Ever hear the advice: “Don’t eat carbs after 6pm because your body will just store them as fat!” Simple right? WRONG. I hear this banded around all the time and to be blunt, it’s getting a bit blooming boring. You don’t need to avoid carbs after 6pm to lose body fat. In fact you don’t necessarily need to avoid carbs at any time of day in order to lose body fat.
I have always questioned why eating carbs at night (which I do most evenings by the way) would lead to weight gain? Does that apply to both overweight and lean individuals, what is the mechanism that would mean just eating carbs with your dinner makes you put on body fat? Funny, my waistline has not expanded in all the years I have consumed carbs at night. It’s an overly simplistic statement, eating carbs in the evening does not necessarily mean you will gain nor lose body fat.
If you have a fat loss goal here are a few important factors to consider:
A Calorie Deficit
Of course this is helpful for a weight loss in most cases (although we still come across many clients in a calorie deficit and holding onto body fat due to other influences like hormones and inflammation). Whether you consume your carbs at breakfast, lunch or dinner or at all of those meals if you are not in a calorie surplus then you stand a better chance of losing weight. So if you’re eating carbs in the evening and are gaining weight it might be that you’re simply consuming too may calories throughout the day or more carbs than your body can tolerate. We provide more guidance on this in Fitter Food: A Second Helping.
The Essential Role of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred energy source (glucose), it’s the easiest one to utilise and essential for optimal cognitive function. It’s worth noting that whilst the body can run on fat as its primary fuel source when consuming a low carb and lower protein diet (known as a ketogenic diet) it prefers to run on carbs. If you drop your carbohydrate intake your body has the ability to convert protein into glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis, pretty awesome eh? For me this is perhaps another sign of just how important glucose is to the body, so why not make life easier and just give it carbs.
If you’re someone who likes to train quite hard and values your training performance then carbs are your friend. Intense workouts deplete glycogen and guess what you need to replenish it with? CARBS. We have worked with so many people who, in their quest to drop body fat, have dropped carbs right down and whacked up the training intensity and frequency. Some lose weight initially but soon enough their training comes to a crashing halt because they feel exhausted and rough, they end up giving into cravings and eating a load of carbs and calories and pile the weight back on because the approach is simply not sustainable, it places huge demands on the body. This is until we get our hands on them of course and encourage clients to understand macro nutrients better and have a healthy relationship with carbs. We explain all this in our book 🙂 REMEMBER how you eat should nourish your bodies and fuel your daily activity and recovery.
Training In The Evening
Personally I’m not a fan, purely because I’m naturally quite lazy and if I don’t get my workout done first thing in the morning then the chances of it happening are less and less as the day goes on. Plus I run a business and get busy so I would much rather get it nailed before my working day starts. However, many people train in the evenings and benefit from taking on carbs post workout as they’ll be used to replenish glycogen, aid recovery and help lower stress hormones. Do we simply ignore this opportune moment to have carbs just because of the time of day ? No, you get those carbs in after training, at night!
Of course there are scenarios where we might reduce or limit an individuals carbohydrate intake and certainly look at the source of those carbs but if you’re someone who is looking to lose a little body fat and trains quite hard at any point of the day then be sure to consume some carbs and aid that recovery process.
Carbs In The Evening Can Aid Weight Loss
Firstly, studies have observed consuming the majority of your calories from fats and protein during the day and carbohydrates at night has a positive impact on the hormones that regulate body fat and satiety, leading to healthier appetites levels and calorie consumption during the day.
Also, if you’ve been following us at Fitter food for some time you would of heard us say we believe that “sleep is the mac daddy of health and fat loss.” Studies have shown that consuming carbs at night can actually support a good night’s sleep which means better functioning hormones, more energy, more productive training, better recovery and more fat burning potential. It’s a massive all round winner.
Carbs are feel good foods that increase serotonin and help lower cortisol (our stress hormone) whilst increasing melatonin (your sleep hormone). Taking them on in the evening will have a calming effect and make you sleepy, perfect before embarking on some zzzzzz.
Another comment I frequently hear is along the lines of “your body doesn’t burn energy at night because you’re sleeping, so if you consume too many in the evening they will automatically be stored as fat.” The truth is our bodies are always burning calories even when we’re asleep we’re breathing, detoxifying (our bodies do this 24/7) and still continuing numerous biological functions that require calories. Our body does not stop using energy the second we go to bed! If you are getting 7-8 hours of shut eye then expect to be burning about 350-500 calories whilst you sleep.
REMEMBER: Its Never Just ONE Thing
Media likes to point the finger. One minute carbs are the devil, then fats are evil, then red meat is the new villain you need to look out for. Its all about striking a balance and even more so one that works for YOU. Don’t single out one thing and start pointing the finger because the truth is we can enjoy carbs, protein and fats at anytime of the day and still hit our goals. It just takes a bit of experimenting and adapting to our needs.
Its worth noting that the types of carbs are important. Whilst you can consume some cake, ice cream and chocolate and be in a calorie deficit you probably won’t feel too great if these are making up the bulk of your calories each day. We’re fans of single ingredient, unprocessed foods and the same goes for our carb choices such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, some rice, oats and fruit for example. It’s all about what works for you, what keeps you compliant and allows you to hit your goals and sustain your success.
On a personal note I’m actually leaner, can train harder and recover faster when I increase my carb intake. I added more carbs to my post workout meal in the morning and increased the carbs with my evening meal. This allowed me to have a greater energy output in the gym and put on some lean muscle mass which in return means more calories burnt at rest, which would likely explain my fat loss.
If you would like some more information on how to adapt macros to YOUR needs in order to burn body fat, kick ass in the gym and thrive at life then be sure to check out our 2nd book Fitter Food: A Second Helping where we detail this very subject. The more you understand, the easier it is to implement and make positive change. Or you might want to check out our Fitter 365 membership site where you can join the hundreds of awesome folks already on board who are getting amazing results eating real food, training smart and progressing every single week. If you have any questions at all please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Yours in health and epicness,