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Does Eating Too Close to Bedtime Make You Fat?

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When you’ve decided to cut fat you’ll want to attack your physique from all angles. You’ll need to work hard on the gym floor and make sure the diet is clean and full of nutrients.

You want to get it right and leave nothing to chance.

Many people believe that eating late at night can cause you to gain weight. That you body has an internal alarm that pushes incoming calories into your fat cells after the clock strikes a certain hour. Others say that eating a bedtime snack can ramp up fat loss and improve body composition.

So what is the best way to optimize weight loss and which way do you turn to get the best results?

In this article we take a look.



Calories and Weight Gain

Calories can make or break your physique. When it comes to shifting body fat or adding muscle bulk this is both your starting point, and your priority.

The calories in – calories out (CICO) model suggests that if you consume more food energy than you burn off in a day you’ll start to store the excess calories as fat, and your weight will start to creep up. Calorie surplus simply means you’re taking in too much food.

On the other hand, if you burn off more than you consume you’ll start to tap into stored fat and use it as energy. You’ll begin to lose weight. This is called a calorie deficit. 

And of course, if you take the same amount as you burn off your weight will stay the same.

It’s an ever-changing battle of thermodynamics. Each time your weight changes, you manipulate your food intake accordingly. It might sound like a difficult task – but rest assured, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Bottom line? Consume more calories than you burn off and you’ll start to put weight on.


If you’re not sure how many calories you need to lose or gain weight you can use or calorie counter. Just fill in your details and we’ll do the rest. This makes your job even easier.


Meal Timing – Is it Important?

The answer is not as much as you might think.

There are a number of ‘rules’ floating around when it comes to meal timing. They’ve been a part of the fitness industry for years.

  • You have to eat protein within 15 minutes of training to build muscle
  • Never skip breakfast as it’ll lead to weight gain
  • You can’t eat carbs last thing at night to lose fat
  • Space your meals out into 6 small ones instead of 3 large ones to ramp up your metabolism.

You’ll have heard at least one of these before.

For the large part, these won’t affect your weight loss that much. The main thing of course is that you’re hitting a negative energy balance. This is the key to weight loss. It’s essential.

Studies have found that focusing on the basics is by far the best way to improve your body composition. That means taking in the right amount of calories and eating a balanced diet is far more important that hitting 234 g of carbs at exactly 13:02 pm or fighting your way to the protein shake bar before you miss out on your ‘anabolic window’.

Does this mean that meal timing isn’t important ? Not at all. There are a number of benefits to properly planning your meal schedule – but this is for much later on in your journey.



Bottom line: meal timing won’t affect your metabolism that much. It’s all about finding eating patterns that suit your lifestyle. 


Late Night Eating – A Route to Weight Gain?

Late night eating is a bit of a hot topic at the moment. And there are two main schools of thought as to why it might affect your weight:

  • Eating late at night could cause weight gain as your metabolic rate slows during sleep
  • Bedtime snacks could boost fat loss by improving sleep and recovery

It’s no surprise then that you’re confused. And it’s about to get worse, as research backs up each side of the argument.

Your metabolism doesn’t change that much at night

Although you might think that your metabolic rate plummets whilst you’re asleep, it doesn’t actually vary that much.

A study published in Physiology and Behaviour [1] found that when energy expenditure was measured in a group of men and women for a 36-hour period, metabolic rate only increased slightly in the evening (2.7%). Other than that it remained pretty much the same.

This was related to an increase in physical activity on the same day too. More activity equals a higher metabolism.

Similar results were published by Fontvieille et al too [2]. In their study, subjects had their sleeping metabolic rate measured overnight against different stages of sleep. They found that at best, sleep stages played only a minor role in metabolism.

There could be more to it though

So even though there’s no reason why eating late at night could cause weight gain, there are studies that show it does.

Research in Nutrition Research [3] suggested that eating closer to bedtime could in theory lead to weight gain for two main reasons:

  • A greater number of eating occasions – basically it’s another meal.
  • Higher total daily caloric intake – more meals equals more calories.

So it’s not that there’s a certain cut off point where your physiology switches to fat storage mode; it’s just that squeezing in that last meal might push you from a calorie deficit into an energy surplus – and fat gain.



Timing of Food Might predict Weight Loss

Regardless of the mechanisms behind it, there are still many studies that show a relationship between late eating and weight loss effectiveness.

Garaulet et al [4] found that meal timing influenced weight loss in a group of men and women. The volunteers were assigned a group based on whether they preferred to eat their meals later or earlier in the day.

After 20 weeks, those that ate earlier in the day lost more weight even though metabolic rate and energy expenditure were similar.

Late nights and macronutrient intake

Research may also suggest that eating different types of foods could affect weight gain.

A study in Appetite [5] found that those who ate protein within 4 hours of bed time tended to have higher BMIs. But before you think about throwing out that late night snack bear this in mind -BMI doesn’t measure fat, only weight. The additional weight could have quite easily been lean mass and not necessarily fat.

Eating carbs or protein after 8:00 pm was associated with higher total calories.

Eat late at night and you might even lose weight

So whilst late night eating might cause weight gain in some, it may help others lose weight.

An interesting study by Waller et al [6] found that giving a group of ‘late night snackers’ a bowl of cereal and milk after their evening meal led to a reduction in daily energy intake of almost 400 calories.

The research team suggested that a structured and standardized meal such as cereal could help regulate energy intake in night snackers as opposed to a more ‘free for all’ approach where you risk of just grabbing something from the refrigerator with little planning.



Bottom line: It’s all down to preference. If late night eating makes you feel bloated and reduces sleep quality then aim to eat earlier in the day. If you’re putting weight on then try to eat less.. If a bedtime snack helps you build muscle and sleep better then carry on what you’re doing.


Summary

Whether you gain weight by eating later on in the day or not depends on a number of things – your overall daily energy intake and habits for example.

Can a small bedtime snack put the brakes on your cut? No, it’s doubtful. But if you’re cramming in another meal for the sake of it and it puts you in a calorie surplus then yes, you’ll start to put weight on.

You need to be aware that the most important part of your fat loss journey is calorie balance. When you eat your food is up to you, but maintain an balanced overall daily intake and let your body do the rest.


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References

  1. Schoffelen, PF et al. Intra-individual variability and adaptation of overnight- and sleeping metabolic rate. Physiol Behav. 2008; 94(2): 158-63
  2. Fontvieille, AM et al. Relationship between sleep stages and metabolic rate in humans. Am J Physiol. 1994; 267(5 Pt 1): E732-7
  3. Reid, KJ et al. Meal timing influences daily caloric intake in healthy adults. Nutr Res. 2014; 34(11): 930-5
  4. Garaulet, M et al. Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013; 37(4): 604-11
  5. Baron, KG et al. Contribution of evening macronutrient intake to total caloric intake and body mass index. Appetite. 2013; 60(1): 246-51
  6. Waller, SM et al. Evening ready-to-eat cereal consumption contributes to weight management. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004; 23(4): 316-21


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