There are many things that fitness experts and nutritionists think they know for sure. You hear them everywhere.
You have to eat 8 meals per day, consume massive amounts of protein to make muscle gains, fast when you do cardio, only lift heavy weights, or tone with high reps—these are all the things we hear day in and day out from self-proclaimed internet “experts.”
Most of the things you hear about on the internet—the fads, the special diets, and the fitness advice—are just bits and pieces of pseudoscience. They are all hype with no research to back them. The problem is that in the fitness and nutrition industry, research often falls behind what people are actually doing and saying. It can sometimes take years to figure out if the latest diet or exercise fad is actually effective or if it is just another one of those fake-science rants by an armchair “expert.”
We wanted to look at something that people are talking a lot about: eating carbs at night. For a while now, many people have been suggesting that eating too many carbs at night completely runs your body’s chances of burning fat. Let’s take a look at the science behind this theory.
What Research is Pushing this Theory?
It makes sense that eating carbs at night is a bad idea for fat loss. People think that while you sleep you use less energy. That is the primary factor pushing the “no carbs at night” theory—your metabolism slows while you sleep. It’s just simple logic; If you aren’t moving, you aren’t burning calories. Simple, right?
The problem is that theory is wrong. Research published by scientists does indicate that energy expenditure decreases by about 35% during the first half of a sleep cycle. The problem is that the same studies show that during the second half of a cycle—the REM phase of sleep—energy expenditure increases dramatically. What essentially happens is a rise and fall of metabolic rate during sleep.
Overall, energy use ends up leveling itself out. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrates that while metabolic rate does drop at certain points during sleep, overnight energy expenditure is not much different from daytime energy use.
What About Time of Day?
Many nutrition gurus who say that you shouldn’t eat carbs at night talk about insulin response. They say that insulin levels remain elevated longer after evening meals. That, according to research, is correct. The reason, however, is simply because people don’t eat while sleeping. You have to remember that the first meal of the day occurs after a long fast—of course there will be a dramatic response from your body.
One study, published in The American Journal of Physiology, determined that “time of day did not significantly influence maximum postmeal increment in insulin secretion rate or duration of insulin secretary response.” In common terms, that means that it doesn’t matter when you eat—insulin response will be the same.
So What’s the Deal?
The conclusion is that the “no carbs at night” idea is a complete myth. Scientific research does not back the idea that you can’t eat carbs at night if you want to lose weight. Studies prove that your metabolic rate does not significantly change, or does not change enough to have an impact when it comes to weight loss.
So, what can you do? Here is a tip—a recent study shows that people who don’t exercise have a lower metabolic rate while sleeping than people who frequently work out. That makes sense, because people who are sedentary generally have lower base metabolic rates. Their bodies don’t use as much energy as active people.
If you want to lose weight, stop worrying about meal timing and just get some exercise. Spend all the time you currently spend worrying about when to eat and how to do it and work out instead. That type of dedication is the key to weight loss success.