Last week's column encouraged you to question your strongest health and fitness beliefs as a way to establish or reestablish the truth as it applies to the function and feelings of your body. This was suggested because too many people mistakenly see truth as fixed and immutable instead of organic and relative.

Consider consuming calories later in the day, for example. Although I've found an occasional study showing when you consume your calories doesn't really matter, the majority find that for weight loss or weight maintenance, the earlier in the day that you consume the majority of your calories, the better.

A number of those famous Hollywood trainers of the star, in fact, preach not to eat anything after supper.

Yet for nearly my entire adult life, I've consumed about half of my calories after that time.

Why I started doing that is a story for some other time, but the fact is my body fat percentage only dropped into the single digits once I started eating that way.

While my habit clearly flies in the face of established studies, that's not to say most studies aren't valuable. But, like so many other facets of life, optimal health and fitness requires striking a balance.

The art to reading health and fitness studies is to consider your situation and body type along with the findings presented and create experiments with the goal of making you better.

With that in mind, here are some studies that contain the sort of information that just might lead to that.

Eating later in the day hinders weight loss

In Spain, about 40 percent of all calories are consumed at what we call lunchthough lunch in Spain falls later in the day. In a study of 420 overweight Spaniards looking to lose weight, researchers from the University of Murcia found that the timing of this middle meal affected their success.

The approximate half who ate lunch "early" (before 3 p.m.) lost significantly more weight than the half who ate lunch later. (Lunch at 4 or 5 isn't strange when supper might be served at 9 or 10.)

Those labeled "late" lunch eaters not only lost weight at a slower rate, but they also had a lower rate of insulin sensitivity, meaning they're more likely to store fat when they increase caloric consumption and eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

Oddly, however, the change in lunch times didn't significantly influence the subjects' amount of energy burned, calories consumed, or amount of sleep, all factors linked to weight loss. What researchers found was that the "early" lunch eaters were more likely to consume high-energy breakfasts and less likely to skip that meal.

To apply this information to your situation, you need to keep a few other facts in mind. Spaniards tend to eat the vast majority of their calories during mealtimes. Americans eat 25 percent of their calories outside the three main meals as snacks.

Furthermore, no mention of exercise and specifically when exercise was performed accompanied the study.

It's been my experience that intense early-morning exercise permits you to consume a higher percentage of calories later in the day without weight gain. Similarly, after-work exercise may force you to consume most of you calories a well before that time.

Protein consumption

may become more

important as you age

For years, bodybuilders have butted heads with mainstream medicine on the issue of protein consumption. To build muscle in the amount needed for competition, bodybuilders usually consume amounts of protein that many middle of the road medicos claim to be dangerous.

What a study conducted by the Exercise Metabolism Research Group at McMaster University in Canada has found, however, is that consuming more protein than typically suggested counteracts the muscle loss associated with aging.

In the study published in the February issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, doubling the suggested amount of beef consumed at a meal an increase from 3 to 6 ounces improved protein synthesis in middle-aged men after exercise.

Protein synthesis is needed to repair and rebuild muscle. When it doesn't occur after intense exercise, the effort actually causes a loss of muscle.

Moreover, the researchers believe that the 6-ounce serving of beef doesn't necessarily produce maximum protein synthesis, only that it creates more than a 3-ounce serving.

What I believe further research will reveal is that the amount of protein required in meals after exercise will be determined by the length and intensity of the exercise. In endurance activities, for instance, protein is often used as an energy source later in the endeavor and accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the calories consumed at that time.

That's why hardcore runners and megamileage bicyclists are often gaunt looking. Those activities break down muscle for energy.

While carrying less muscle generally helps both endeavors, too much catabolization of muscle eventually hampers performance and leads to sickness and injury.