Eating Carbohydrates at night – Is it really the devil it’s painted to be?
This is easily one of the most controversial and heavily debated topics in regards to weight loss. For many years, and even while I myself was losing weight I whole heartedly believed this to be true. "Don't eat cabohydrates at night and you'll lose weight". It kind of reminds me of that old wives tale "If you eat the crusts off bread your hair will turn curly" - Hahaha!! (I do have ridiculously curly hair but not because I eat the crusts off bread.) I am going to give you all the facts to help guide you through this myth; it's not just going to be my opinion. So that you can then make up your mind for yourself as to how to distribute your carbs throughout the day.
In order to demonstrate how and why I believed the above to be true, let me first tell you what the old Victoria would have eaten for a typical day. I would have had either 2 pieces of toast or sugary cereal with full cream milk for breakfast followed by a sandwich for lunch. I generally then would have had another piece or 2 of toast for afternoon tea (so bread count for the day potentially up to 6 pieces) before devouring a bowl full of pasta or stir fry laden with rice, which I now realise, would have been equivalent to appropximately 3 serves for either of those. So when I started losing weight I changed the cereal I was having for breakfast to a non-sugary one, swapped the sandwich at lunch for a salad, afternoon snack for some fruit and dinner for a stir fry without rice. So you can see how drastically my carbohydrate intake was reduced. It's now that I realise that it is exactly just that - that I had reduced my carbohydrate/ calorie intake and portion sizes IN TOTAL, not just at night, that I lost weight.
And looking at that I can see how I, like most people think, eating less carbs at night helps you to lose weight. There are some very compelling and convincing arguements for it. Each of them I am going to detail below and then show studies that have shown otherwise.
1. At night you're just going to sleep so you metabolism is going to slow down - At first this one looks to be quite true, there is evidence to support this. There is a study by Katayose et Al(1) which shows that energy exenditure does decrease during the first half of sleep by approximately 35%. Fear not, the carbohydrate at night war is not all lost!! This study then goes on to show that energy expenditure significantly increases during the later stages with REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep or deep sleep as we like to know it. This is also supported by a study by Zhang et Al(2) that showed that individuals that exercise and are lean had a Sleeping Metabolic Rate (SMR) significantly greater than their Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). And it's at this point that you're doing a double take and re-reading that. So I'll let you do that and let it sink in before I say, yes, you read that correctly. Burning more fat sleeping than while awake!!! Yes PLEASE!!! - If that isn't another compelling arguement to exercise and do weight training than I don't know what is!?
2. Any Carbohydrates you eat after 6pm are just going to turn into fat - There is a myth that any carbs you eat after a certain point are going to just turn into fat. Eating carbohydrates stimulates a hormone called insulin, which helps to reduce blood sugar levels by storing glucose (as glycogen) in our muscles and liver to be used as energy later on. While we are exercising, less insulin is released as your body is making glucose readily available for your muscles to help you sustain the exercise. So if you are exercising at night, you need those carbohydrates to help fuel your workout. Not only this, while we sleep, our body is relying on our glycogen stores and energy reserves to keep fueling our brain.
Now hold on before you think wooo hooo and dive head first into that bowl of pasta for dinner tonight. It's about eating the right type of carbohydrates that are going to give your body the nutrients it needs to function properly and at it's best. Complex carbs - the ones that keep your blood sugar level stable and keep you feeling full for longer. These include sweet potato, pumpkin, wholegrain pasta, rice, bread and grains. They don't include simple carbs which are those things that we love to eat but aren't good for us - the white varieties of all of the above, also biscuits, cakes, sweets and pastries.
So there you have it, all the hard facts and proof.
The main things to take away from this is that you need too..
A. Make sure that your daily diet meets your energy requirements and our lifestyle. If you exercise at night, make sure you are eating carbs at night to help assist you and get the maximum benefits from your training. If you prefer to have a lighter dinner, make sure you are making up for it by having complex carbs throughout the day.
B. Understand that it is a reduction in your TOTAL carbohydrates and calorie consumption that aids weight loss. So its doesn't matter whether you decide to eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
C. Know your body and how it functions best and adapt your eating to suit your lifestyle. If you are a shift worker and work all night so are sleeping during the day, you are going to need Carbs at night to keep you awake and going. So ultimately your nutrition has to work to suit your lifestyle, not the other way around.
D. Make sure you are eating the right type of carbohydrates to give you the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that your body needs and to help ensure that you don't have a sugar rush and are ravenous an hour later.
E. Know your portion sizes and what a typical portion looks like so that you don't subconsciously overeat.
1. Katayose Y, Tasaki M, Ogata H, Nakata Y, Tokuyama K, Satoh M. Metabolic rate and fuel utilisation during sleep assessed by whole body indirect calorimetry. Metabolism. 2009 Jul:58(7);920-6
2. 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 Journal of obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders. 2002 Mar;26(3);376-83