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. 2019 Oct 6;11(10):2383.
doi: 10.3390/nu11102383.

The Impact of Time of Day on Energy Expenditure: Implications for Long-Term Energy Balance

Free PMC article

The Impact of Time of Day on Energy Expenditure: Implications for Long-Term Energy Balance

Emma Shaw et al. Nutrients. .
Free PMC article


There is evidence to indicate that the central biological clock (i.e., our endogenous circadian system) plays a role in physiological processes in the body that impact energy regulation and metabolism. Cross-sectional data suggest that energy consumption later in the day and during the night is associated with weight gain. These findings have led to speculation that when, as well as what, we eat may be important for maintaining energy balance. Emerging literature suggests that prioritising energy intake to earlier during the day may help with body weight maintenance. Evidence from tightly controlled acute experimental studies indicates a disparity in the body's ability to utilise (expend) energy equally across the day and night. Energy expenditure both at rest (resting metabolic rate) and after eating (thermic effect of food) is typically more efficient earlier during the day. In this review, we discuss the key evidence for a circadian pattern in energy utilisation and balance, which depends on meal timing. Whilst there is limited evidence that simply prioritising energy intake to earlier in the day is an effective strategy for weight loss, we highlight the potential benefits of considering the role of meal timing for improving metabolic health and energy balance. This review demonstrates that to advance our understanding of the contribution of the endogenous circadian system toward energy balance, targeted studies that utilise appropriate methodologies are required that focus on meal timing and frequency.

Keywords: basal metabolic rate; circadian rhythms; energy expenditure; meal timing; substrate oxidation.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Human Circadian System: Comprised of a central clock and peripheral clocks. The central clock located in the hypothalamus is entrained by light. Peripheral clocks are influenced by physiological/behavioural factors such as sleeping and eating. Synchonisation of peripheral clocks, under the orchestration of the central clock, is essential to achieve circadian alignment.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Conditions required to assess the existence of diurnal/circadian rhythms in energy expenditure. The top section of the figure presents components of total energy expenditure and the methodologies and conditions required for assessment of energy expenditure (specifically RMR). To accurately assess TEF, certain factors such as macronutrient composition of meal need to be considered. The bottom section lists study protocols used to determine circadian and diurnal rhythms. Diurnal rhythmicity can be determined using a calorimetry approach (typically IC) and time of day protocols. Circadian rhythmicity requires a forced desynchrony approach with a calorimetry technique (typically IC).

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