“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” “Don’t eat after 7:00 pm if you want to lose fat.” Blah blah blah. This well-known approach is recommended and adhered to by just about every dieter and fitness expert out there.
The fascination with this eating plan is based on the belief that eating late at night can make you fat. Why would eating late at night make a person fat, you ask? Here are some of the more popular reasons:
1) Since you’re less active at night, you’ll be less likely to burn the calories you just ate. This will lead to a greater percentage of these calories being converted to body fat.
2) Food choices usually get worse in the evening.
3) Eating at night can disturb sleep patterns, thus leading to poor recovery and regeneration.
4) Your digestive system slows down at night, so any food eaten then will not be fully absorbed.
5) And last but not least, a scientific study showed that mice that ate during the evening were more likely to gain fat than mice that consumed the same amount of calories earlier in the day.
At first glace, some of these arguments seem to make sense. The perceived validity of these viewpoints definitely had me buying into the “do not eat late” theory for quite a while, and I recommended that my clients not eat too late in the evening.
This is me, after 12 weeks of late night eating
Then one day, I broke away from this rigid eating philosophy and began to eat meals after 7:00 pm. I was a bit apprehensive about this drastic change because I was getting ready for a physique competition and the “eating late makes you fat” mantra had been effectively pounded into my head by just about every authority in the biz.
Quite frankly, the only reason I changed my eating pattern was because I was hungrier during the evening hours. So I threw the accepted norm out the window and decided to listen to my body (and specifically my growling stomach!).
For 12 straight weeks, I ate late at night on a regular basis. The result? How about the exact opposite of conventional wisdom? I started dropping body fat and getting ripped even faster than I had when I didn’t eat at night!
This experiment and its surprising result gave me the confidence to recommend that my clients follow in my footsteps. Their results were equally impressive. In addition to getting lean fast, my clients and I discovered some other advantages to this new approach:
1) Sleep dramatically improved- This side effect was not expected by any of us, so there is no chance that our sleep improved from a placebo effect. After further review, it actually makes perfect sense. I think most of us have gotten tired at some point from eating a relatively large meal. This “food coma” probably has to do with hormonal shifts following the ingestion of a meal. Our new approach actually took advantage of this physiological phenomenon by letting it help us get more tired during the time of day when we are winding down.
2) Daily productivity is significantly increased- This point is a continuation of point one. By consuming the majority of your calories at night, you can lighten up the quantity of food ingested in your daytime meals. This keeps your energy levels peaking during your most productive hours.
3) Dietary compliance is greatly enhanced- Most dietary cheating gets done during the evening hours. This is due to the combination of hunger and boredom. You see, most of us are busiest during the daytime. When you’re busy, it’s less common to stop your activity, drive over to the local Friendly’s and engorge yourself with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Sunday 10 minutes before an important meeting.
It’s usually nighttime when our minds are less distracted and thoughts of a pizza delivery become so tempting. Therefore, if you have healthy meals PLANNED for late evening, there will be much less of a temptation to cheat at night. Simple…yet brilliant!
According to the “experts”, after a strenuous night of sleeping, a recovery breakfast is absolutely critical to success
4) Recovery is boosted- Eating at the end of the day has the same effect as having a post-workout meal. It helps you recover from your active day, whether you worked out that day or not. When we unwind at night, our body can actually benefit from a replenishment meal.
Most other experts will try to convince you that the most important replenishment meal is breakfast. Really? Do we really need to so desperately replenish ourselves after sleeping motionlessly for eight hours? I don’t think so.
5) Better maintenance of lean muscle mass during a fat loss phase- I have noticed this effect on just about every dieter (and I have body composition tests to back it up). Quite frankly, I’m not sure why this phenomenon happens, but I’m willing to take a stab at it.
One theory of mine is that eating late at night could lead to a greater rate of nutrient absorption. You see, from being active and eating lighter during the day, muscles become depleted. Depleted muscles soak up nutrients like a sponge, much more so than at any other time.
The explanation could also be hormonal. Lighter daytime eating could lead to increases in growth hormone production. Then, eating at night could trigger a release of the anabolic hormones testosterone and insulin.
Whatever it is, it’s real. So take advantage of it!
In closing, I’d like to say that although I recommend eating late at night, I do insist on stopping eating at least 90 minutes prior to going to bed. This is because digestion does take energy, and when you’re sleeping, your energy should be reserved for recovery and restoration. Therefore, you should not go to sleep with a good deal of food in your stomach that still needs to be digested.
Well there you have it. Eating late at night does NOT make you fat! Instead, eating crappy food and/or eating too much are the culprits of excessive body fat. Okay, it’s getting late, I’m going to go grab a bite.