T Nation

No carbs at night?

I’m posting this on the regular forum instead of the Pound because I’d like to get a wider range of opinions. However, let me say at the outset that I’m looking for feedback from people who have (a) tried what I’m about to describe in a scientific manner (either with themselves or with clients) and (b) kept some sort of real records about what happened.


Okay, that said, here’s the issue:


You hear a lot about how taking in carbs after a certain in the evening (usually 6:00) will lead to fat gain or at least less-rapid fat loss. I understand the argument that you expend more energy during the day and that therefore any carbs taken in after you’re “in for the evening” would be stored more preferentially as fat rather than being used for energy. Fine.


However, it also seems to me that you could look at the issue another way, i.e. that if you consider a day as one 24-hour period, and that you expend X amount of calories per day, no matter when you take those calories in you’re going to end up in the same spot (physique-wise) in the long run.


To give a specific example, let’s say that a guy normally uses 3500cals/day and that he’s on a maintenance diet. If he eats most of his carbs during the daytime and expends, say 2500 of these cals for energy, then he has another 1000 cals left over and these can be met by eating less during the evening. Thus (in our perfect theoretical world), no fat gain.


Then our guy changes his eating pattern to where he’s not eating as much during the day but more at night. So the first day he’s really hungry, and actually cuts into his bodyfat stores a bit to make up for the calorie deficit that he incurs. But then he eats more at night, and makes up the difference. So he’s back to where he started. Even if he has gained a bit of fat, he’ll burn it off the next morning/afternoon.


Okay, so it seems to me that, theoretically, you can look at the issue either way and make a good case. Here’s what I want to know. How many of you have actually tried limiting your carbs to the daylight hours, and what sort of results (or lack of same) did you experience? Again, I’m not looking for a theoretical argument, but real changes (or not) that happened while keeping the overall number of calories (and other factors like level of exercise) constant. Thanks!

i have my best results when staying away from food altogether in the evenings…eating my last meal between five and six pm…i go to bed by nine pm and get my first meal at 6 am…

in order to avoid those evening eating frenzies i really have to eat hard the rest of the day, not delaying any any meals which total five for me…

my personal temptations are always the few beers to unwind after work and workout while fixing supper…i can always start the day pretty good with a bowl of oatmeal and a shake…the mid-day stuff is easy to keep clean…but the evening…WHAM !!..

that’s why i don’t eat late when i’m cutting…lack of control…

Char-dawg, with the stipulations you placed on answering I think your thread might not get answered.

I’ve tried the P+C for the first three meals and the also the carbs all day and even did a P+F all day with a carb refeed at night. While I didn’t keep accurate records I did find that the P+C during the first part of the day worked out better. I lost ~4lb of fat during the first 3 weeks. There was no change to the calories or exercise.

While on P+C & no fat, I still lost weight. Data missing, but I was always hungry. I would wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Calories were constant as was exercise but I HAD to eat every 2-3 hours because I was starving.

Finally the dumbest thing I did was the nightly carb refeeds. This didn’t work at all. I did it about 3 weeks and while it was fun to come home and have rice, pasta or potato I gained ~5lb. Again the calories were the same and the exercise was the same. What makes this particular one nasty is that I was doing cardio, 30 minutes 3x a week, and still gained. There are many possibilities so it can’t be attributed to just carbs. Things like RMR might have changed or things of that nature.

Not the most scientific but as for me I will stick with limited carbs during the day and fat at night. Croooz

What I did for a while was keep my carbs low during the day, then after my workout I would drink a post workout shake and eat a carb meal an hour later, usually just before hitting the sack. Non-workout nights only consisted of a carb meal. I did have pretty good results from this, about 10lbs fat loss in 3 weeks.

I will say that eating carbs in the morning is probably better for fat loss physiologically speaking. At the time though I was a real carb junkie, and if I took in carbs I'd want carbs the rest of the day. So psychologically speaking, eating carbs at night was better for me at the time. Nowadays I can handle my carbs in the morning and be ok.

Thanks for all of the responses so far.


Crooz, I agree that I’ve placed some pretty harsh limits on this thread. The reason is that I see happening around me is people trying the no-carbs-at-night approach, dropping some weight, and thinking that they’ve discovered something magical about the body when in fact what they’ve really done is just started eating fewer calories than they were before.


It may be that fewer carbs at night really DOES elicit some RMR change or something else that would contribute to fat loss even while holding all the variables constant. I’m not ruling that possibility out at all. But it just seems awfully strange to me that that would actually happen, for the reasons given above. So I decided to ask.


