are tailored to individuals based on their genetic responses to certain foods – a concept known as chrononutrition.
“There's already a very old saying – eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper – and I think there's some truth in that," says Dr Gerda Pot, a visiting lecturer in nutritional sciences at King's College London.
“We have a body clock that determines that every 24 hours each metabolic process has an optimal time when something should happen.
“That suggests that having a large meal in the evening is actually, metabolically speaking, not the right thing to do because your body is already winding down for the night.”
Food timing benefits: From chrononutrition to chronobiotics
Research by Japan’s Waseda University has suggested breakfast is the best time to consume protein to maximise its muscle-building benefits.
The conclusion was based on a trial involving elderly women, where the researchers said eating a lower amount of protein at breakfast was more effective than eating a higher amount of protein at dinner in order to increase muscle mass.
In a recent review, Singapore-based researchers concluded that chrononutrition had “immense potential to contribute as part of approaches in cardiometabolic health management by aligning intake timings, calories, and macronutrient distributions with the circadian clock”.
By prioritising intakes of macronutrients in the mornings and during daylight hours, peripheral clocks in metabolic organs can synchronise with the central clock, concluded the paper, entitled “Is There a Utility of Chrono-Specific Diets in Improving Cardiometabolic Health?”
The review even introduced the concept of chronobiotics, where several dietary components could have the ability to act on the circadian system directly or indirectly, including circadian gene expressions, although there remain several gaps in this understanding.
What does this mean for industry?
Industry opportunities to apply research findings have largely focused on consumer efforts to promote sleep and boost motivation and satiety.
These include products such as sleep-promoting foods and drinks, amino acid blends that encourage feelings of satiety, and even basic beverages like black coffee, which speeds up metabolism and oxidises fat.
Swiss neutraceutical company Galventa recently launched B・SYNC ON, a supplement that uses a delayed-release formulation to deliver caffeine, vitamins B5 and B12, and zinc after seven hours that is said to improve the natural waking-up process.
Chrononutrition and personalised insights
Wearables and at-home kits further tap into the demand for premium nutritional advice, particularly individual metabolic processes.
US firms such as Healthycell and Panaceutics are teaming up to offer personalised nutrition gel formulas, created in response to customers’ individual biomarker readings and eventually, predictive analytics.
Meanwhile, European efforts include the collaboration between IFF and Salus Optima, in which the two partners will look to offer consumers insights into their metabolic response to food, supplements, activity, and sleep, through smartphones and wearables.
“We see digital services as an enhancement to – not a replacement for – the overall personalised nutrition market,” said Sébastien Guery, vice-president of IFF Health.
“Products will always remain a critical part of health and wellness, but we also recognise the challenge our customers have in meeting the needs of their consumers when it comes to personalisation.”