“Don’t eat carbs after 6”
Pretty standard advice, right?
It’s so often said in the fitness, nutrition and dieting industry, that it should almost go without saying.
It’s common knowledge that after 6pm, you simply do not need carbs.
Any carbs you do eat will be stored directly as body fat.
The theory goes that as carbs are your body’s main source of energy, and you don’t use any energy when you’re in bed, sleeping, you simply don’t need carbs before bed.
“Eat carbs at your peril” – warn the magazines, the personal trainers, the nutrition gurus and the diet books.
And that advice, seemingly sound, sensible and safe, is complete and utter…..
Yep everything you’ve read about eating carbs late being bad is false.
Not only is it false, it could actually be harming your progress.
So how can it be, that something that’s so well-known, and oft-advised throughout the fitness and fat loss world, is entirely incorrect?
Dogma, misinformation, or a conspiracy?
Whatever the reason, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid eating carbs after 6 (or at any time of the day come to that) and actually, foregoing your pre-bed carbs could well be harming your progress.
Disproving the Theory
First up, we need to delve into the supposed reasoning for avoiding carbs late, then talk about the science, and why this shows there to be no link whatsoever between eating carbs late and stalling fat loss. (Or even fat gain, as the uber-gurus warn!)
As discussed, already, carbs are your body’s main source of energy.
You can’t argue this – this definitely IS true, so no points against the bro-scientists just yet.
(Side note, you can use fat as a primary fuel when on a very low-carb ketogenic diet, and protein can be used in times of starvation, but your body definitely prefers running off carbs.)
Carb metabolism, however, doesn’t work on a start/stop mechanism.
It isn’t simply a case that as soon as you hit the sheets, your body thinks –
“right, that’s it, we’re not burning any calories or expending energy now, so we don’t need carbs, let’s just store them all as body fat.”
If that did happen, it’d be a pretty sorry state of affairs. But fortunately for your sanity, your progress, and the sake of the taste of your pre-bed meal, that just doesn’t happen.
Whether you’re burning primarily carbs or fats works on a continuum.
You don’t JUST burn one or the other – you’re almost always burning both, just in different ratios.
And what’s interesting, is that if you burn more fat at one point during the day, you’ll burn more carbs at another time, and vice versa.
So if you eat most of your carbs in the morning, you’ll burn a higher proportion of carbs then, and more fat later in the day. Likewise, save your carbs for after 6, and you’ll burn a lot of carbohydrate and just a little fat after eating them, but you can say hello to a lot of fat burning, and not so much carb burning in the mornings.
Over the course of a 24-hour period, it works out the same.
Pretty cool huh.
So the key point to remember here, is that if you’re consuming, say, 150 grams of carbs in a day, you’ll burn the same amount of carbohydrate and the same amount of fat whether you eat them all at 7am, all at 10pm, or space them evenly throughout the day.
Burn Fat While You Sleep!
This isn’t some crazy new diet trick, or an affiliate link to a fad supplement – you really do burn calories while you sleep.
You don’t burn that many, but you do burn around 50-70 per hour.
And that makes sense.
If you think about your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – the number of calories you’d burn each day if you just sat down and did nothing) it’s still pretty high, right?
A typical BMR calculation is your bodyweight in kilos multiplied by 22.04.
A woman weighing 59 kilos for instance, would have a BMR of around 1,300. That equates to a calorie burn of around 54 per hour.
So the theory that you don’t burn any calories while sleeping is 100% WRONG.
No Calorie Surplus = No Fat Storage
Where the “no carbs after dark” argument really falls down is when talking about fat storage.
Unless you’re in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than you’re burning) you simply cannot store body fat. It’s a physical impossibility.
So when you’re on a calorie-controlled fat loss plan, even if you eat every single last gram of carbohydrate that you get in a given day literally minutes before going to sleep, your body doesn’t have any excess calories to store as fat, as it’s in a deficit.
What About Post-Workout?
Here’s a funny one.
Traditional fat loss advice suggests eating carbs post-workout, when your body is primed to use them for recovery and glycogen replenishment after a tough session.
Well ….. what if you train an hour or two before bed?
What advice do you follow?
Post workout carbs? Or no carbs after 6?
Talk about a contradiction.
Gimme Some Science
We’ve pretty much well and truly debunked the idea that carbs after dark are “bad.”
But what about evidence actually supporting eating more carbs after 6?
A 2007 study from the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that a high-GI carb meal before bed shortened the time it took subjects to fall asleep. And more (and better quality) sleep equals better recovery, more energy, and more productive workouts. (1)
A further 2011 study found that subjects lost more weight eating the majority of their carbs later in the day. (2)
What’s the one macronutrient 99% of us crave before bed?
You got it ….. carbs.
Okay, you get the odd strange person who loves to chill out on the couch with a bowl of macadamia nuts, or some sliced turkey, but most of us love popcorn, pretzels, cake and ice cream!
There’s a lot to be said for enjoying your diet, as you’re more likely to stick to it, so if factoring in pre-bed carbs to your plan makes your diet easier to follow, go for it.
Additionally, those pre-bed carbs could help any of you early morning workout warriors out there, as you’ll be fuelled up when you wake.
In Summary: Enjoy Your Carbs. And Enjoy them After Dark
There really is no need to abstain from carbs after 6pm, 7pm, within 2 hours of sleep – whatever crazy protocol you hear of.
Fat loss happens when you’re in a calorie deficit, and eating a balanced macronutrient ratio – it doesn’t just stop because of WHEN you eat your carbs.
Don’t like carbs before bed? No problem, you don’t have to have them.
But if you do like a little carb up before getting some shut eye, go ahead, safe in the knowledge that not only are they not screwing up your progress, they could actually be speeding it up.
Result Based Training