Carbs at Night?

EAT BIG AT NIGHT BABY…

What’s happening everyone?  Hope the world is treating you good.  If not, who cares? Keep walking on.  Happiness is a state of mind, make your own circumstances, life is too short not to smile along the way, etc.  In other words, yes I have been reading a lot of Bruce Lee.  “Be like water my friends.”

I’ve also been hammering away on the new book project — how to make fat loss eating more functional for busy, working professionals.

1 of the potential book cover photos. I don’t know where I’m looking?

I realized that one of the key concepts, perhaps the KEY CONCEPT, of all my  plans is to structure the diet in a way that the majority of calories and carbs are eaten at night.  I know that goes against everything you hear in the fitness industry.  But guess what? If everything you heard in the fitness industry worked, the majority of the population would be ripped.  Obviously, this is not the case, and we need to explore alternative methods to get the job done.

And this alternative works, trust me, and it is a sustainable plan for the LONG-TERM because it goes with, not against, social patterns and evolutionary-engrained, natural instincts.

Should I leave you hanging and tell you to wait for the new book?  Nah, I don’t roll like that.  I actually wrote about this topic in my first book:  The Samurai Diet: The Science & Strategy of Winning the Fat Loss War.  So for this blog post, I’ve decided to include a few chapters.

The new book actually will have a bunch more theory and science behind this process, but these excerpts are a good start for now.  And of course the practical application, as always, should be simple.  Which it is, and if you’ve read any of my previous work, I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record:

1. Eat a protein only breakfast

2. Eat a Paleo-style lunch (lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and a piece of whole fruit).

3. Eat a Japanese Village-style dinner (lean protein, vegetables, and some low sugar, gluten free starch = sweet potatoes, potatoes, or rice).

Without further ado, here are the chapters from the book:

LESSON #92 — EAT A BIG EVENING MEAL

We’ve talked about a protein-only breakfast and the critical importance of a post-workout meal.  The last meal to talk about is dinner.  What portion of calories and macronutrients should we allot to the evening meal?

I believe the most sustainable and functional diet plans for most people are the ones in which the majority of calories and carbohydrates are eaten at night.  It is a key concept of the Samurai Diet.

This probably goes against everything you’ve heard about an optimum fat loss protocol.  It also probably goes against everything you read about in the health and fitness industry.

On this topic, I definitely lean more towards the intermittent fasting approach (which recommends cutting calories earlier in the day and eating more post-workout and at night) than the fitness nutrition approach (which recommends cutting calories and carbs towards the end of the day).

If you stay with me and don’t right me off as crazy, however, I will show you theory, practical experience, anecdotal evidence, anthropological research, AND scientific studies that all support this stance.

NIGHT TIME EATING EVOLUTION THEORY

  • We evolved on a fasting/feeding pattern.
  • The daytime hours were spent highly active, hunting or gathering food.
  • Low food intake kept us alert and sharp during this time.  Fasting is associated with adrenalin, stress, hunger, and the fight or flight evolutionary response.  It signals the body to produce energy for activity.
  • Large meals during the day require energy for digestion, and take energy away from activity.
  • Rebound hypoglycemia (lowered blood sugar following food intake) would potentially have left the hunter tired, sleepy, fatigued, and impaired their hunting abilities.
  • After a day of hunting or gathering, cavemen would bring home their catch, cook it, and have nightly feasts.  The majority, if not all of their calories were eaten at night.
  • They would relax, recover, re-energize, and repair with high food intake in the nighttime hours.
  • This cycle of fasting/activity and feeding/recovery would repeat itself on a daily basis.

You already know from previous lessons that I don’t recommend complete fasting during the day for physique enhancement.  Spreading protein intake out relatively evenly over 3 meals controls hunger, maximizes protein synthesis, and supports optimum muscle maintenance/growth.

A post-workout protein and carbohydrate combo offsets the unique metabolic environment, stress, and tissue damage created by intense training.  The post-workout meal supports glycogen restoration, muscle growth, and does not inhibit fat burning. Fasting during this time would be counterproductive to the body composition transformation process.

However, with a protein only breakfast and targeted post-workout nutrition numbers, that still leaves a lot of calories and carbs unaccounted for in our overall diet.  As mentioned, I believe we should follow an evolutionary/caveman-style pattern and place the majority of that remaining food intake at night.

