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 Foods/Drinks to Add to Your Kitchen Cabinet NOW

Seriously, no one needs this much soda...
That’s a whole lot of soda…

1.) Whole Wheat Bread
The term empty calories refers to something that has lots of calories but very minimal nutritional benefit (little vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc.). White bread, one of the most consumed food items in the world, is probably the king of empty calories. Here’s a super quick breakdown of how whole wheat becomes white bread. The original/unprocessed wheat flour, of which all of our bread products originate from, contains 3 layers (bran, germ, and endosperm). During the processing of the wheat flour to become white bread, two out of the three layers are removed and a lot of crap is added (bleaching agents, preservatives, hydrogenated oils, etc.). Unfortunately, those two removed layers have all of the nutritional good stuff. Many of today’s meals include some kind of bread option (for desi people it’s basically all meals) and substituting that daily naan with a whole wheat roti can really go a long way. Kontos brand whole wheat pita bread is a great tasting roti option to eat your nihari dish with and not feel so terrible afterwards. With that said, please feel free to occasionally indulge in a delicious sandwich made with white bread or giant fluffy naan; the occasional indulgence is necessary to not go crazy. Just make sure it fits your macros.
*Please don’t hate me for all the tabs you just opened up to learn about south asian/brown culture.

2.) Quinoa & Brown Rice
This bad boy right here can REALLY vamp up your meals. Yes, it fits all of the awesome categories of being organic and whole grain, but it’s also delicious. The key is to use the serving size to measure out 1 cup (or less if desired), toss it in a skillet with some eggs, veggies, protein (chicken, beef, etc.), and you have yourself a high protein, filling, and not super high calorie meal to fuel your day. It can be difficult sometimes to fill your diet with good tasting minimally processed whole foods, so any opportunity you have to fill your shelves up with something fitting this criteria is a win-win situation.

3.) Green Tea
Let’s get this out of the way first…green tea alone is NOT going to make you lose weight. With that said, it can still be a great daily addition to your daily diet to help you assist in losing weight and achieve greater overall health. The list of the benefits of green tea is a very lengthy one but practically speaking there are probably two functions of green tea that’ll make you happy. One, green tea is filled with antioxidants. To put it simply, antioxidants (good guys) reduce the activity of free radicals (bad guys) in the body. The results could range from just an overall feeling of wellness to reducing your risk for cancer [1]. Second, green tea MAY increase your metabolism which CAN MAYBE help you lose more weight. My eye cringes writing that statement because people think just because something MIGHT have a small effect on weight loss it’s their golden ticket to a 6-pack (I’m looking at you stupid weight loss supplement section). It’s better to look at the risk/reward in this kind of situation. There really isn’t much downside to drinking a daily green tea (unless you have some specific condition, like caffeine sensitivity). At the same time, green tea has been shown to have a small effect on weight loss [2]. So, with all of the benefits that green tea has to offer, a daily green tea certainly sounds like a good deal to me.

4.) Crystal Light (or other natural/artificially beverage sweeteners)
People drinks WAY too much soda in today’s society. It’s like the word moderation gets thrown out the window when it comes to drinking soda. If you want to take a really quick, easy, and effective step towards weight loss, cut soda from your diet. Now, it’s hard to go cold turkey so mixing these beverage sweeteners in water gives you a low calorie and good tasting beverage without the 50 grams of sugar and 200 calories. Water should always be the preferred beverage for health but, understandably, we get a sweet tooth sometimes. An occasional soda here and there doesn’t hurt. Unfortunately, the occasional soda in today’s society is usually twice a day, everyday.

5.) Protein Powder
When people think of protein powder they think of something that’s only supposed to be drank after a workout. This is not a good way to think of protein powder, rather, it’s simply a supplement to assist you in acquiring your total amount of protein in the day. If you get all your protein through lean meat, beans, nuts, yogurt, and other sources, well then that’s awesome. But if not, mixing a scoop or two of protein powder in a homemade shake can be a simple easy way to make a filling and tasty meal/snack. Just mix together a scoop of protein powder, glass of water/milk, throw in some fruits, and maybe even a teaspoon of peanut butter. Here are a few well respected brands of protein powder for men and women.

References:
Jurgens TM, Whelan AM, Killian L, Doucette S, Kirk S, Foy E. Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;12:CD008650.

Kuroda Y, Hara Y. Antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic activity of tea polyphenols. Mutat Res. 1999;436(1):69-97.