The Meal That Damages Metabolism

by Chris Shugart

A new study shows why we may want to have more meals earlier in the day and cut them off long before bed. Here's the new science.

Don’t Eat After 7PM?

We’ve heard advice like this for years: “Cut off meals at a certain time every day to lose fat.” But questionable diet tips like this usually come from the magazines you only see in the grocery store checkout line, and most of us assume it only works because it forces you to reduce daily calories.

Well, for the first time, we now have some experimental evidence to prove that it’s a pretty good idea (with a few caveats) to avoid that late night meal or snack and instead “frontload” your meals in the daytime.

The Study

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine took a look at what they called “prolonged delayed eating.” In non-nerd language, that just means eating right before bed.

They had a group of adults first eat their meals in the daytime hours. That was basically three meals and two snacks between 8 AM and 7 PM. They went to bed at 11 PM. This lasted 8 weeks.

After a two-week break, they switched things up and began consuming late-night meals. They still had three meals and two snacks, but they shifted over their “eating window” from noon to 11 PM, just like the average person who skips breakfast and eats more at night. Then the subjects went to bed right after their last late meal. This part of the study also lasted 8 weeks.

Before, during and after the study, participants underwent several metabolic measures and had blood drawn. The study controlled for macronutrient intake, sleep-wake cycles, and exercise.

The Results

In a nutshell, late-night eating resulted in fat gain. Fat metabolism was impaired; pre-bed eating lead to metabolizing fewer lipids and more carbs. Delayed eating also raised insulin, fasting glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Not good, since all that added together equals a negative metabolic profile.

Hunger and satiety hormones were also affected. During the daytime eating part of the experiment, ghrelin, the appetite stimulating hormone, peaked earlier in the day. Leptin, the “fullness” hormone, peaked later. Researchers think that earlier meals help you stay full for longer, and that earlier meals prevent the common problem of nighttime overeating.

What This Means, And Doesn’t Mean, To You

In the fitness and bodybuilding world, we’ve heard a lot lately from ebook sellers and internet gurus about how you should fast during the day and eat a lot at night. This study, for one, says that’s a bad idea. (Common sense should also tell you that’s pretty silly.)

But there are a few caveats here. This does NOT mean you should go to bed hungry. It just means that you should have your caloric allotment – whether that’s enough food for fat loss or “mad gains, bro” – earlier in the day. Allow your hormones to self-regulate and you shouldn’t want to eat right before bed. In plain speak, it means your metabolism and hormones will work better.

Of course, you’ll have to adjust the times cited in this study around your own sleep-wake cycle. But in general, try to get all your meals in your belly a few hours before bed.

But I’m Trying to Gain Muscle!

If you’re really eating for gains, or you’re worried about catabolizing muscle during sleep, take a tactical approach and have around 130 calories of specialized protein and carbs before bed.

We’re talking about di-/tripeptides and high-branched cyclic dextrin. One serving of Mag-10 will do the trick. This will hit the anabolic spot and won’t cause any of the issues associated with eating a big meal before bed.




  1. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Timing meals later at night can cause weight gain and impair fat metabolism: Findings provide first experimental evidence of prolonged delayed eating versus daytime eating, showing that delayed eating can also raise insulin, fasting glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. ScienceDaily. 2 June 2017.
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