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.

5 Things You NEED to Know About IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)

Our new favorite word--Moderation
Our new favorite word–Cookies…I mean Moderation

Macros, macros, macros. If you’ve read the basic introduction to the concept of “If It Fits Your Macros”, you hopefully have a general idea of what IIFYM is. Allow me now to try to convey the impact of how understanding what the meaning of IIFYM can have for your understanding of basic nutrition.

  1. IIFYM is NOT a diet, it’s science.
    IIFYM can be described as a method, technique, or just an understanding that the most important aspect in reaching your desired body composition (whether it’s weight loss, weight gain, or maintenance) is reaching your total daily macronutrient intake targets.
  2. IIFYM does NOT mean you can eat whatever you want.
    So, IIFYM gets a reputation of being a diet in which people eat whatever the hell they want as long as they “reach their total daily macronutrient intake targets”. This is stupid. No one is saying to eat enough pop-tarts and debbie cakes to hit your target marcronutrient/micronutrients. Majority of your total food intake (around 90% is a good benchmark according to fitness/nutrition guru Alan Aragon) should be coming from whole/minimally processed foods and the remaining can be from your secret stash of candy under your bed [1].
  3. Almost all diets incorporate one of the main underlying principles of IIFYM.
    That underlying principle is not some big secret, by the way, it’s the most basic understanding of weight loss: to lose weight you need to be at a caloric deficit. In layman terms, to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you take in. Think of a balance scale, on the left side we have “calories in” and on the right side “calories out”. On the left side we have all of the calories you consume through food/beverages. On the right side, “calories out”, the calories you burn throughout the day. We know calories are burnt by exercising and being active but calories are also burned at rest (we call this basal metabolic rate or BMR). When the left side of the scale, calories in, is greater than the ride side (so, more energy in verses out) we gain weight. When it’s the other way around, more energy out than in, we lose weight. All diets out there probably will help you lose weight in the short-term because they restrict a certain type of food group (like forbidding all carbohydrates) so you’re bound to significantly reduce your “calories in”. IIFYM sets those daily targets at the appropriate amount so that you are fixed to burn more calories than you are going to be taking in. Difference is, you do not have to drop-kick your roommate for bringing in bread to the house.
  4. It does require you to count calories…but not forever.
    Like we said earlier, the only way you can achieve weight loss is by using up more energy than you are taking in. So, when most people go on a diet and start eating “healthy” they usually naturally tend to eat less empty calories, more nutrient dense foods, and exercise more. When they start to lose weight it’s because of that magic “energy in verses energy out” formula. The problem with this awesome sounding plan is not that it doesn’t work, because it does, it just usually is not sustainable. Most people get tired of eating salads and vegetable juice three times a day, everyday. Worry not, in comes tracking calories. No longer is it a guessing game if I’m eating too many calories, too little, or just enough. Now you can squeeze in that Snickers bar, ice cream cone, or Snickers flavored ice cream bar into your day. The difference now is that since you have been counting your calories the whole day you’ll know if those two scoops of ice cream kept you under your total daily calories; or maybe if you only had room for more one scoop before going over your total allowed calories. After counting your calories for a while, you gain a great understanding of the macronutrient composition of a lot of foods. Do you have to do this counting for the rest of your life? Not quite. After counting your calories for a while, you gain a really good understanding of the macronutrient composition of foods. When you reach this level of mastery, you’ll be surprised how well you can almost count your macros by guesstimating for the day.
  5. Don’t forget your micronutrients.
    We keep talking about macronutrients, but what about micronutrients? Do people who follow IIFYM even care about vitamins/minerals? Why, certainly we do. As mentioned already, heavy majority of your dietary intake of the day should be from whole/minimally processed foods (aka not pop-tarts). This includes getting several servings of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other food items needed to fulfill the proper vitamin intake needed for healthy human function.

References:
[1] Schuler, Lou, and Alan Aragon. The Lean Muscle Diet: A Customized Nutrition and Workout Plan: Eat the Foods You Love to Build the Body You Want and Keep It for Life! N.p.: n.p., n.d.