Experimental research suggests that food timing is associated with weight regulation. However, the association between the distribution of energy intake (EI) throughout the day and weight gain in the population is uncertain. A cohort of 4243 individuals (49·9 % men, 50·1 % women) aged ≥18 years was selected in 2008–2010 and followed-up through 2012. At baseline, food consumption for a typical week in the previous year was collected with a validated dietary history, and EI was assessed at six eating occasions: breakfast, mid-morning meal, lunch, mid-afternoon meal, dinner and snacking (at any other moment). Individuals were classified into sex-specific quartiles of %EI for each eating occasion. The cut-off points for increasing quartiles of %EI at lunch were 34·4, 40·8 and 47·7 % in men and 33·2, 39·4 and 46·1 % in women. Weight was self-reported at baseline and at the end of follow-up. During a 3·5-year follow-up, 16·3 % of study participants gained >3 kg. Compared with those in the lowest quartile of %EI at lunch, the multivariate OR of gaining >3 kg was 0·79 (95 % CI 0·63, 0·99) in the second quartile, 0·82 (95 % CI 0·64, 1·04) in the third quartile and 0·62 (95 % CI 0·47, 0·80) in the highest quartile (P
trend: 0·001). The association was stronger among women and those with overweight or obesity. No association was found between the %EI at the rest of the eating occasions and weight gain. In conclusion, a higher %EI at lunch was associated with a lower risk of weight gain; this may help weight control through the appropriate distribution of daily EI.