Fact or Fiction – Avoid carbs at night?

Fact or Fiction – Avoid carbs at night?

How many times have you heard people say that you should not eat carbs in the evening. In fact there is a magical time called 6pm where these authorities say any carbs you ingest will literally turn to fat. I didn’t know that was possible but as it is magic I think we have to give it some creative freedom.

The argument made in support of this is that in the evening our bodies do not have much left to do apart from sleep and so we should not be providing them any carbohydrate to as they are not in a position to burn this off and so they will be stored as fat. This is factually incorrect as, except in rare cases, carbs cannot be stored as fat. Instead, the fats which are consumed in the presence of a high carb intake are more likely to be stored as fat when co-ingested with carbs. Semantic quibbles aside is there any truth to this proposition, which, assuming you do not engage in a long session of bedroom aerobics appears to make logical sense as a reason to avoid excessive carbohydrate and calorie consumption at night?

Research Review

There have been a few studies which we can discuss to explore this topic further.

1. Softer et.al (2011)

Methods: This study randomly assigned 78 police officers to an experimental group who eat most of their carbs in the evening and a control group who ate as normal. The diet ran for 6 months with blood samples and hunger scores were taken on day 0, 7, 90, and 180 at 4hr intervals from 0800 to 2000 on those days.

Results: The group eating most of their carbohydrates in the evening had greater weight loss and larger reductions in abdominal circumference and bodyfat readings. In addition, hunger scores were lower for this group and a range of endocrine factors such as fasting glucose and insulin concentrations were more positively affected by eating carbs in the evening. Notably, leptin levels declined less in the experimental group eating carbs mostly at dinner.

Conclusion: The authors concluded that this simple intervention of carbohydrate distribution had benefits not just for obesity management but also health.

2. Keim et.al (1997)

Methods: This study measured whether meal ingestions patterns (a large morning vs a large evening meal) affects changes in body composition or energy utilisation during weight loss. Ten women completed a 12 week weight loss regime with a moderately restricted diet and regular exercise. The weight loss phase was split into two phases. The first six weeks 70% of energy intake was consumed in the morning (AM) for four women and the other six eat 70% in the evening (PM) and after six weeks the subjects crossed over to the alternate meal times.

Results: Weight loss and lean body mass were greater when on a morning pattern. Obviously, as bodybuilders we would want to avoid the latter. Those eating most calories during the evening experienced greater fat loss during the first six weeks but not the second. The PM group had greater fat oxidation rates in the first six weeks but not the second period.

Conclusion: The authors concluded that larger AM meals led to greater weight loss but that larger PM meals led to better retention of muscle mass.

Other research by Sensi et.al (1) showed that greater fat oxidation occurred in a group having most of their calories in the evening rather than morning while research on Muslims observing Ramadan (2) also backs up the theory that having more calories in the evening can be beneficial for fat loss.

Evolutionary Evidence

Turning away from the studies it is unlikely that thousands of years ago our ancestors woke up and made themselves a broth of mammoth soup washed down with tiger milk. Rather, prehistoric man would have woken and grazed or hunted for food so from an evolutionary perspective providing our bodies with a load of carbs first thing in the morning does not make much sense. If you ever suffer from fatigue or sleepiness after a large carb laden breakfast then this may be a clue that it is not exactly ideal for you whereas inducing the same sense of drowsiness at night makes a lot more sense and can help lead to a better sleep as well as avoid the kind of nigh time cravings that many people experience when they try to avoid carbs in the evening.

Conclusion

Despite what many a celebrity, uninformed guru or gym rat may tell you there is no evidence to support the notion that eating carbohydrates at nights will jeopardise your ability to hit your physique goals. If anything, by consuming more of your carbohydrates at night rather than during the day you may well experience improved results based on the research in this area to date.

References

1. Sensi S, Capani F (1987) – Chronobiological aspects of weight loss in obesity: effects of different meal timing patterns

2. Al-Hourani HM, Atoum MF (2007) – Body composition, nutrient intake and physical activity patterns in young women during Ramadan

© 2012, Reggie Johal. All rights reserved.