Do Carbs at Night Make You Fat?

Convincing enough…

This question has surely crossed your mind at one point or another. Likely, you’ve heard at least one time that carbs at night do indeed make you fat. But does this statement have any scientific credence to it? Is it true that the reason you can’t lose weight is because you like to eat late at night? Let’s try to analyze and answer these questions with science and bad humor.

Where does this seemingly universally accepted statement come from anyway?

   I have no idea. I think most people who cling to this statement have just heard this phrase their whole life so they just stick to it. Those who defend this notion, that eating carbs at night make you fat, will usually point out that since you are about to go to sleep, your metabolism will slow down and all those carbs will be automatically converted to fat. Conversely, they’ll likely argue that if all your carbs are eaten early in the day, you will have the opportunity to magically burn those carbohydrates in your super active daytime lifestyle (that was sarcastic, most of our jobs are probably mostly sedentary, i.e. desk jobs).

So what REALLY happens to our metabolism when we sleep?

   It seems logical to think that while our body’s are still, they’re metabolically inactive. At the very least, our body’s metabolism must be significantly less than it is during the day, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Research done on resting basal metabolic rate compared to sleeping metabolic rate has shown some interesting results. Here are three findings relevant to our discussion:

  1. Averages done on the resting metabolic rate (RMR) and sleeping metabolic rate (SMR) proved to be SIMILAR and NOT SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT. [5,7]
  2. Sleeping metabolic rate was directly correlated with body mass index. Obese individuals had a SMR LOWER than their RMR. Non-obese individuals had a SMR HIGHER than their RMR. So if you’re not obese, you’re actually burning more calorie while sleeping than you are playing Playstation. [7]
  3. Exercise INCREASES sleeping metabolic rate significantly, which leads to greater fat oxidation (breaking down fat for energy). [3]

So, it doesn’t really seem like our bodies are metabolically inactive during sleep after all. In fact, we might even be burning more calories during sleep than we are at rest during the day.

What about the idea of using morning carbs for energy?

   I touched on this idea in my post on intermittent fasting, but let’s take another look. Having carbohydrates in the morning for energy is more subjective than we are lead to believe. Many people, including myself, are big supporters of the idea that being in a fasted state in the morning does not equal a decrease in performance. Speaking from personal experience, I have attended class, studied, and performed my day to day activities just fine in a fasted state (note: I would consume black coffee on those days). With that said, there are certain occasions in which I did notice a decrease in performance without my morning carbohydrates for fuel: examinations and weight lifting. I wouldn’t recommend anyone about to embark on a tough examination to go in on an empty stomach. It makes sense too, during an examination we need to think more critically than usual and need mental endurance to brace ourselves to complete the examination without collapsing. Several studies have shown the benefits of having breakfast on school performance as well (granted, they’re usually performed on children and adolescents) [2]. The ingestion of carbohydrates for athletic performance is a lot more physiologically obvious and heavily supported by evidence [8].

So do carbs at night make me fat or not?

   The reason you may be having a hard time losing weight is REALLY unlikely due to you eating carbs at night. A randomized controlled study taken place over 6 months was done to give a good answer to this question. This study put one group of police officers in an experimental group of subjects having majority of their carbohydrates (approximately 80%) at night and the control group having majority of their carbohydrates throughout the day. Both groups consumed the same amount of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, and fat each day. After 6 months, the experimental group (who consumed their carbs at night) lost significantly more weight and body fat then the control group [6]. So yeah, feel free to reference that study to the next person about to choke you out for grabbing a slice of toast at 10pm.

