Fitness Myths – Eating late at night makes you fat

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This week I have decided to do another one of my ‘mythbuster’ blogs and this time I have chosen the myth that you should not eat late at night as it makes you fat. If you have read a lot of my other work then you should realise that saying that anything in itself makes you fat is highly unlikely and that in reality there is a lot more complexity to a lot of these things. The thinking behind this is that when you consume calories late at night, more of these calories will be stored as fat instead of being used as energy because you are obviously inactive when you sleep. In this blog I will first discuss the importance of nutrient timing, then I will talk about the impact that eating late at night will actually have on your body and then give some practical advice with regards to late night eating.

If you haven’t read my blog post entitled ‘Everything you need to know about nutrition’ then it might be a good idea to do so before finishing this article but if you don’t want to do that I’ll try my best to briefly explain where nutrient timing sits in our nutrition principles. Basically, the most important factor whether eating for health or to look good is calorie intake. The next most important principles would be macronutrient intake and food composition. One of the least important principles would be nutrient timing. What this means is that what types of foods you eat and how much of them is far more important than when you eat them. So yes, eating loads pizza and ice cream before bed is probably a bad idea but so is eating loads of pizza and ice cream at any point in the day. Even if there are some negatives to eating late at night, if it means that it helps you adhere to the more important principles then eating at that time may be a valid option.

So we know that nutrient timing is probably something that a lot of us do not need to worry about and should be based more around personal preference and what allows someone to adhere to their diet rather than what is optimal but what does the data actually say about eating late at night. A study published in 1997 by Kant and colleagues found the extent of evening eating did not predict weight changes after 10 years. This makes sense when we think about it logically. When we consume calories and are inactive, we do store most of our calories as fat. However, when we do not eat for periods of time, most of the energy we use comes from our fat stores. So when we have that meal, maybe we add some fat but then you are sleeping and that whole time you will be using fat stores as your main source of fuel. You can see that it is ridiculous to look at calorie intake on such a short term scale unless you are really trying to optimise everything about your diet. Instead we need to look at calorie intake on a day to day basis or even a week to week basis.

But what if you are really trying to optimise your diet, what foods should you be eating in the evening. As long as you do not train in the late evening then my advice for a pre bedtime meal would be pretty similar. I would keep carbohydrates on the low end (because consuming most of our carbs around our workouts would probably be a better idea) have a slow digesting protein source (a casein shake would be a great option here) and have a moderate fat intake (to slow down digestion even more). This should give us a steady stream of nutrients overnight to help us hold onto as much muscle mass as possible. If you do train late in the evening then the only change I would make would be to have a high carb, high protein, low fat shake during and immediately after your workout and maybe have some carbs before bed as well. But remember, if this style of eating means that you over eat or under eat then this is not a good way to eat for you. Get your priorities right. Eat enough food for your goals, eat the right types of food and then worry about optimising your timing.

I hope you all have found this article interesting and I’ll speak to you soon.

Albie

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