THE PRACTICAL SIDE OF NIGHT EATING

  • Many people are not hungry during the day when they are busy, active, and stressed.  It is very easy for them to cut calories and/or eat light during this time.
  • Large meals during the day are often counterproductive for the busy professional.  For example a large lunch can result in rebound hypoglycemia, leaving a person feeling sleepy, tired, lethargic, unproductive, unable to focus, dependent on stimulants, etc. a few hours later (mid-afternoon “crash”).
  • Most people are hungriest at night.  The evening is a period of relaxation and recovery, and physiologically we crave food at night to repair and restock energy reserves.
  • In over ten years in the fitness industry, when looking at client food logs, over 95% of people’s cheating on sub-optimal foods comes at night.  When restricting calories, they are good and “eat clean/eat healthy” during the day, but willpower breaks down at night.
  • If they do cheat during the day, they still overeat at night (or cheat even more at night) because it is our natural inclination to eat more at night.
  • Research shows that as long at total calories and macronutrients are controlled for the day, food distribution is irrelevant.  If it is our natural tendency to eat more at night, why not build this into the overall plan?  If it is easy for most of us to undereat during the day, we can cut calories during this time, and save those calories so we can overeat at night.
  • When people try to cut calories and carbs at night, many end up cheating on sub-optimal dessert-type foods — high sugar, high refined fat foods.
  • Conversely when people do not restrict calories at night, and eat complete meals with protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables, they are much less likely to crave and cheat on dessert-type foods.
  • Most people don’t mind being hungry during the day if they know they can eat a larger meal at night and get to end the day full, satiated, and satisfied.
  • Takes advantage of the sacrifice/reward patterns in our brain.  We can sacrifice, undereat, and give up foods during the day if we are rewarded with a complete, satisfying meal at night.

THE SCIENCE OF NIGHT EATING

From Department of Internal Medicine, University of Chieti, Italy:

(A) In a short-lasting protocol (3 days) 15 obese subjects were fed a hypocaloric diet (684 kcal/day) (a) at 10 hr only, (b) at 1800 hr only; (c) at 1000 hr, 1400 hr and 1800 hr, or (d) studied during a 36-hr fasting. Measures of calorimetry (R.Q., CHO and lipid oxidations, energy expenditure), hormones (plasma cortisol, insulin, HGH, urinary catecholamines), urinary electrolytes (Na, K) and vital parameters (body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure) were carried out at 4-hr intervals for three days. A significantly higher lipid oxidation and a lower CHO oxidation were documented with the meal at 1800 hr, in comparison with the meal at 1000 hr. CHO and lipid oxidation circadian rhythms appeared the most affected by meal timing.

(B) In a long-lasting protocol (18 days) 10 obese subjects were fed the same hypocaloric diet (a) at 1000 hr only and (b) at 1800 hr only. Calorimetric measures were performed every other day for 2 hr preceding each meal. Before and after the 18-days single meal period, body temperature, plasma cortisol, PRL and TSH were recorded (delta t = 4 hr).  A higher lipid oxidation and a lower CHO oxidation were again demonstrated with the meal at 18 hr. Minimal changes of hormonal circadian rhythms were documented suggesting that the hypothalamus-hypophysis network is scarcely affected by meal timing. Weight loss did not vary in both short- and long-term protocol.

From the Institute of Biochemistry and Food Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, Israel:

This study was designed to investigate the effect of a low-calorie diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner on anthropometric, hunger/satiety, biochemical, and inflammatory parameters. Hormonal secretions were also evaluated. Seventy-eight police officers (BMI >30) were randomly assigned to experimental (carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner) or control weight loss diets for 6 months. On day 0, 7, 90, and 180 blood samples and hunger scores were collected every 4 h from 0800 to 2000 hours. Anthropometric measurements were collected throughout the study. Greater weight loss, abdominal circumference, and body fat mass reductions were observed in the experimental diet in comparison to controls.

If science, anthropological research, and natural tendencies point towards eating a larger percentage of calories at night, why try to go against the easiest strategy to adhere to?  Should we just try and fit in with “accepted” fitness nutrition standards for the sake of it, or are we looking for real world, sustainable results?

Just as I ask you to challenge the established truths of ADA nutrition, and Paleo nutrition being blindly applied to athletes, I also ask you to challenge fitness nutrition dogma.

12 thoughts on “Carbs at Night?

