Carbs at Night?

If you’ve followed conventional nutritional methods in the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard it.  Every “expert” weight loss coach, every two-bit 24 Hour Fitness bosu ball trainer, every well-meaning but poorly-educated general practitioner has probably spit it your way at some point: “don’t eat carbs after 6pm; it’ll make you fat.”

At first glance, it sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?  After all, you’re going to bed in a few hours, and all you’re doing is sleeping.  You don’t burn many calories doing that, so all that sugar and starch is just going straight to your lovehandles until they qualify for their own zip code.  Right?  Wrong.

There are a few problems with chopping carbs too early in the day.  First, most of you reading this probably produce an unnecessarily high amount of the stress hormone cortisol, which, when levels get shot through the roof, lead to fat storage in the belly (for more on that, check out this article I wrote a few weeks back).  Not only that, but too much cortisol makes it impossible to relax, which can disrupt the quality of your sleep.  However, one of the easiest ways to get cortisol in check is through something that will raise insulin (no, seriously, go read that article!)  As long as you don’t go nuts, and as long as you pick a nice fibrous source (oatmeal with some heavy cream and a handful of blueberries comes to mind, thank me later), it’ll help you wind down and get some quality rest.

Secondly, your body is actually not slowing down very much when you sleep.  In fact, it’s been shown that when a person with a reasonably healthy metabolism is able to dip into REM sleep at night, their metabolism will actually GO UP.  So that argument doesn’t hold up very well in reality.

Lastly, it’s impractical for a lot of people.  Dinner and evenings tend to be the most social times for a lot of people, whether it be the mom who’s worked all day and wants to sit down to a pasta dish (gluten free, of course!) that she made for her family, or the high-level executive who wants to be able to have a steak and potato with a glass of wine while entertaining a new client, if the goal is to figure out how to balance healthy eating with a normal lifestyle, the window of 6pm, or 3pm, or whatever time window you see get tossed around, doesn’t fit very well.

Again, it just comes down to not overdoing it.  If you annihilate an entire pizza, an order of breadsticks, and a burrito, you will get fat.  But it doesn’t really matter if you do that at 12am, 4am, or 2pm, the result will still be the same.  But if your overall food volume and you’re getting the right amount of protein, fat, and fiber for the day, it doesn’t matter as much what time certain things are eaten in the long term.  So don’t be terrified of having a blueberry after 6pm – trust us, it really won’t automatically make you balloon up.