By Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT Men's Fitness
Q: Are carbohydrates bad to eat before bed?
A: Across the fitness and nutrition spectrum, carbohydrates have been demonized as instigators of weight gain, particularly before bed. A general nutrition rule emerged to forego carbohydrates once the sun went down to preserve a thin waistline and prevent an expanding midsection. Contrary to the opinion of many, carbohydrates are an essential part of any diet but does consuming them before bed really predispose you to seeing higher numbers on the scale?
In most cases, the public fear of carbohydrates stems from misunderstanding. Nate Miyaki, author of the Intermittent Feast, acknowledges that they can be good or bad depending on the situation – adding to the public confusion. “Carbohydrates can help us recover from strenuous, anaerobic activity, or they can cause us to fatten up during periods of inactivity. All of the scenarios depend on activity.” In short, for high-intensity activities lifters deplete glycogen stores and need to replenish them to perform optimally. In other situations of low-intensity or no activity, the body has plenty of carbohydrate stores and thus extra intake isn’t needed. Miyaki likens carbohydrate feeding to fueling up a car. “If your car has been sitting in the garage, it doesn't need gas. Loading up on carbohydrates is like trying to fill up a full tank. It just spills over the side. In the human body, that overspill equates to sugar backing up in the blood stream and excess body fat storage.”
This energy balance is the potential culprit for carbohydrate consumption leading to weight gain at night. In general, an excess binge at night isn’t going to do you any harm provided you’re staying within your total macronutrient needs. The problem is that far too many individuals overload during the day and fail to take that into account at night. According to Miyaki, “Eating too many calories and carbohydrates in general makes you fat. It's the total food intake not the distribution that is the problem.” In fact, one study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition illustrated that carbohydrate consumption may help individuals sleep better during the night – key for individuals suffering from sleep problems. Rather than focusing specifically on the timing, pay attention to your total consumption and keep it within optimal ranges for your particular age, weight, and body composition goals. Carbohydrates aren’t particularly evil during the evening hours. Consumption of excess carbohydrates at any time of the day can lead to weight gain and unwanted changes in body composition.