  1. Nathaniel King

    Nate and John,

    I cannot workout at night. I have to workout at 6AM during the week (get up sat 4:45AM) and somewhere between 9AM and 12PM on the weekends. Carb back loading is virtually impossible as my PWO nutrition takes place in the first half of the day.

    I don’t leave the office until 7:30PM at the earliest.

    What do you do for clients that have my schedule. Most of us are not athletes or strength and performance professionals with flexible schedules.

  2. vishnu venugopal

    Typo :
    1. It will prevent the body to move into a state where muscles are* catabolised.

  3. vishnu venugopal

    Agree with the idea of having a heavy dinner (food items having high thermic value) . It will help to increase BMR. Potatoes and rice are low GI Carbs, which quickly raise blood sugar level. Why such such carbs for dinner? I would say cut out all carbs for dinner.

    Again in the age of cave men there was no cultivation. They never had grains or simple carbs for dinner. They ate meat they hunted down and not potatoes and rice.

    I completely disagree with your comment that the ‘as long at total calories and macronutrients are controlled for the day, food distribution is irrelevant’. A cut in calories will definitely help in weight loss, but this is not necessarily fat-loss. You will be losing most of your precious muscles. What we are trying to achieve is an ideal body composition (reduced body fat percentage), not simple weight loss. Do you agree?

    The idea of having 6 small low-carb meals with high thermic value is :
    1. It will prevent the body to move into a state where muscles are not catabolised.
    2. To avoid big insulin spikes.
    3. It will help increase the BMR.

    When we have three large meals, there will be big spikes of insulin in the body. The excess carbs will be converted to triglycerides and will be stored in the body.

  4. trojan02

    Robb Wolf: “no post workout carbs until one is lean (men less than 10% bodyfat).”

    “So, one way to look at this is the a LowCarb-PostWorkOut meal is focusing on muscular recovery and growth, while minimizing or limiting the effects of insulin or carbohydrate.”
    http://robbwolf.com/2009/07/01/post-workout-nutrition-high-or-low-carb/

    So what do you recommend for someone to add to their protein shake? Thanks!

  5. natemiyaki

    Well, I think the critical role that post-workout nutrition plays supersedes everything. So if you train in the morning, I would definitely have a post-workout pro:cho combo. Just enough to initiate some of the recovery processes but not so much that you trigger rebound hypoglycemia and feel tired/sluggish the rest of the day. I generally recommend a 1:1 pro:cho ratio. The old Sports Nutrition recommendation is 0.4g pro/kg and 0.8g cho/kg. I say split the difference, 0.6g/kg of each.

  6. natemiyaki

    Yeah man, when science and evolution meet, that’s when you know you are onto something valuable.

  7. natemiyaki

    Hey Otto, absolutely. I hate dogmatic approaches to anything (even my own) because I know multiple methods can work. I’ve followed traditional bodybuilding nutrition in the past with success, know many competitors who get great results with that approach, etc. Trust me, I’m not one of the coach’s who bashes bodybuilding nutrition, but I do feel there are alternative ways to get in shape. I just feel like this approach is more realistic, functional, and sustainable for the long-term, especially for busy professionals.

  8. natemiyaki

    Thanks bro. And yes, y’all should check out Kiefer’s work. He is the only other coach I know of that recommends this approach to eating, which is accurately called Carb Backloading.

  9. DH Kiefer

    Good read, Nate. You break it down well. Although we disagree about breakfast, there’s a lot of synergy here between my Carb Back-Loading and your upcoming plan. Here’s my first major write up: http://articles.elitefts.com/nutrition/carb-back-loading/

    There’s also a book available for those who want to check it out. Just google “carb back loading” for more info.

  10. Otto

    And then there are the folks who do the complete opposite and they are also ripped. I think though that givig this a try regardless of theory and see if it works for oneself is worth a try.

    I do eat more at night it seems. I’ve also discovered that eating starchy foods at night creates a horrible sleeping experience. I itch and I’m restless.

    I’v nenever thought of protein only for breakfast though, that’s something I’ll have to explore.

    Very interesting post. Thanks for your hard work!

  11. john michael

    Cool it’s carb backloading with an evolutionary justification!

  12. Jason

    Nate, love the stuff you’re putting up here, T-Nation, and everywhere else..one question though…Where does the timing come into play? Obviously you want some post-workout carb and protein, but as far as the meals go…Would the template you talk about stay the same for a guy who trains at 6am as opposed to a guy who gets his lift in at 5pm?