The saying “you are what you eat” might need to change to “you are when you eat.”

Studies have shown that the timing of when you eat could be affecting your health just as much as what you’re eating.

So when are the best times to eat? Researchers say the earlier a person eats in the day, the better.

A practical guide to springtime healthy eating

What time should you eat for optimal health? The Washington Post reported that studies have shown that eating earlier in the day is better than later, “for example, by eating a large breakfast, a modest lunch and a small dinner.”

The journal Physiology & Behavior published a study that shows that what time you eat affects a person’s metabolism and circadian mechanisms.

“You have this internal biological clock that makes you better at doing different things at different times of the day. It seems like the best time for your metabolism in most people is the mid- to late morning,” said Courtney Peterson, an associate professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who wasn’t involved in the study, per NBC News.

The summary of the study stated, “eating earlier in the day confers important health benefits.”

What to do when your child won’t eat anything but Ritz crackers

Why is it better to eat earlier in the day? The journal Cell Metabolism published a study that reported that while it is not determined whether eating earlier in the day changes appetite habits, it does change processes in the body.

The highlights from the study included:

  • Eating later in the day increases how hungry you are throughout the day.
  • Eating later in the day decreases the amount of energy you have when you wake up in the morning.
  • Eater later in the day changes tissue gene expression, which determines how a body stores fat.
  • Late eating can lead to obesity and other health problems.

The Harvard Gazette reported that the study found that the reason eating later is problematic for a person’s overall health is due to the fact that eating later changes the “molecular pathways involved in adipogenesis, or how the body stores fat.”

“Previous research by us and others had shown that late eating is associated with increased obesity risk, increased body fat, and impaired weight loss success. We wanted to understand why,” Frank Scheer, senior author and professor of medicine in the medical chronobiology program, said.