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What is functional eating?

Our bodies have remarkable metabolic capabilities. The challenge is knowing how to realize this metabolic potential. Functional eating is a powerful new tool to help do just that. Recognizing how the body's metabolic needs change over the course of the day is the first step to implementing a functional eating plan. There are three primary functional intervals in the day:

7 a.m. to 9 a.m.: When you are sleeping, your body calls upon energy reserves stored in muscle and fat cells to maintain minimal function. This process involves the stress hormone cortisol. Just prior to daybreak, cortisol levels are highest. The morning interval is critical to reduce cortisol levels and prime your metabolic machinery.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: We are hardwired to be active during daylight hours. As a result, the metabolic machinery that converts food into energy is in a heightened state of activation during this interval.

5 p.m. to 11 p.m.: During this period of the day, the pathways responsible for building and repairing protein are most active.

Functional eating is simply a matter of eating appropriately for each functional time period of the day. Doing so is as easy as following these seven basic guidelines.
  • Never skip breakfast. The ideal breakfast consists of about 80% carbs and 20% protein. This ratio will not only reduce cortisol levels, but also replenish muscle energy stores depleted while you were sleeping.
  • Eat high-carbohydrate foods between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to ensure that the muscles and brain have sufficient energy.
  • Decrease consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods throughout the afternoon and evening.
  • Consume 55% of your daily calories by 1 p.m. to parallel the body's energy needs.
  • Eat high-protein foods between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. The protein turnover circuit is most active during this period because it is not competing with the pathways responsible for generating energy.
  • Keep fat intake to a minimum in the morning and throughout most of the day, but increase your intake of healthy (mainly plant) fats in the evening. Since these fats are especially potent suppressors of hunger, this strategy helps keep you full in the period between dinner and bedtime.
  • Whatever time of day you work out, make sure you pay close attention to your fueling and recovery nutrition.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.