Meal Timing and Macronutrient Composition Modulate Human Metabolism and Reward-Related Drive to Eat

Nutrients. 2022 Jan 27;14(3):562. doi: 10.3390/nu14030562.


The 'time-of-day' modifies the metabolic response to meals, but less data exist on the diurnal variations in the hedonic drive to eat. In the present paper, we evaluate the effects of meal timing and macronutrient composition on metabolic responses and the homeostatic vs. hedonic regulation of appetite. In study 1, 84 young, healthy adults completed an online computer-based task assessing the homeostatic and hedonic drive to eat in the morning and evening. In study 2, 24 healthy, young men received 2 identical (850 kcal each) meals in the morning (8:45 h) and evening (18:00 h), of 2 experimental conditions: (i) regular carbohydrate (CH) meals (regular-CH), and (ii) high carbohydrate (high-CH) meals, containing 50 and 80% of energy from CHs, respectively. Serial blood samples were obtained, and the postprandial feelings of hunger, satiety, wanting and liking were assessed. Study 1 revealed a higher hedonic drive to eat in the evening compared to the morning. Study 2 confirmed this diurnal pattern of hedonic appetite regulation and, moreover, showed increased glucose and insulin responses to the evening meal. Postprandial ghrelin and leptin as well as feelings of hunger and satiety were not different between the mealtimes nor between the macronutrient conditions. In line with this, the homeostatic drive to eat was neither affected by the mealtime nor macronutrient composition. Increased the hedonic drive to eat in the evening may represent a vulnerability to palatable food and, thus, energy overconsumption. Together with lower evening glucose tolerance, these findings reflect an adverse metabolic constellation at the end of the day, especially after the ingestion of CH-rich foods.

Keywords: carbohydrates; circadian rhythm; hedonic eating; liking; macronutrient composition; meal timing; wanting.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meals*
  • Nutrients
  • Postprandial Period* / physiology
  • Reward
  • Satiation / physiology