21 Nov Carbs After Dark: Breaking Down the Science
By Dan Preiato, BS, DTR, Contributing Blogger
We have all heard the myths that eating carbohydrates at night can cause weight gain. Realistically, the body’s metabolizes food in a much more complicated way than just factoring in the time of day . Weight loss or gain depends on a variety of factors, ranging from your level of physical activity to the amount and type of calories you eat.
What Happens When We Eat At Night?
The common logic behind the ‘no carbs after dark’ recommendation is that because you are eating and then sitting around, the calories you eat will not be burned off and will turn into fat. The general consensus is that your metabolism slows when you go to bed. While this holds true for a portion of the time you are sleeping, your metabolic rate actually increases when you enter REM sleep! (2,3)
Do these factors actually make a difference on body weight and composition in the long run? A 2014 study out of Israel answers just that question. This study took 78 police officers and had them eat a high carb diet at night or a normal diet for 6 months. Both diets consisted of about 1500 calories composed of 50 grams of fat, 187 grams of carbs and 75 grams of protein, the only difference was the night carb group ate most of their carbohydrates at night. They found greater weight loss and lower hunger in the carb heavy diet than the normal diet. This may suggest that carbs eaten at night may not have any detrimental effect on body composition.
What About Protein?
A 2015 review on the health impact of nighttime eating concluded that a small about 150 calorie, protein-rich snack appears to improve overnight muscle protein synthesis, morning metabolism and satiety.(1) This suggests that a protein-containing snack before bed may normalize metabolism in active individuals.
What does this mean for you?
- Determine your needs – Start by determining your personal calorie needs, there are a number of great calculators out there. Or, meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to figure out your calorie needs.
- Eat for your goals- Your nutrition goals will be different if you are sedentary and want to lose weight or if you are an elite athlete that needs to fuel for competition. Figure out your nutrition goals and eat accordingly.
- Be conscious of overall calorie consumption – If you ate large meals at breakfast and lunch, you may want to cut back on high calorie carbohydrates at dinner.
- Bedtime Snack – If you are hungry before bed but you ate a larger dinner meal, opt for something that is higher in protein to carb/fat ratio.
- Hold Yourself Accountable – Hold yourself accountable for the food choices you make on a regular basis and this will lead to a healthier YOU!
Healthy Before Bed Snack Examples
- Low-Fat Greek Yogurt
- ½ Cup of Cottage Cheese
- Whole grain cereal with milk
- Handful of almonds
- Low-Fat String Cheese
- Whole grain bread with peanut butter
- Hardboiled Egg
- Kinsey, Amber, and Michael Ormsbee. “The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives.” Nutrients4 (2015): 2648-662. Web.
- 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.
- Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Oct;19(10):2006-14.
- Biston P, Van Cauter E, Ofek G, Linkowski P, Polonsky KS, Degaute JP. Diurnal variations in cardiovascular function and glucose regulation in normotensive humans. Hypertension. 1996 Nov;28(5):863-71.
Daniel Preiato, BS, DTR is a recent graduate of New York University with a bachelors degree in Nutrition and Food Studies. He is currently completing a distance dietetic internship with Priority Nutrition Care. Daniel’s concentration is in sports dietetics and culinary nutrition but he also works with the general population. Check out his website to find out more!