Written by: Kate Gorman
We all probably know this ancient proverb: “Eat… Breakfast like a King, Lunch like a Prince, Dine like a Pauper”. But how much truth is there really in this saying? You know what? The only reasonable bit of information you might like to take from it (unless you follow Intermittent Fasting) is the reminder that you should never skip breakfast but instead start your day off with a well-balanced breakfast to kick start your metabolism after a period of fasting during the night. Other than that, this saying in my opinion is a complete load of bollocks and should be added to the same pile of nonsense as the “No Carbs at Night” theory and the idea that “you should eat 6-8 meals a day”. This ‘broscience’ as it has been coined is everywhere you turn. It’s unfortunately still popping up in the occasional health magazine and through no fault of your own, because your old shitty PT got her hands on you whilst you were desperate and vulnerable for answers, you still aren’t quite willing to let go of the belief that the berries from the “suck-a-tin” tree only found in the deepest darkest corners of the Amazon rainforest (that were advertised on Facebook) are the only way you are going to keep those love handles at bay.
Sure some theories had backing from research a few years back but newer more modern thoughts and theories tend to dispel most of these ideas and no longer having much standing. (By the way those berries in the Amazon… the only had backing they had was from a little man called Mabel Abel who promised to love you long time if you transferred $10,0000 into his bank account!!)
Anyway, I digress…
My blog today looks at the idea or myth that you should NOT eat carbs at night!
Originally the idea behind not eating Carbohydrates at night was based on the argument that when you go to sleep your metabolism naturally slows down and therefore any carbohydrates that have not been burned during the day are more likely to be stored as fat. (If you’re going to fall asleep whilst reading the sciencey stuff, you can skip ahead to the bullet points at the end!)
Research from Katoyose et al. showed that there are rises and falls in sleeping metabolic rate depending on the state of sleep you are in, but it does not appear that the average overall energy expenditure during sleep is any different than resting metabolic rate during the day. Additionally, it appears that exercise increases sleeping metabolic rate significantly, leading to greater fat oxidation during sleep. This seems to be in line with data from Zhang et al. which demonstrated that obese individuals had sleeping metabolic rates lower than their resting metabolic rates, whereas lean individuals had sleeping metabolic rates significantly greater than their resting metabolic rate.
So unless you are obese, not only does your metabolism not slow down during sleep, it actually increases!
There was also other research that argued insulin levels stay elevated after an evening meal. Compared to morning meals, levels of blood glucose and blood insulin definitely remains elevated longer with evening meals. However, as Layne Norton points out:
“Though insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance appear to be worse at night compared to a morning meal, it is important to keep in mind that a morning meal is after an overnight fast and the fast may improve insulin sensitivity. Perhaps a more fair comparison is a mid-day meal vs. a night time meal. In this case there is actually no difference in insulin sensitivity or glucose tolerance. Therefore, it appears that insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance are not necessarily impaired at night, but rather are merely enhanced by an overnight fast. “
From my own personal experience, I fully agree with the above belief that having carbohydrates at night has no bearing on fat loss or gains. Throughout my comp prep I ate plenty of carbs at night; rice, sweet potato, oats, chocolate and ice cream. In fact whilst, I’ve written this blog I’ve just eaten 2 Skinny Cow Ice creams, sweet potato, rice and I’m shortly about to have some frozen raspberries and chocolate sauce… it’s gone 6pm and currently I’m in carb heaven!
Time, remember, is a manmade concept and the clock simply a device invented by human beings to help us stay organised! It wasn’t created around the thought that our body somehow suddenly knows its 6pm, time to start storing carbohydrates as body fat!’
So in summary, these are the things to remember when it comes to nutrition and carbohydrates at night:
- Meal Timing is far less important than your overall calorific intake over the period of a day.
- Provided you are not over eating by having more carbohydrates at night and your calorie intake does not leave you in a surplus, you will not store any extra body fat. If you do not track your food, you may be overeating. (An easy way to monitor this is by logging your food and following a macro based diet.)
- If the majority of your training is at night, you need to eat your carbs around your training; both for energy pre-training and for recovery and growth post-training.
- Your metabolism keeps working overnight and unless you are obese it may actually be increased.
EATING CARBOHYDRATES AT NIGHT WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT NOR WILL IT IMPEDE YOUR ABILITY TO GET LEAN!
- Katayose Y, Tasaki M, Ogata H, Nakata Y, Tokuyama K, Satoh M. Metabolic rate and fuel utilization during sleep assessed by whole-body indirect calorimetry. Metabolism. 2009 Jul;58(7):920-6.
- Zhang K, Sun M, Werner P, Kovera AJ, Albu J, Pi-Sunyer FX, Boozer CN. Sleeping metabolic rate in relation to body mass index and body composition. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2002 Mar;26(3):376-83.
- Norton L, Bodybuilding.com. Fat Loss Killer or Imaginary Boogey Man. 2017, Feb;27