In any case, I do think that, while not being the strictest possible evidence, your experiences do indicate that no carbs at night might be better. So thank you. Old bulldog and Kim, did you guys keep your overall calories constant when you started limiting your carbs?


Again, thanks for the responses so far. If anyone else can contribute, please do so.

Well I’m “new here” so I can’t post on Tha Pound anyhoo, here’s my take on that…

We tell exercise “newbies” that calories in = calories out, but as exercise “veterans” we understand that there’s more science involved than that, yes?

Prolly a more specific way to look at that, is to understand that the calories that we expend every day (using your same 24 hour period) are not expended at a constant rate, and that this expenditure is dependent on the energy needs of the body for a specific action and that we use a good portion of the most recently consumed “energy” for the present action.

For example, here’s an average t-man day (yeah, I said it, average):

We eat some oatmeal and egg whites, blah blah etc…(1100 kcal) @ breakfast, then run to work, make calls, high pressure meeting with The Man, zip around the office for a bit, yadda-yadda badda-bing use up 500 kcal… eat a GROW! bar (320 cal) then run up to the 5th floor, say hi to Sally (whew, that girl), see what’s up with Joe in the mailroom yadda-yadda badda-bing use up 350 kcal… eat some tuna in oil straight out the can (400 kcal) do some calf-raises while we’re on a conference call, stand up in our chair to yell across the partition to Stuart in cubicle 420 yadda-yadda badda-bing (400 kcal)… eat some t-man veggies with crap load of cottage cheese and sunflower seeds on top (305 kcal) then say “Courier?.. we don’t need no stinkin’ courier!” and deliver the package six downtown blocks away badda-bing (400 kcal out)… dilly-dally some more with the other muscle geeks at the gym while we suck down some Power Drive (15 kcals in) hit Day 2 of our maintenance ('cuz we’re off-season) program (1400 kcals out)… inhale a proper post-workout (1100 kcals in) and jaw-bone with some gym hottie then drag yourself to your car (150 kcals out) drag yourself to the couch to catch ESPN (20 kcals out)… eat something proteinous and fattish (260) and fall into oblivion…

Now, how much you gonna use in REM? how much you gonna burn lifting your arm to scratch your ass before you break bread the next day? What if you ate a bleeping 1000 calorie meal before you hit the hay? Even if you had cut your calories somewhere else during the day (which you wouldn’t unless you were a pale-skinned, fat bellied Pilates instructor), you wouldn’t have had the energy to do half of what you did, you would’ve been catching a few winks leaning your head against the wall in the bathroom, so you would’ve expended less, too. And then you would’ve piled on a bunch exactly when you didn’t need 'em (just like the rest of these soft bellied “others”) You do the math…

Just to add to the length of this post, I’ll add the following… at every point in my fitness “career” whether I was a fat ass or at peak performance as an athlete, if I wanted to get fatter I’d eat a bunch of carbs before I went to sleep (at one point I had to change weight classes in 2 months – put on 20 lbs.). If I wanted to get thinner (switched back to a lighter weight class – dropped 24 lbs), I’d bump my last meal to a pre-workout (what’d we know back then?) or drop the meal all together and eat more mid-day. Scientific? Not so much… the numbers aint precise but if anecdotal evidence counts for anything…

that’s enough from me. one luv.

p.e.a.r.l.

the only reason to avoid carbs at night is so you can avoid the cravings that come after your suger jumps around. cals are simple math.

Dang, Pearl! That was one hell of a post!


Got a lot going today and so won’t be able to give it the attention it deserves just now, but I wanted to say thanks for such entertaining reading! Later.


c-h-a-r

Hey, char: sorry for taking so long to post something. But I’ve been wanting to add my .2 cents worth here.

I agree w/Pearl (you're right, too: damn entertaining post). What I do when I need to drop some BF% is not due to any "scientific" search or calculations. It's what has worked best for me. I generally don't have any carbs past 6 or 7PM. Also, I play around with my starchy and fibrous carb intakes throughout the day. And I don't cut calories. This gets me lean.

However, the situation for me currently is different. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday are boxing nights for me. 5-7PM. So, I do sip Surge during my boxing training and will keep that up and will have Low Carb Grow afterwards. After strongman training on Fridays (ends at 8-8:30pm), I'm so dog tired that the last thing I wanna do is eat. We do sip Surge throughout the training, though. But whatever carb I get from Surge is it for me. No pizza or chocolate cake after 7PM for me...hee hee hee. Now if it's beer.......:-)

Pearl did an amazing response to your question. I will throw in my two cents. The body seems to store what it don’t use at least as far as the next three to four hours. If it can’t get anything it seems to want to eat muscle (easy pickin’s). So, if you eat your largest meals at night, no energy deficit hence movement into storage…i.e., fat. This seems to be everyones experience, mine included…so if I eat p+c before and after workouts and while working I don’t store it up rather I use it.

