Carbohydrates are hotly debated in the macro-nutrient realm.
Carbohydrate intake is subject to a lot of misconceptions and myths, one of them being the timing they should be consumed.
Since 1982, from sheer observation and from experience, I have been recommending eating them later in the day. Not only help from a body composition change standpoint, but also for enhancing sleep. This was going against the grain (not pun intended) of bodybuilding gurus who advocated eating carbs in the morning.
A study conducted in 1997 (1) has been the reference for all mainstream nutritionists to show the importance of carbohydrates in the morning for weight loss… Too bad they didn’t read the whole article!
In that study, they compared two groups of women on a moderate diet with exercise, where one group would eat 70% of their carbs early in the day (AM) while the other group would eat 70% of the carbs later in the day (PM). After 6 weeks they decided to change groups. The result was that the AM group, dropped the most in WEIGHT – and it seems most stopped reading at this point. If you just keep reading you would see that this greater weight loss was comprised of 30% muscle! The PM group’s weight loss was almost as high BUT the muscle loss was only 7%!
So comparing numbers, FAT loss was a lot higher in the PM group eating carbs later in the day, even though total loss of weight was higher in the AM group.
Another study adds more arguments to the evening-carb recommendation (2). The researchers looked at a range of health parameters in 78 Israeli police officers over 6 months, divided into one group eating the majority of their carbs at 08:00hrs AM vs a group eating the majority of their carbs at 08:00hrs PM. The study doesn’t mention what was the source of carbs, but we can fairly assume they were mostly donuts.
Despite the weaknesses of the study (method of body fat assessment is not mentioned, lack of control of exercise regimen and caloric intake) there was a clear trend: the group who ate carbohydrates at 08:00hrs PM experienced greater fat loss, less hunger, had higher leptin levels (a hormone regulating satiety), better insulin sensitivity, improved blood glucose control and lower inflammatory markers (inflammation shows a high level of correlation to obesity).
So, here are my takeaways for those of you who deserve their carbs
Ingest high protein, high fat meals in the morning (such as the meat and nuts breakfast) and early afternoon, increasing your metabolic flexibility – setting the metabolism for higher fat oxidation throughout the day. As LPL (lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that splits up circulating fatty acids and makes them available for storage) is higher in muscle in the AM, fats are more likely to be burned off as energy or stored as lipid droplets within the muscle (IMTG – intramuscular triglycerides ).
Ingest high carb meals in the evening, so you get a bump in your natural leptin signal (occurring 3-6hrs after going to sleep), essentially increasing fat burning through the night and the rest of the following day.
By eating carbs in the evening, you will increase the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin and it will make you sleepy. What better time to have your carbs than a couple of hours before bedtime so you can fall into a deeper, higher-quality sleep?
Enjoy your well-deserving, well-timed carbs!