The truth about having carbs before you sleep

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Foods that contain carbohydrates

Across nutrition and fitness worlds, carbs have been criminalised for instigating weight gain. Worse so, if eaten before bedtime. Over the last decade, we have easily changed from a society that feared fats, to one that is terrified of carbs. We could credit bro-science* for this. Contrary to popular belief, carbs are an essential part of any diet program, but does consuming them before bed set you up for higher numbers on the scale? Let’s find out.

 

As a thumb rule, bro-science decrees that carbs after sunset will expand your midsection. This fear is rooted in conventional myth. It’s a ‘that’s obvious’ kind of claim which says, ‘metabolism slows down during sleep’. You’re moving less, lying down and resting. Surely you are burning fewer calories. Sounds reasonable, but so does most of bro-science. A paper[1] published in the International Journal of Endocrinology disagrees. It says that while metabolic rate drops in early stages of sleep, it tunes back up in REM sleep. Electroencephalograms, or brain wave readings, taken during REM sleep show that the brain works at a rate nearly as high as when awake.

 

Another study[2] published in the Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology compared SMR (sleeping metabolic rate) of individuals who worked out versus those who didn’t. It concluded that the SMR in subjects who worked out was higher than those who were inactive. It also appeared that the active individuals had SMR (sleeping metabolic rate) higher than their BMR (basal metabolic rate), while in individuals who were inactive, it was the opposite.  

 

What these studies indicate is that carbs can be good or bad, depending on the situation, your activity, and thus your total nutritional requirement. Calories you consume in the evening don’t have any more impact than they do during the day. The key is in energy balance. A binge at night is not going to be a problem if you are staying within your total macronutrient needs. If you consume more calories than you burn through the day, it will lead to weight gain, irrespective of what time the consumption happens.[3] [4]

 

You could use fuelling up a car-tank as an analogy. If your car is going to be parked in the garage, it doesn’t need gas. Loading up on carbs without any place to spend it on is like trying to fill up a full tank. It’ll spill over to the side. In humans, this spilling equates to fat storage.

 

*Bro-science definition (from Urban Dictionary): Bro-science is a dominant brand of reasoning in bodybuilding circles where anecdotal reports of pumped-up bros are considered more credible than scientific research.

 

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/

2. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/h03-033#.WiOhzbT1U_M

3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-after-workout

4. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/diet-and-weight/

 

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