I’ll make the educated guess that most of you heard that eating carbs at night will make you pack on pounds of fat. In this article, I’ll show you why carbs are not the poison-dipped darts and why it’s okay to eat carbs at night
Well hey there! Thanks for stopping by.
My name’s Egis.
I’m an online fitness & weight loss coach with a mission to help as many people as I can drop body fat and achieve the body of their lives.
If this isn’t your first time here, then you should know that I HATE fad diets. I hate demonizing foods. I hate “black or white” thinking. I hate diets that paint all carbohydrates as evil & unfit for human consumption.
But I am a huge fan of MODERATION. And I am a huge fan of carbohydrates also.
The other day I stumbled upon the interview with one and only Borge Fagerli talking about the benefits of eating carbs at night.
Being the skeptical, curious George that I am, I set out to evaluate what the science has to say about it.
Eating Carbs At Night: Myth Debunked By Borge Fagerli
Image Source: steelfitusa
To acquaint those of you living under a rock, Borge Fagerli is one of the industry’s most innovative thinkers in terms of both training and nutrition.
His bold ideas are inspired by scientific findings. They aren’t taken just out of the blue. His ideas about macronutrient timing are particularly fascinating.
Borge is also a big fan of The Biorhythm Diet. It’s based on circadian rhythm – how both the light-dark cycle and food ingestion is part of the hormonal and metabolic regulation of the human body.
Here’s what he said in the interview held by Alan Aragon:
One of the popular myths in the fitness community as well as the mainstream media is that eating carbs (or any food, for that matter) later in the day will inhibit fat loss – or worse, store fat.
I don’t know where this thinking originated, but to me, it never made any logical or evolutionary sense.
We go to sleep and our bodies go into restoration and recuperation mode, having nutrients available shouldn’t automatically be put away into the fat cells of our love handles or hips.
In recent years the circadian rhythm studies appeared, and even if I still await more relevant studies using athletes or advanced lifters, putting together the puzzle from what is available I came up with the following:
– during the early part of the day, higher fat intake is preferentially stored as IMTG in muscle (fat stored within the muscle). When used for fuel, it “sets” the metabolism for fat burning, and increases metabolic flexibility – the ability to switch fuels according to demands. A higher fat intake later in the day is more easily stored in fat cells.
– carbs in the early part of the day has the opposite effect. It sets the metabolism for glucose oxidation at the expense of fat burning, whereas carbs later in the day – and post-workout in particular – is preferentially stored in muscle. It increases the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, improves recovery and provides a bump in the nocturnal leptin pulse.
When I introduced this into my diet setups, results with my clients improved dramatically.
Less hunger, better sleep, improved recovery, better fat loss and muscle growth, often concurrently (which is something we all want, right?) – and in my own experience with several contest diets, I used this concept to get into my best shape ever for a photoshoot.
Did this raise an eyebrow? I bet it did. In fact, you must have looked like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson while reading it.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that these claims by Borge seem like some quackery for most people.
So I set out to see if there is any science behind the benefits of eating carbs at night.
Eating Carbs At Night: What The Research Says
Eating carbs at night was a big Dikembe Mutombo’s no-no for weight loss.
We used to believe every gram of it will go straight to fat storage.
The short-sighted reasoning was that metabolism slows down as the day goes. Thus, eating carbs before sleep meant not using them for their main function – to fuel training, not sleep.
The science kept that “eating carbs at night = fat gain” idea burning too.
For instance, Baron et al found that eating protein and carbohydrates 4 hours before a bed was linked with a higher caloric intake (source).
So researchers made an Olympic-level leap to conclusions and said that eating before bed might predispose people to weight gain.
That’s a bold claim, to say the least. So people scoffed the idea that eating before bed has some sort of magically fattening power.
The two massive problems with that study were that it’s an observational, rather than controlled. Observational studies are good for creating hypothesis but they can’t find causations. Only correlations.
In other words, this particular study found that people who ate before bed ended up with higher calorie intake but they can’t prove that eating before bed is the cause. Which brings me to the second problem.
In Alan Aragon’s words, researchers did not take into account 24-hour fat oxidation.
In other words, if shifting carb intake to later in the day blunted fat oxidation at that time, then the converse happens earlier in the day (more daytime fat oxidation), which brings everything back to neutral by the end of the 24-hour period.
Since this study caused so much fuss but was designed poorly, more studies set to see what is what.
The first study by Keim et al compared the 6-week effects of eating 70% of the day’s calories in the morning versus the evening.
Unlike the previous study, this one was a controlled one and subjects lived in the research center. All the food was calculated and provided by the lab.
A mix of cardio and strength training was performed too.
The group consuming 70% of the day’s calories in the evening retained more lean mass and lost more fat. However, the difference in fat mass reduction between groups was very small.
The take away from this study is that shifting carbohydrates to the evening can result in better lean mass retention (source).
Image Source: nutrieats
The breakthrough study was done by Sofer et al in a 6-month (!!!) controlled trial.
Researchers looked into the effects of carbs eaten mostly at dinner versus spread throughout the day. This was the first study to ever compare the different placement of carbohydrates specifically.
So what did they find? Well, something quite interesting.
Weight loss was greater in the evening-carb group. The evening-carb group also had better improvements in glucose control, inflammation reduction, satiety ratings (source).
To top that, leptin decreased to a lesser degree in the evening-carb group. Why is that important? Well, leptin is the hormone that regulates energy balance, suppresses food intake, and thereby induces weight loss (source).
Another important finding is related to ghrelin. Ghrelin is the “evil” brother of leptin. When ghrelin rises, hunger increases.
In the evening-carb group, ghrelin was curbed throughout the day, and rose up towards the evening, whereas the control group’s ghrelin levels rose progressively during the day, and dropped off towards the evening.
Since the evening-carb group had all these carbs for a dinner it was favorably aligned with the day’s ghrelin-mediated hunger rise.
It’s worth mentioning that in this study dietary intake was self-reported. A well-designed strength training program was missing too. These are the main limitations of this study.
So Can You Eat Carbs At Night?
If you asked this low-carb, keto, Atkins diet zealot, he would tell you a big NO. This is expected since these people live in their imaginary world with fattening foods flying all around them.
I’m more of an “it depends” guy. I don’t think of anything in “black or white”.
There is evidence supporting the idea of lowering carbohydrate intake towards the end of the day if weight loss is the goal (even though many of the evidence are weak observational studies).
Contrary to that, we now have quite strong evidence showing that eating carbs at night seems to be a good idea. Especially if your goal is not only to lose weight but to preserve muscle mass too.
However, more compelling data is needed to draw conclusions.
Here is what I think:
At the end of the day, even if the research is totally misinterpreted or wrong, practical results are what matters.
I’ve been eating about 110 grams of carbs every evening for more than two years now. I never gained weight.
Borge Fagerli and most of his clients got to the best shapes of their lives shifting carbs towards the evening.
Just about any diet protocol has the research to back it up but this does not guarantee that it will fit everyone.
Adherence to the diet is what really matters!
That being said, if you feel like eating carbs at night is fine for you, if you feel having more flexibility eating that way, go for it. Shift carbs towards the end of the day.
If you conduct a simple word association game with just about anyone, “carbs at night” would immediately be linked to “fat gain”.
However, the evidence supporting quite the opposite is mounting and you shouldn’t ignore it.
That’s where my Fat Loss For Life Course comes in.
It’s my FREE 14-day weight loss course designed to teach you everything you need to start dropping fat and keeping it off for the rest of your life.