Who has heard the 'rule' that you shouldn't eat carbs past 6pm? This has been around for a long time and SO many people follow it. Thinking about munching down on that delicious baked sweet potato after a long day at work? Forget about it! The idea is that if you eat carbs past a certain time your body will instantly turn them into fat, in comparison to eating carbs earlier in the day. Depending on your work and training schedule, this can put a serious downer on your day. I believe it IS okay to eat carbs at night, and here is why:
The idea that eating carbs at night time is bad for your weight loss originates from an idea that is quite easily misunderstood. What I mean when I say this is, there are times during your day where the carbs that you consume are more likely to be stored as fat rather than be used as energy. A perfect example of this is if you eat lunch and then go workout. Eating carbs can provide your body with energy both during and after the session. In contrast, you would assume that if you eat carbs, don't exercise straight away and are inactive (for example sleeping), then those carbs won't be used up and are immediately turned into fat. Not quite! When you eat carbohydrates your body releases a hormone called insulin which helps reduce blood sugar levels by promoting the uptake and storage of glucose. During exercise, less insulin is released as your body is trying to make more glucose available to your hard working muscles. However, when you are asleep your body is relying on energy stores to continue fuelling your brain. I will point out that the process of carbohydrate metabolism and the role of insulin is a complex one. Just remember that whether you decide to eat carbs at 6am or 6pm won't make too much of a difference.
Eating carbohydrates at night doesn't necessarily make you gain weight, eating too many total calories makes you gain weight. That is the most important point you need to remember. Determining an appropriate daily caloric intake will depend on whether or not you are active and whether or not you are trying to lose weight. Your training schedule also plays a large role in when you should eat carbs. For example, people who work office jobs may be relatively inactive during the day, and will then choose to workout at night. These people NEED carbohydrates at night to be help recover properly and replenish glycogen stores (carbohydrate stores that are quickly converted to glucose when needed). Even if you do not workout at night and you eat the recommended amount of carbs, it doesn't matter WHEN it is that you actually eat them. Think of it this way, your body doesn't know what time it is and your metabolism won't magically say, "Oh hey! It's past 6pm, let's turn those carbs straight into fat". Eating a small amount of complex carbs at night with dinner can also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer and banish those dreaded "after-dinner munchies". How many times have you eaten dinner only to find yourself craving a big bowl of ice-cream or another serving two hours later? Staying healthy and losing weight is all about following a balanced and realistic meal and exercise plan.
What Type Of Carbs You Should Eat
Before you rejoice and say "Yay, Kayla told me I can eat carbs at night so I'm going to stuff my face with three bowls of pasta", it is super important you are eating the right type of carbs. Complex carbs are the best type of carbs and these are the ones you should be consuming on a daily basis. These are foods like sweet potatoes, brown rice, wholemeal bread and pasta, oatmeal and bran. These carbs will be digested slower than simple carbs and keep you feeling fuller for longer. If you choose to eat a small amount of these carbs at night they will keep you sustained all the way through to breakfast. If you have never heard the term 'simple' carb before, it is generally anything that is not necessarily healthy, but we love to eat! Think of things like white rice, pasta, sweets, cakes, candy and white breads.
For each of my main meals, I love to pair some complex carbs with a lean source of protein such as chicken or fish, as these help keep me feeling full and my insulin levels and glucose levels happy. During the day I prefer to eat fibre-rich fruits and veggies in between meals to help me stay full and provide my body with much needed vitamins and minerals. If you tend to be more sedentary during the day, keep this in mind - what you are eating during the day should be enough to fuel you and keep your energy levels up, and what you eat at night should be nutrient-rich so that your body can build and maintain muscle, replenish energy reserves, recover from the demands of the previous day and prepare for the next one. If you are usually very busy during the day and tend to workout in the morning you can switch it up to suit your lifestyle. Remember you are more likely to fall off track if your eating planning isn't working around YOUR life!
There are so many people that struggle to eat "lighter" at night, because we are all human and psychologically we want to satisfy ourselves with a nice, filling meal at night. So many people reward themselves with food all day, thinking they will just eat a salad for dinner, and then the time comes and they end up binging on 3 blocks of chocolate after that salad. It is much easier to stagger your carbs throughout the day rather than leaving the majority to be consumed at night. That way, you won't leave dinner feeling hungry and accidentally overeating things you shouldn't be.
Remember to plan and distribute your meals to suit your lifestyle. Optimising food distribution patterns is the key to establishing a food plan you can successfully follow for a long time to support a healthy lifestyle. Choose your carbs wisely and enjoy!