Just my two cents…

This probably isn’t going to fit into your specific guidelines, but I find that, if I don’t eat enough during the day, I am starving at night, and can suck down HUGE amounts of carbs. Freaky amounts.

I actually think that the "gym wisdom" of this one comes from the observation that obese people often consume the bulk of their calories after 6 PM--this is an established, but empirical, fact. Since we don't want to be obese, and we know that carbs aren't the best type of calories to take in, we conclude that carbs after 6 PM are bad. Interesting, but as you point out, not neccessarily backed by science. I find it to be true, however.

d/c

This has always been a fascinating question to me; if you hold calories and protein equal, (and also assuming you take efas and other essentials from a multivitamin), does it matter if you eat candy bars washed down with protein shakes? If one identical twin eats 3000 calories of clean food, and the other eats 3000 calories of junk… how much different are they going to look at the end of 6 months? The body has certain energy requirements, does it matter if they are met by a steady stream of digesting oatmeal rather than the fat laid down from a package of twinkies? So what is the rule of the land, 24hr kcal balance, or meticulous meal planning? After all, in terms of muscle growth eating junk does have at least one clear advantage, (in the short term); high insulin levels - and can’t it be argued that the fat deposited from the high insulin levels will all be burned off by the end of the day anyways if calories are held constant. I know my suggestion sounds like blasphemy to many, I’m just wondering if anyone has real world experience with this, i.e. eating junk, but at a strictly set calorie level.

Hello, though Im not a certified chemist or nutritionist I have done my share of readings. I am a huge believer of eating right for your type. Meaning that hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic people need to adjust their dietary habits to meet your type in order to accomplish the necessary.

as far as eating more carbs during the day than at night I would really focus on insulin. I really believe that insulin is perhaps the biggest factor in weight in/out.

As for meal frequency, I tried six meals, eight, four, but best for me is three. When Dieting I usually eat about 200g of carbs. and another 200g of protein with about 50g of fat. Then every three days I have a carborefeed. I can loose about three pounds a week this way. Plus, when introducing maintance I really don’t gain the weight back. Now, how this fits into the questions is that I am very tolerant towards carbs and have no issues eating 400g a day. Through out the day. When on maintance I usually eat dinner around 7-8pm and consists of atleast 150g of carbs. That’s quite a bit for one meal. But, I have also noticed that others when consuming similar meals encounter the fat gain problem. I truly believe that carbohydrate intake at night time is very much so related to your tolerance and/or insulin sensitivity.

BoxerAl just kinda reminded me… this whole ‘dont eat carbs at night’ thing isnt so much dogma after all, insulin sensitivity declines in the evening/at night, does it not? Seems like valid scientific reasoning to avoid most carb sources.(In other words I don’t really think carbs in the form of vegetables would ever be a problem)

Yes, absolutely. But again vegetables is almost like consuming nothing.
I totally agree with you but the point Im expressing is with other forms of carbohydrates such as oatmeal, potato, pasta. I can eat those types of foods without problems. I remember in college I would eat a box of maccaroni and cheese from Kraft almost every night with a can of tuna. Never did I experience composition change. My roomate did the same wtih me for about two weeks and blew up in those two weeks by four pounds. Well not blowing up but imagine if he did it for as long as I did, a whole semester. He’d have gained about 30lbs.
another reason why I think carbohydrate tolerance plays a key role is that the same roomate could really handle a Keto diet without much trouble, as for me I can’t even walk without feeling lethargic to the point that even showering is quite a chore.
hope all this is making sense? please share your thoughts as this can be a very helpful and learning experience to both you and I, or maybe just me.

Da Boxer

Yeah … like for instance, last night I ate about 1 Cup of Peanuts, 1/2 Cup of cottage cheese, 2/3’s bag of golden grahams (dry) and then drank a pint of milk … i do this about once every 2 weeks and haven’t gained anything … im 20, 5’11, 170 7-8%bf

I think I’ll agree with you on your point. Perhaps we should update the ‘do not eat carbs at night’ rule by adding ‘if you have poor insulin sensitivity’.

