Everybody has heard the common wisdom that you should consume the majority of your calories and carbohydrates early in the day.
The reasoning behind this is simple, when you consume your calorically and more carb dense meals earlier in the day you have more time to burn those calories off.
Going against the grain is pretty typical here on the Eat To Evolve blog. Contrary to popular belief there is a good amount of evidence that consuming the majority of your calories and carbohydrates specifically at night is more beneficial than having them earlier in the day.
I read about this theory from leaders in the fitness and nutrition industry Nate Miyaki and Jason Ferruggia.
I’m well aware that this goes directly against what you have been told by folks in the health fitness industry, but if they were right more folks would be walking around in great shape.
If something is not working for the majority of people the approach needs to be changed, not clung to with the vulkan death grip.
In this blog post I’m going to explain the benefits from a scientific, evolutionary and willpower standpoint of why eating the majority of your calories and carbohydrates at night time can help you reach your health and fitness goals.
Follow The Evolutionary Leader
One of the most innate reasons for this style of eating is our evolutionary patterns of fasting and feeding. As early man we regularly spent the day hunting, fishing, gathering and tracking animals and highly active.
Many times these hunts were done in a fasted state without food relying on stored body fat as fuel.
Digestion is an energy intensive process ,and these fasting periods allowed our early ancestors to be more active and alert without being slowed down by a full stomach.
Our ancestors would return home with the days gathering or catch ready to feast. During the night was leisure time spent with others feasting on the food caught or gathered throughout the day, allowing them to relax and refuel for the next days hunt.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I want to live exactly like a caveman I love the my iphone, fridge and hot/cold running water.
However from an evolutionary standpoint we are hunting and gathering in the form of going to work and training in the gym these days.
We should follow evolutions lead, eating lighter during the day and use our nights to feast and recover from the days activities in preparations for the next.
We are designed for this style of eating, people want to typically eat bigger at night anyway, and from a practical and sustainability standpoint it fits most peoples lives very well.
Win Against Willpower
How many times have you heard of someone going off the rails eating a ton of cookies or a pint of ice cream at breakfast or lunch?
it’s not common, and the main driver behind our decision making is our willpower. Our willpower is a limited resource that we expend throughout the day with every decision we make.
By the end of the day most people have emptied their willpower piggy bank with countless decisions.This decision fatigue is why the cookies and ice cream binges happen at night, we have the least willpower to resist ben and jerry or the keebler elves.
We still operate on the same sacrifice and reward systems that have helped us survive for thousands of years. With this evolutionary framework we have the basic hard wiring to overeat and store excess energy as body fat for times of famine.
The problem with this evolutionary framework is we rarely have famine, but food is available everywhere. We should construct our diet in a way that allows us to fulfill this need to eat large while not consistently overeating all the time.
Folks are are going to be able to eat lighter during the day, and make much better food choices if they know that they are going to get to eat a larger more satisfying meal at night.
On the opposite side it is going to be more difficult to feast all day, and then eat lighter at night. Larger meals at breakfast and lunch are going to leave you feeling sluggish and make it more difficult to focus and get things accomplished.
Looking at things from the practical side most people are not as hungry during the day when they are working, moving and handling stressful situations.
Folks are going to be the hungriest at night time after they have completed the days endeavors and are ready to relax, eat and prepare for the next day.
This larger meal at night time with denser carbs also triggers that satisfaction we are looking for, reducing the cravings for processed high sugar desserts.
Have Your Cake, And Burn It Too
Naturally most folks are going to eat a dinner that is larger than lunch or breakfast because they get to cook and eat it with no time constraints or stress around the food.
Being extra hungry is typical if this meal is following a hard trip to the gym or an athletic endeavor. The body has the need to restore the glycogen your muscles burned during your exercise.
This means that by consuming those carbohydrates later in the day post exercise, you will use them to repair and restore before any are allowed to get stored as fat, unless you eat significantly beyond your needs.
By eating lighter during the day and avoiding dense carbs you allow the body to take advantage of fat burning hormones for a longer stretch of time as well.
You can have your carb cake and eat it too, gluten free hopefully. Think of eating light during as your fat burning portion of the day.
Try to consume proteins, healthy fats, non starchy vegetables in your fat burning portion of the day. At night time after a day of activity or a hard training session at the gym again consume protein and safe starches (yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro, plantains, white rice) and some veggies and smaller portions of fat.
You should match the amount of carbs you are consuming to your activity level to prevent fat gain.These night time carbs allow you to build muscle, repair and refill the tank for the next day.
There is the long standing misnomer that eating bigger at night time will lead to fat gain, but we have come to realize that food choices, total calories and macro breakdown as a whole for the entire day are what is most important.
Each individual meals numbers don’t matter nearly as much as the numbers as whole at the end of the day.
Improve Your Sleep
By keeping those larger more carb dense meals at night time you can relax and digest while winding down for the night and getting ready for bed.
Try to eat two hours prior to your bed time to give adequate time for digestion before sleep. In the same way that the larger meals early in the day will make you tired and sluggish, this same reaction can be used to improve sleep. Below I’ll explain why this sleepy reaction dense carbs can happen.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is converted into the hormone melatonin which is needed for falling and staying asleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that needs to cross the blood brain barrier for conversion into serotonin which becomes melatonin.
Other amino acids compete with tryptophan for entry across the blood brain barrier and into pineal gland making it less available for uptake.
The release of insulin in response to carbohydrate consumption drives these competing amino acids into the cell and makes the tryptophan more available with far less competition.
If you are eating a low carb diet and find that you are in a bad mood and are suffering from poor sleep it would be a good idea to try doing some denser carbs at night and see if sleep or mood improves.
Maybe pick a day and do a clean carb refeed meal for this purpose.
Enjoy Yourself Socially
Nobody wants to be the person who continually orders salads whenever they are out to dinner. We want to enjoy ourselves, be social and have a larger more relaxed meal when out with people.
Good food and great people are meant to be enjoyed together. Think steak and potatoes or sweet potatoes if you will.
This goes hand in hand with the psychology of our sacrifice and reward centers, it is much easier to eat lighter and healthier during the day if we know that our reward is going out at night with loved ones.
The key here is to make this way of eating fit your life not the other way around. When folks start allowing their nutrition plan to rule their lives it is going to be a recipe for failure.
You may gain some short term success from the diet quick fix, but the long term lifestyle changes win the race.
What Does This Approach Look Like ?
Depending on what your goals are a morning fast may provide benefits for you. Black coffee or with a few added tablespoons of heavy cream can help with extending fasts.
You can have lunch be our first meal of the day, or If you have no interest in fasting make your breakfast a protein and fat only combination such as eggs and bacon or eggs and ½ and avocado.
For lunch it should consist of a solid proteins source, non starchy veggies and some healthy fats.
You could even include a serving or two of fruit in this eating lightly stage. Some folks perform much better in the gym when they have some fruit beforehand but you will have to experiment to see if this works for you.
At night time use the tendency to eat more calories and carbs to your advantage by eating mostly protein and denser carbohydrates at this stage.
Try to avoid a ton of fats in this meal as we are looking to purposely spike insulin and drive amino acids into the muscle and recover and get ready for the next days hunt or work
If you’re tired of working hard, and not getting the results you want, I can help you adopt the simple habits necessary to reach your health or fat loss goals.
These habits are based on getting you to your goal in a sustainable fashion that can be maintained. I’ll be there every step of the way to support and keep you accountable.
Get on a Strategy Call with me to Discover how to achieve your health or fat loss goals, and make them yours to keep this time around.
Whether you decide to work with me or not I can guarantee you will leave this call with more knowledge on how to achieve your goals.