Carbs After Dark
by: Alan Miller
We all know someone who is scared of carbs. Some people go to extreme lengths of cutting carbs completely out of their diet while others go to great lengths of making sure they don’t eat any carbs after 6 pm, know anyone? When I first got started into fitness I was like a sponge soaking up all the information I could. When to eat, what to eat, and exactly how much to eat. I read countless amounts of magazines from people constantly saying to cut carbs and if you do decide to eat them, then make sure you do not eat them before bed because it will only turn to fat. Needless to say, once I decided to research and find studies on this topic I realized I was only hurting myself.
The Purpose Of Carbs
So first off, what are carbs and where did this whole "carbs are the enemy and shouldn’t be consumed before before bed" come from? Our body gets its energy from two places; carbs and fats. Carbs are an energy source that we have so that we can function and make it throughout the day. If we are not getting our energy from a higher fat intake, then our body needs carbohydrates to run properly. Carbs come in two forms; simple and complex. Simple carbs are any sugars. They are the quickest source of energy and are rapidly digested throughout the body. Some examples of where you find simple carbohydrates are in food items such as Gatorade, bananas, and any other fruit. On the other end we have complex carbohydrates, which tend to be more fiber rich. Fiber rich carbs take longer for your body to break them down. Examples of complex carbs are sweet potatoes, oatmeal and brown rice.
Understanding Carbs and Sleep
Now that we know what carbs are, where did the idea of how you shouldn’t eat carbs before bed spring from? The thought process is that when you go to sleep your metabolism slows down, therefore, your body isn’t using any energy. According to this idea, Ingesting carbs while your body is not using any energy would mean that the carbohydrates would have a greater chance of getting stored as fat.
At first, it seems to make sense. During the day we are either at our work place and moving around, While sleeping only requires you to just lay there. A study by Katoyose et al. showed that energy expenditure decreases by 35% during your first half of sleep. So I know what you are thinking! Aha’ this theory is right; I shouldn’t be eating carbohydrates during the nighttime or before bed. Not so fast! These same researchers also found that during the latter half of sleep a person expenditure of energy increased significantly with REM sleep. So what is REM? REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement sleep. If one were to look it up in their Webster’s dictionary they would see that REM is a period of sleep in which dreaming takes place. During this time, one is expected to experience rapid periodic twitching movement of the eye muscles, increased respiration and heart rate and increased brain activity. This goes hand in hand with data research done by Zhang et al. which showed that obese individuals metabolic rates were higher than their resting metabolic rate, and in contrast lean individuals had sleeping metabolic rates higher than their resting metabolic rate. So, while you think your not burning calories during sleep, or your metabolism is slowing down, in reality unless you are obese or extremely overweight your metabolism does not slow down during sleep and it actually increases.
Consuming carbs at night also plays a huge role on hunger control. A study done by the journal of obesity examined this very same question on whether consuming carbs at night plays a role with hunger. These researchers from Israel put individuals on a calorically restricted diet for 6 months and split them into two groups, a controlled group and an experimental group. Each group consumed the same amount of calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat but they distributed and timed their carbohydrate intakes differently throughout the day. One group (controlled) ate carbs throughout the day, whereas the experimental group consumed the majority of their carbohydrate intake at night. The results speak for themselves and might put you in awe for what these researchers found. These researchers found that not only did the experimental group consuming the majority of their carbs at night lose significantly more weight and body fat than the controlled group, but they also felt like their hunger was under control.
Typical fitness protocols say you should eat 5-6 times a day and space your meals out every 2-3 hours to make sure you stay anabolic and don’t lose any muscle though right? WRONG! The whole meal timing of meals is another topic. These case studies have shown that besides not speeding up your metabolism, eating 5-6 meals a day does not satisfy your hunger and you will end up only craving more carbs because carbs release insulin to be driven throughout the body. Over eating of carbs will release insulin, which causes hunger spikes. So, in reality those little meals that you are having are not only unsatisfying, but they are also causing mini hunger spikes and are going to leave you only craving more and more carbs. By consuming fewer meals with higher amounts of carbs you are able to keep your blood glucose steady and feel more full.
So, in conclusion are you ready to kick out any “bro science” of how you should not be eating carbs at night or before bed? All research shows not only are the consumption of carbs great for the body but also consuming them at night or before bed are not a problem at all. Compared to the study of people consuming carbs only during the daytime, majority of people consuming carbs at night in these studies not only lost more body fat and more weight but they also felt that their food cravings were more satisfied. Although numbers and research does not lie, this does not mean save every single carb you have to eat and eat it before bed. What this means, is to eat carbs when you feel you need them whether it is right when you wake up or right before you go to bed.
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.