Carbohydrates seem to be under attack recently as the cause for our obesity epidemic. Not only do “fitness experts” claim that you have to reduce your carbohydrate intake but you should eliminate them completely before bed.
It’s almost guaranteed that you’ve come across the idea that eating carbohydrates before bed is detrimental to your fat loss goals. Say goodbye to that bowl of ice cream or cereal before bed if you have any hopes of losing fat.
But Wait…. Do you really have to cut out carbs before bed or is this just a fallacy?
Ideas in the health and fitness industry often arise because they make sense logically. They have have been passed down from generation to generation like an old wives’ tale. Their validity and truth aren’t questioned. They become accepted as facts when in reality, they are nothing more than bro-science. They make sense on the surface, but they fail to hold up when they are put to the test under controlled scientific studies.
Where did this idea come from?
Before we look at the evidence, we need to understand where the recommendation to stop eating carbohydrates at night stems from. So-called “fitness experts” believe that a high carbohydrate diet at night before going to sleep sets you up for fat gain.
It is assumed that your metabolism slows down at night during sleep. It makes sense. You aren’t as active during sleep as you are during the day and your energy requirements at night should be less. A large carbohydrate meal before bed would be broken down into sugar which would end up unused. This unused sugar would then be stored as fat.
Does the logical explanation of why carbohydrates at night are bad for you have any merit? Do you have to part ways with your ice cream or cereal at night if you want to reach your weight loss and fat loss goals?
What does the Research say?
First off, a number of studies have found that the metabolic rate at night does not differ much from the metabolic rate during the day. This provides hope that you and your bedtime carbs may be reunited again but still leaves our initial question unanswered.
The studies available that look directly at carbohydrate intake at night vs. during the day and their effect on weight are scarce.
There is one study, however, that provides some very good insights.
The researchers took 78 police officers and split them into two groups. Both groups consumed the same amount of carbohydrates, fat, and protein but one of the groups ate 80% of their carbohydrates at night.
The results may surprise you. The group consuming 80% of their carbohydrates at night actually lost more weight and body fat compared to the group that spread them out throughout the day.
It appears that eating carbohydrates at night may not be that detrimental to your weight loss efforts after all.
Now, one study is not enough to prove anything but when you put it into context with the following studies, it can be very helpful in answering our question.
One of these studies took individuals and put them on a 6 meal per day or 3 meal per day eating plan. Both groups consumed the same number of calories. There was no difference in weight loss between the groups when calorie intake remained the same.
Instead of comparing meal frequencies of caloric intake spread throughout the day, this study looked at the effect on weight by eating the majority of calories in the morning or at night. As long as calories were equal between groups there was no difference in weight loss or gain.
Another study combined the two studies from above. They compared three different groups. One spread their calories across 5 meals (we know the number of meals doesn’t matter), another ate the majority of their calories in the morning, and the third ate the majority of the calories at night. Calorie intake was the same among the three groups. Surprise, there was no difference in weight loss or body composition between the three groups.
A review of all the pertinent studies came to the same conclusion. There is no difference in weight loss between individuals who nibble throughout the day or gorge and eat everything in one or two meals as long as calories are equal.
It appears that as long as calories remain the same, when you eat your food does not matter, carbohydrates included.
The U.S. Deparment of Agriculture’s website summarizes it perfectly
“It does not matter what time of day you eat. It is how much you eat during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain weight.”
The evidence and research provide us with a pretty clear picture. Eating carbohydrates at night before bed will not cause weight gain as long as calories are controlled.
The problem occurs when you have already eaten all of your calories earlier in the day and then you eat more calories at night.
For example, you are allowed 2000 calories per day to maintain your weight. Let’s say you only eat 1000 calories all day. This leaves you 1000 calories at night and still keeps you within your allotted 2000 calories for the day.
The problem occurs when you have eaten 1800 calories throughout the day and then at 8pm, you consume another 700 calories in cereal and ice cream. You have now consumed a total of 2500 calories for the day. Those extra 500 calories cause weight gain, not the fact that you ate them before bed.
- Weight loss and weight gain are dependent on your total daily calorie intake
- The timing of when you eat does not directly result in weight gain
- Eating at night, carbohydrates included, will not cause weight gain as long as calories are controlled
Eating patterns and styles should be a personal preference. Eating more in the morning may help help you prevent overeating later in the day. This may make it easier for you to control your calorie intake.
On the other hand, you may be like me and enjoy eating large meals and the majority of your food at night. As long as you eat less during the day, you will have enough calories left over to eat night.
If you like to graze on small meals frequently instead of eating larger meals, then go for it as long as you keep your calories in check.
Calories are like garbage and our bodies like a garbage can. Whether you fill it up in the morning, throughout the day, or at night does not matter. The Trash can is able to hold the same amount of garbage no matter how and when it is filled up. As long as you don’t overfill the garbage can with trash, it won’t spill over creating a mess.
In the end, it all boils down to calories. whether you have carbs at night, all day long, or cu them out of your diet completely does not matter. What matters is your calorie intake, not when you eat them.
Enjoy that ice cream or bowl of cereal before bed as long as you have the room for it.
I know I am going to continue eating my pancakes and bowl of cheerios every night before bed because IT WORKS FOR ME and apparently it works for The Rock as well. You do what works for you.
When your total calorie intake is controlled, weight gain will not occur directly as a result of eating carbohydrates or any other types of food at night.