Eating later in the day will make you hungrier, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital found that participants who ate meals later in the day were hungrier, burned calories slower, and stored more fat, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell Metabolism.
"In this study, we asked, 'Does the time that we eat matter when everything else is kept consistent?' " author Nina Vujovic, a researcher in the hospital's division of sleep and circadian disorders, wrote on the hospital's website. "And we found that eating four hours later makes a significant difference for our hunger levels, the way we burn calories after we eat, and the way we store fat."
During the study, 16 overweight patients ate meals earlier in the day (8 a.m., 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and others ate meals at the same intervals but four hours later. Samples of blood and body fat tissue were taken, as well as levels of body temperature and energy expenditures. All participants were in good health and did not have a history of diabetes or shift work.
They also logged their hunger and appetite, and researchers found that the participants who ate later reported double the hunger, burned 60 fewer calories and had lower levels of the hormone leptin, which decreases appetite.
"This study shows the impact of late versus early eating. Here, we isolated these effects by controlling for confounding variables like caloric intake, physical activity, sleep, and light exposure, but in real life, many of these factors may themselves be influenced by meal timing," senior author Frank Scheer said, per USA Today. "In larger scale studies, where tight control of all these factors is not feasible, we must at least consider how other behavioral and environmental variables alter these biological pathways underlying obesity risk."
Those who ate later in the day also reported a desire to eat meat, starchy and salty foods, and sometimes dairy foods and vegetables. Levels of the hormone ghrelin had risen in that group, signifying that their appetites had spiked. Body fat tests also showed changes in genes that would impact the burning and storing of fat.
An additional second study conducted with a group of firefighters, found that eating meals within a 10-hour window can reduce "bad cholesterol" particles, and improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
In that study, 137 firefighters in San Diego followed a Mediterranean diet, with 70 of them eating within a 10-hour window. The rest ate over a 13-hour time period. After logging meals and wearing devices for blood sugar-level tracking, the firefighters who ate within 10 hours had decreased blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
Professor Courtney Peterson of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told NBC News that the studies help suggest that there may be an ideal time to eat your meals.
"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," Peterson said