2-Chainz…I mean terrible music…I mean 2 random thoughts…

  • I’m not here to say that eating carbohydrates at night is an amazing idea, it’s just not a terrible one. In fact, eating RIGHT before going to sleep is probably not a great idea and will probably leave you feeling bloated in the morning. Give your food some time to digest before hitting the sack (while typing those last three words, I just realized what an awkward phrase that is to reference going to sleep. Seriously, who thought of that?).
  • Carbs at night may improve sleep. Again, not too late, but this study looked at carbohydrates consumed 4 hours before sleep and showed improvement in sleep. [1]
  • Sorry for the late post.
  • That’s 3 random thoughts, bro. You’re ability to count in sequential numerical order is as good as 2-chainz’ ability to make music.

Conclusion

   If you will notice, my conclusions are usually pretty similar. Super restrictive rules that are spread around by society and taken as facts, are usually far from factual. In an all too familiar pattern, the big picture, which is the most important aspect to weight loss, is skipped over. Are you taking in more calories than you are consuming? Are you balancing out your macronutrients in such a fashion to optimize weight loss? The best take away you could take from this article is to go back to putting the focus on the TOTAL quantity/quality of calories consumed in a day. Don’t put the blame on your lack or weight loss on having to eating dinner later than your friends are. Instead, focus on exercising more, eating less, eating higher quality/nutrient dense foods, and indulging on the occasional slice of chocolate cake to maintain your sanity.

References:

  1. Afaghi A, O’connor H, Chow CM. High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(2):426-30.
  2. Hodgkin, G. Nutrition and Academic Achievement: Are They Related? An International Journal of Faith, Thought, and Action. http://dialogue.adventist.org/articles/20_1_hodgkin_e.htm. Accessed February 16, 2015.
  3. Mischler I, Vermorel M, Montaurier C, Mounier R, Pialoux V, Pequignot JM, Cottet-Emard JM, Coudert J, Fellmann N. Prolonged daytime exercise repeated over 4 days increases sleeping heart rate and metabolic rate. Can J Appl Physiol. 2003 Aug;28(4):616-29
  4. Norton, L. “Carbs at Night: Fat Loss Killer or Invisible Boogey Man?” Available at: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/carbs-at-night-fat-loss-killer-or-imaginary-boogeyman.html. Accessed February 16, 2015.
  5. Seale JL, Conway JM. Relationship between overnight energy expenditure and BMR measured in a room-sized calorimeter. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1999 Feb;53(2):107-11.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/w8079e/w8079e0n.htm. Accessed February 16, 2015.

Intermittent Fasting: A Helpful Way to Finally Eat Less

There’s no wrong time of the day to eat pancakes

So you’ve been reading the latest FNDfitness blog posts. Following his page on Facebook. Watching his weird faces when he’s singing on youtube. You are really starting to understand that the key to losing weight is not just eating “healthy” but eating less. You’ve been eating a more moderately sized breakfast, decent sized lunch, snacking on Doritos less, but you still can’t lose weight. Even more frustrating is that you know what the problem is, dinner. Everyday you come home at 10pm from school and mom has a giant, delicious, calorie filled meal ready for you. As we all know, mom’s cooking beats self control every time.

This was my personal example of how I was struggling to eat less. Yours may not be exactly the same predicament but, none the less, you face the same problem…you love food too much and just can’t eat less! Well, the solution to my problem was implementing intermittent fasting into my life. Let’s learn more about this nutritional strategy (not diet) and see if it can help you!


 

WHAT IT IS…
-An adjustment to the traditional pattern of eating. Most of us in the world are used to the traditional breakfast at 8am, lunch at 1pm, dinner at 6pm schedule. Intermittent fasting has you eating all of your meals in an 8 hour window and be in a fasted state for 16. For example, you will have your first meal of the day at 1pm and final meal before 9pm. Noncaloric beverages, like water, or those with negligible calories, like black coffee, are permitted throughout the whole day.
*NOTE: There are different variants of intermittent fasting (ex. 24 hour fasts every 3 days). This post is going to talk about the 8 hour feeding/16 hour fasting style.*