Char - actually, the weird thing was that my calories were probably a little bit higher - not incredibly so, but higher. Everything was the same except for a bigger carb meal at night. Typical meal would be oatmeal and eggs, or a steak, baked potato and broccoli. The meal obviously included some fat, which may or may not have something to do with it.

Let me just preface this by saying that overall I really do think that carbs are best eaten earlier in the day. But eating the way I did seemed to work well for me at the time. Like I said, I think it was good psychologically. Carbs earlier in the day set off my carb cravings the rest of the say, and eating a nice meal at night was a good "reward" for working out. Also, KingProtien makes a good point about insulin sensitivity being lower at night, but after a workout your muscles are typically more insulin sensitive anyway. And if you haven't been eating carbs during the day most of them should go towards muscle glycogen replenishment.

C’mon now! You Dogs aren’t playing by Char’s rules…nowhere do I see any objective data! Just messin’. Char-Dawg, I think you knew it was coming to this:-)

I’m going to take a page from JB’s Handbook. The timing of training/exercise should really be the central criterion for most people’s carbohydrate intake. For example, if you train in the evening, you’re going to want to consume the bulk of your carbs during and after that bout of exercise, due to the higher demand for carbohydrate and to the heightened insulin sensitivity. Now, if you’re relatively lean and/or have an occupation that is rather energy-demanding, you can probably do carbs day and night without much of an issue. I have no idea where the “no carbs before bed or after X pm” came from, but it’s really too general, in my opinion. However, most people go home after work and just plop on the couch or sit at the computer (and bark out to their T-Dogs). Obviously with a lower energy requirement (and oxygen consumption), fat is going to be the primary fuel of choice. So why go and shove insulin-inducing carbs into your system if all that it’s going to do is suppress fatty acid oxidation?

Sorry, Char, but I couldn’t withold “theorization.” And, actually, how much of what’s out there and available isn’t theory? I mean, how much do you think that we actually know…and isn’t just the best damn guess that we can hypothesize based on our scientific background.

Okay, everyone, thank you for the responses.


Timbo, it sure is nice to “see” you around here again. And yes, it DID come to that! Sigh. Oh well!


I agree with your point about theory, but I was hoping that someone out there might have actually tried and compared carbs-during-the-evening to not-during-the-evening. Of all the responses above, I am willing to believe that Patricia held her overall cals constant while switching the timing and lost weight. So that’s one for.


But I’m also willing to believe that Kim is being accurate when s/he (sorry, can’t tell!) says that he (awright, just for the sake of simplicity) says that he added a carb meal at night and started losing weight. Here, though, we have the post-workout bit confounding the results, as well as maybe some leptin effects.


Sigh.


See, this is what I mean. The overwhelming opinion is that yes, lowering carbs at night does help. But no one (except Patricia) has any real reason to say that. Weird.


Finally, to respond to the wisdom of p.e.a.r.l.:


First, again, great post! Very enjoyable, and we need more good writers around here. Keep it up and you’ll be in the Pound in no time.


Second, okay, let’s take your scenario. I added/subtracted all the numbers, and our “typical” T-man has a 280 surplus before going to bed. Let’s say he uses it all up during the night, putting him perfectly in stasis as far as bodyweight is concerned. Great.


Now the next day, let’s say that instead of having the oatmeal and Grow bar in the morning (sooo, say, 600 cals less) our guy, envisioning a date with Sally (dang, she is fine, especially in that little black skirt), decides he’s gonna hold cals steady but save ‘em for his big dinner at the restaurant. So that evening he eats not only the 600 cals worth of carbs, but another 1100 cals’ worth of protein and carbs as well (thus replacing the post-workout drink).


He then takes Sally home and has marathon sex, during which he does all kinds of bench presses and other assorted acrobatics with her firmly toned body, and ends up expending (amazingly enough!) exactly 1400 cals, equalling the workout that he didn’t do that day ('cause, you know, it’s the off-season).


In this case, we’ll say for the sake of argument that [the pre-sex meal plus sex] is equivalent to [the post-workout meal plus exercise] of the day before. But on Day Two, our hero has had most of his carbs in the evening (all the other stuff was exactly the same). Does he gain weight?


I can’t see how.


I agree with you that anecdotal “evidence” is pretty good. But I think that a lot of what’s happening is that people - especially athletic people like the ones around this board, who aren’t in LUUUV with their food and can eat less fairly easily - are just taking in fewer cals and losing weight that way.


Then again, maybe there is some sort of weird insulin thing going on. But wait - what about people who work at night and sleep during the day!? Do they experience greater insulin sensitivity at the same time as the rest of us, or are they different?


I have no idea. But it is an interesting discussion…