How many times have you heard the common phrase in the fitness industry eating late at night is bad for you? More along the lines of eating later at night is bad for fat loss and will cause you to store extra fat. Many trainers, fitness contest prep coaches, and also magazines will shoot this comment like a plaque. It’s time to address some of these statements.
The Art of Repetition
Let me ask you how often you hear; you should not eat carbs after 5-6 PM, eat your breakfast like a king, lunch with moderate portions of carbs, eat a very light dinner, and keep food away from prior to bed. You also state or hear that people should avoid food prior to bed because while your sleeping anything you eat close to bed will be stored as fat. We are inundated with these concepts daily and after awhile they may sound logical. After hearing all of these, and seeing why so many people suggest it, I was curious if there was any other research or backing to dispelling this common practice. After doing some research, listening to many podcasts and online contest prep coaches (Martin Berkhan, Layne Norton, Alan Aragon who researches nutrition for a living, Borge, 3DMJ, and many others), I soon found that there was little merit to this.
The Typical American Diet
Let’s venture into the typical American diet to have establish a baseline for this analysis. Many people wake up on a daily basis and have a coffee or basically skip breakfast. Those who do get breakfast are usually ones that are on the go and found in the McDonalds take out line, Burger King, and so forth and so on and something on the smaller side. I ever heard a lot of people just roll through a convenience store and grab some fruit or something light to snack on while getting to their job. For the majority of people working a typical 9-5 job they will get a lunch break. On their lunch break again this may be takeout, this may be 5 guys, Arbys, subway and so forth and so on and something on the quick side due to their short amount of time before getting back to their job.
Being a teacher myself I know a lot of teachers who just pack a sandwich, salad, grab a big drink or make their own smoothies while they focus on grading papers or lesson plans. Never do I see a teacher pull out a huge tub of potatoes and chicken and go to town on their food. I always get a look when I pull out some ground turkey andveggies, or some eggs and veggies, and microwave my Tupperware food.
Now when the workday ends what do people do? They end up going home, having time to cook, and end up making up the majority of their intake later at night while they are around their house. Usually you will see people make full-fledged meals of pasta, pizza’s, or various other things like Chili (think fall), a major baked dish of chicken and rice, or a hamburger helper. While they are sitting around watching their favorite television show later at night you may see them snacking on some chips, going to grab for ice cream, and then in the end maybe some donuts.
The Downside and Downslide
The key thing we first have to factor based off the general intake of most Americans is that none of them track their overall calories. Tracking is a major factor as to why a lot of people in this day and age are obese. Tracking gives you a good understanding of caloric intake on a given day. Also a lot of people in the world do not exercise or have a hard time completing a single pushup or sit up. Again being a teacher and spending time in fitness or physical education class from time to time the overall fitness of the students has been on a downslide the last decade. Most people will find that due to the lack of activity (and the general surplus of calories the individual is eating on a daily basis) leads to an increase in weight or American’s in general being obese. The key thing we do not take into consideration is that most Americans are not focusing on portion control while they are eating in excess when it comes to their caloric intake and what they need due to lack of activity and sitting in a chair all day while at work.
Digging Into Late Night Eating
Now lets start to break down this article as to why Late night eating may benefit ourselves, why if we modify our calories and track calories can help us understand the bigger picture. For the average American who is not tracking kcals, we have to realize for any of us who do and follow the above eating pattern it will aid in results, but if we track our calories and shift more calories to later will it really harm us or benefit us? That is soon to be found out. For the average fitness individual I tried to find some research showing difference in meal timing and shifting calories later in the day compared to earlier in the day to see if there was a major difference. After running through pubmed I found these studies:
Breaking Down The Research
While there are quite a few studies here there was some interesting points made from reading over them that really raised my eyebrow. One of the first concepts I found was that weight loss or weight gain did not differ even when the individuals in the studies ate their kcals either earlier in the day (breakfast to lunch and lighter dinner), or compared to eating the majority from lunch to dinner/before bed. Strike 1 against eating is bad later at night. It was also noted that there was also no change in metabolic rate between multiple studies I did utilize in the above experiment or examination of this concept.
One of the studies even examined those who ate the majority of their calories around breakfast, and then compared it to those who ate it mostly before bed or at night around dinner time, and again the concept and overall showing was minimal in difference for weightloss/gain in the overall 24 hour spectrum. Those who did eat most of their calories actually skipped breakfast.
Looking again at another study one of the take home results really struck home here for another strike against the late night eating myth. While there is variance in the groups for eating earlier and later there was also notes that the individual who ate most of their intake later had proved beneficial. It showed that they minimized the amount of fat free mass , preserved more muscle mass, and lost greater amounts of fat. Interesting to say the least, but these individuals were training 3x a week on full body routines and breaking up their intake in the following fashion:
AM Groups would eat 70% of their calories up to lunch and 30% of their calories from dinner to before bed, the PM group would be vice versa meaning 30% between breakfast and lunch and the rest(70%) between dinner and before the individuals met their intake in the 24 hour period.
While we have noted in just 3 of the studies above the other two I do not want to go into much detail because they basically are re-instating the same information I presented above. Which related to meal timing and calories met later in the day help back greater fatloss, and also no real change in weight, and greater % of fat loss.
Say Hear Is What You Eat?
One individual who I know has a diet that is specialized off eating more of their carbs later in the day is called the biorhythm diet, which I did find interesting, by Borge. You can find more information about this diet here: (http://forum.reactivetrainingsystems.com/ content.php?108-The-Biorhythm-Diet). Borge in this article is basically breaking down the benefits of eating a larger P+F (Protein + Fat) meal earlier in the day to help control insulin sensitivity, and then slowly moving towards Protein + Carb meals later in the day which found extra benefit to raising serotonin levels (which aided deeper and greater sleep), Increased fatloss, and also helped preserve muscle mass. Would this be ideal for everyone?
Who knows it is basically a matter of personal preference and how you respond to it. Some people do not feel comfortable eating a majority of their carbs later in the day while some thrive off of it. For example I have found personally that backloading my carbs like Borge has outlined has worked success. I am an early trainee meaning I train upon waking, taking in a large amount of carbs prior to bed or later in the day helps fuel my glycogen stores for early morning training. This would also benefit someone who does train in the afternoon by controlling insulin all day with P+F Meals and then loading up from post-workout until their last meal.
Borge also found in his research that fat oxidation increased when those ate the majority of their carbs later in the day, I know Ben Pakulski and Dr Jacob Wilson also did a podcast regarding the setting up on this meal frequency as well. This was just more information backing what you are reading above in regards to setting up your meal frequency with P+F Meals earlier in the day to help keep insulin levels at bay and also aid in muscle growth and fatloss.
All in All there is a lot of research, there is a lot of scientific backing, and there is loads of personal experience out there to signify that eating later at night should not be the end of the world. There is lots of benefits to greater fatloss, greater increase in serotonin levels for deeper sleep, showing how it could lead to aid morning trainee’s with storing glycogen for their morning session, and also the deviance between splitting intake from morning to night and showing no difference in overall weight change. Take the scientific backing with a grain of salt, try applying it to yourself and see how it suits you!