HOW IT HELPS…
-There are several mechanisms of which intermittent fasting has claims of aiding in fat loss. The two most common are greater insulin sensitivity and an increased releasing of fat burning hormones. Insulin sensitivity is a good thing; it means your insulin cells are working efficiently to remove glucose from the blood stream and put it to good use. The opposite of being insulin sensitive is insulin resistant (for example, people who are type 2 diabetic are insulin resistant). The increased release of fat burning hormones (which are growth hormones) assist in muscle building and fat burning…kind of self explanatory on how that would be beneficial for fat loss [4]. Besides these two factors, intermittent fasting leads you to eat LESS. Now that you know that you have a smaller window in the day to eat your calories, the idea is that you end up eating less for the whole day.

SKIP BREAKFAST? LOL OK FNDFITNESS, I’LL CHOOSE PANCAKES INSTEAD…
-Here we tackle potentially the biggest hurdle for people to try intermittent fasting, skipping breakfast. You’ve basically heard your whole life that skipping breakfast is one step away from committing a crime. Well, as we learned from my last post, breakfast does not magically “kick start” your metabolism; they proved this in a study as well [1]. What about the claims that insulin sensitivity is the highest during the morning (physiologically this is actually true, by the way)? Also, don’t I need to use all of the energy from my breakfast for fuel throughout the day? Unfortunately, for the breakfast fan club, these ideas, which sound nice on the surface, when put to the tests did not give any definite superiority to having breakfast. A study here experimented with two groups: breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers. The result was no significant difference in weight loss [2].

-I’m not saying breakfast is the enemy, I love waffles in the morning more than anyone (actually, I could probably eat waffles anytime) . You could even send me links to studies in which those that ate breakfast lost more weight than those that didn’t because of greater appetite suppression. That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m here to tell you it’s an association, not a causation. Having breakfast may help you lose weight if it makes you less hungry and eat less throughout the day. For others, like myself, they may end up eating the same amount regardless of the inclusion of a big, healthy, and filling breakfast. The point I’m trying to get across is you don’t HAVE to eat breakfast to lose weight.

WHAT IS GHRELIN?
-Ghrelin is basically the hunger hormone; it’s what gets released when you become hungry. To adapt intermittent fasting into your routine, you’re going to have to trick ghrelin. Ghrelin is a complicated and not completely well understood hormone but we know it works off of your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is basically your daily routine and your body’s adaptation to it. If you go to sleep at 10pm every single day, it’s your circadian rhythm and the corresponding physiological mechanisms that kick in and makes you tired at approximately that time. Similarly, ghrelin works with your circadian rhythm; for example, if you eat breakfast every day at 10am everyday, ghrelin is likely being secreted at that time. It’s not a coincidence you get hungry the same time every day (assuming you follow a relatively routine schedule). So how do we trick ghrelin? Well, when you start doing intermittent fasting, you will be hungry in the beginning. This is your adjustment phase, but after a while (anywhere from a few days to a week) that morning hunger should go away. No longer is ghrelin accustomed to being released in the morning since you’re not having breakfast anymore.

EXERCISING IN A FASTED STATE…
-Supporters of intermittent fasting will often point to the benefits of completing a high intensity cardio workout in a fasted state. The claim is since you’re in a fasted state your body will go straight to its fat stores as energy which will thus enhance fat loss. As incredible as this sounds, a recent study was carried out over 4 weeks with one group exercising from a fasted state and the other group after a meal. They were given matching customized meal plans to ensure both groups were in an equal caloric deficit. The results of the study showed both groups lost a significant amount of weight but there was no significant difference between the two groups [6]. The bottom line is that we really need longer studies to better analyze the long term effects of fasted cardio. The best idea would be to implement exercise into your lifestyle whether or not it’s in the fasted stage.

