Circadian Rhythms in Resting Metabolic Rate Account for Apparent Daily Rhythms in the Thermic Effect of Food

Leonie Ruddick-Collins* (Corresponding Author), Alan Flanagan, Jonathan D. Johnston, Peter Morgan, Alexandra Johnstone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Daily variation in the thermic effect of food (TEF) is commonly reported and proposed as a contributing factor to weight gain with late eating. However, underlying circadian variability in resting metabolic rate (RMR) is an overlooked factor when calculating TEF associated with eating at different times of the day.

This work aimed to determine whether methodological approaches to calculating TEF contribute to the reported phenomena of daily variation in TEF.

Fourteen overweight to obese but otherwise healthy individuals had their resting and postprandial energy expenditure (EE) measured over 15.5 hours at a clinical research unit. TEF was calculated for breakfast, lunch, and dinner using standard methods (above a baseline and premeal RMR measure) and compared to a method incorporating a circadian RMR by which RMR was derived from a sinusoid curve model and TEF was calculated over and above the continuously changing RMR. Main outcome measures were TEF at breakfast, lunch, and dinner calculated by different methods.

Standard methods of calculating TEF above a premeal measured RMR showed that morning TEF (60.8 kcal ± 5.6) (mean ± SEM) was 1.6 times greater than TEF at lunch (36.3 kcal ± 8.4) and 2.4 times greater than dinner TEF (25.2 kcal ± 9.6) (P = .022). However, adjusting for modeled circadian RMR nullified any differences between breakfast (54.1 kcal ± 30.8), lunch (49.5 kcal ± 29.4), and dinner (49.1 kcal ± 25.7) (P = .680).

Differences in TEF between morning and evening can be explained by the underlying circadian resting EE, which is independent of an acute effect of eating.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) e708–e715
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
Issue number2
Early online date2 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • chrononutrition
  • diet-induced thermogenesis
  • diurnal
  • breakfast
  • energy balance
  • energy expenditure


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