DOES ALL OF THIS APPLY FOR WOMEN?
-It’s a little bit more complicated. Women go through a monthly menstrual cycle which can cause hormonal imbalances which may complicate intermittent fasting for them. Unfortunately, very sparse studies have been done on human females on intermittent fasting. Those that have, have mostly been on animal subjects. To further complicate things, the results were very confusing. Results showed an increase in bad cholesterol, an increase in good cholesterol, a little bit of weight loss, a decrease in blood pressure, and more hunger [7]. Confused by these results? Yeah, me too. Long story short, we don’t have enough data from studies to make really any kind of judgement. The best way to find out if intermittent fasting is right for you, you might have to just give it a try and see how it feels for you.

WHO SHOULD NOT DO INTERMITTENT FASTING?
-Intermittent fasting is not for everyone and certain conditions dictate it necessary you speak with your physician before embarking on this lifestyle change. Those conditions include, but are not limited to, diabetes, pregnancy, and more. If you have any kind of health condition(s), it’s always a good idea to consult with your healthcare professional first.

IN SUMMARY & RANDOM THOUGHTS:

  • Intermittent fasting is a strategy to help you lose weight for potentially a few different reasons: greater release of growth/fat burning hormones; increased insulin sensitivity; and by minimizing your window of opportunity to eat, thus leading you to eat less.
  • You aren’t going to die from skipping breakfast. At first it may be tough, but your body will adjust. If you skip breakfast and remain productive throughout the day and have stopped yourself from eating too much, well then that’s awesome. If after a week you still feel that you need that morning bagel to get you through the day, then maybe intermittent fasting isn’t for you, and that’s okay.
  • Intermittent fasting may be a little more challenging for women due to their monthly menstrual cycle. Studies have shown very mixed results. Best idea might be to just give it a try and see how it works for you.
  • Intermittent fasting MAY work for you. Intermittent fasting MAY NOT work for you. You can get in shape by using it. You can get in shape by not using it. What’s the most important thing? Hitting those macronutrients and micronutrients, sound familiar? The foundation of your health stays the same, getting in your macronutrients in an adequate amount appropriate for your lifestyle and taking in enough micronutrients to optimize body functions and overall health.
  • I used intermittent fasting for about 6 months and lost a decent amount of fat I was struggling to lose through other ways. My problem was every day I was going to have a heavy dinner because it’s my favorite meal, my mom makes awesome food, and it was one thing I had to look forward to everyday. I would routinely eat breakfast but really didn’t enjoy it, I just ate it because I thought I had to. After starting intermittent fasting I skipped the breakfast and would have my first meal of the day at approximately 1pm. I noticed that I no longer felt hungry randomly throughout the day and felt much more controlled in my eating. I didn’t notice any lack of energy/productivity throughout the day despite sitting through hours of lectures and studying. I did notice a decreased performance in the gym, so the days I wanted to exercise I would eat breakfast before my lifts.
  • Now, I usually save intermittent fasting for a day after I consume a lot of extra calories the day prior. This gives me some extra time to digest the ridiculous amount of food I had ate the day before and helps me make sure I don’t splurge on back to back days.
  • Your 8 hour gap does not have to be from 1:00PM to 9:00PM. It can be any 8 hour window of the day.
  • I love caramel, it should be on every desert ever made.

 

NEXT WEEKS POST: DO CARBS AT NIGHT MAKE YOU FAT? 


REFERENCES:

[1] Betts JA, Richardson JD, Chowdhury EA, Holman GD, Tsintzas K, Thompson D. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(2):539-547.

[2] Dhurandhar EJ, Dawson J, Alcorn A, et al. The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(2):507-513.

[3] Heilbronn LK, Smith SR, Martin CK, Anton SD, Ravussin E. Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(1):69-73.

[4] Ho, K. Y., J. D. Veldhuis, M. L. Johnson, R. Furlanetto, W. S. Evans, K. G. Alberti, and M. O. Thorner. “Fasting Enhances Growth Hormone Secretion and Amplifies the Complex Rhythms of Growth Hormone Secretion in Man.” Journal of Clinical Investigation 81.4 (1988): 968-75. Web.

[5] Horne BD, May HT, Anderson JL, et al. Usefulness of routine periodic fasting to lower risk of coronary artery disease in patients undergoing coronary angiography. Am J Cardiol. 2008;102(7):814-819.

[6] Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Wilborn CD, Krieger JW, Sonmez GT. Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):54.

[7] Stote KS, Baer DJ, Spears K, et al. A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(4):981-8.

[8] Varady KA, Hellerstein MK. Alternate-day fasting and chronic disease prevention: a review of human and animal trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(1):7-13.

 

6 Meals or 3 Meals, What’s Better?

Wow, this is one big subject to tackle. The discussion of meal frequency is an intriguing one because there’s a lot of recent research going into this subject matter. Perhaps, the best way to start out by tackling this topic is to look at one of the most common myths out there…does eating more meals equal more fat loss and/or increase my metabolism?

No, not necessarily. To understand this myth, let’s first learn the word of the day- thermogenic effect of food (TEF). Thermogenic effect of food refers to the energy used by the body when processing food intake. Here’s how the science works. *For the sake of explanation, we are going to use arbitrary numbers for the following example*

Say your diet consists of only apples; let’s say one apple has 100 calories and the thermogenic effect used by your body to process that apple burns 10 calories upon consumption.
-In scenario 1, I eat 2 apples 3 times a day (6 apples for those counting at home). Through wolfram, I discovered that 6 apples (in one day) x 10 calories (of thermogenic energy used per banana)=60 calories burned through TEF for that day.
-In scenario 2, I eat 1 apple 6 times a day. This scenario would be following the logic for more frequent/smaller portioned meals. Let’s see how much we boost our metabolism with this method. I’m no math major, but I still ate 6 apples for the day x 10 calories (of thermogenic energy used per apple)=60 calories burned through TEF for that day. Wow, no difference. Science wins.


Here’s the science which puts everything together. A few brilliant, well known and respected nutritionists got together and completed a meta-analysis and pooled the data from studies on meal frequency. They went through literally ALL english language journals and searched for studies on the topic which fit certain inclusion criteria. Inclusion criteria basically helps them narrow down certain criteria for the studies to better include the studies in their analysis which hold more weight. For example, they only included studies which had a duration of at least 2 weeks. Here was their conclusion:

“Moreover, the small difference in magnitude of effect between frequencies suggests that any potential benefits, if they exist at all, have limited practical significance. Given that adherence is of primary concern with respect to nutritional prescription, the number of daily meals consumed should come down to personal choice if one’s goal is to improve body composition. There is emerging evidence that an irregular eating pattern can have negative metabolic effects, at least in the absence of formal exercise. This gives credence to the hypothesis that it may be beneficial to stay consistent with a given meal frequency throughout the week.” [1]

So what does all this mean? Well, it goes back to the original concept of IIFYM, have your meal timings accommodate into your schedule. It has not been shown that more frequent meals helps you lose any extra weight, so if you like eating only 3 meals a day, continue to do it. If you are more comfortable eating several smaller meals, that’s fine too. In either case, if you’re goal is to lose weight, you just need to eat/drink less calories. Now, we can dive deeper into this subject and talk about the lack of studies with meal frequencies and high protein intake. We could also talk about the benefit recent studies have shown of having protein throughout the day as opposed to consuming it in one or two bulk sittings. And we WILL talk about these topics…but in future posts. For now the take away should be to debunk the myth that you NEED to have smaller/frequent meals throughout the day to lose weight. What you NEED to do to lose weight is be in a caloric deficit (more calories out than in). The most efficient way to do that? Count your calories/macros to hit your target numbers so that you are at a caloric deficit and exercise more often.

References:
[1] Schoenfield J, Aragon A, and James K. “Nutrition Reviews.” Effects of Meal Frequency on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 02 Feb. 2015.