The purpose of this article is to take a look at some of the research behind the idea of eating carbs later in the day rather than eating carbs in the morning or throughout. Much of this article come from research mined from Charles Poliquin, famed elite strength and conditioning coach. He has been advocating this nutritional approach since 1982.
Benefits to this approach, which he has observed in many of his clients/athletes include improvements in body composition and better sleep. There are a growing number of nutrition experts and coaches in the field who are supporting this theory as well. The Biorhythm Diet, proposed by Borge Fagerli (1) is one example that backs this protocol of nutrient timing.
- In a 1997 study (2), it was shown that eating 70% of your carbs at night, while on a moderate diet, would produce greater fat loss than traditional carb timing. The researchers concluded that the morning carb feeding group lost an average of 30% of muscle mass, compared to 7% in the evening group. Loss of muscle mass is not good. Fat loss is the holy grail!
- A 2011 study (3) of 78 Israeli police officers were observed over 6 months and divided into two groups. One group ate their carbs mostly in the AM, while the other group ate their carbs in the evening. Study results? More fat loss with the evening group, along with improvement in different health markers, such as blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity.
- In a 2013 study (4), the researchers proposed “that a low-calorie diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner can modulate positively daytime hormonal profiles. Taken together with earlier results, we believe this diet regime may prevent mid-day hunger, better support weight loss and improve metabolic outcomes compared to conventional weight loss diets.”
- Finally, a 2014 study (5) suggests that “Eating carbohydrates mostly at dinner and protein mostly at lunch within a hypocaloric balanced diet had a higher effect on dietary induced thermogenesis compared with control diet. Moreover, eating carbohydrates mostly at lunch and protein mostly at dinner had a damaging impact on glucose homeostasis.” In other words, it’s better to skew your carbs to later in the day.
Based on the research, there appears to be strong evidence that this protocol may indeed be worth exploring. If you choose to give this a try, here is what I suggest:
Figure out your total daily allotment of carbs, first of all. Do you deserve your carbs? If you are overweight/obese, you should be eating very low carb to lose weight / fat and get your blood markers and hormones in line, before considering this approach. If you are already healthy and within normal body fat levels, then figure out your daily allotment, which should be tied to your goals (fat loss, muscle building or performance enhancement, etc…).
- Breakfast: eat a higher protein, higher fat meal. Think meat, nuts, avocados, whey protein, fish, coconut oil, etc…
- Lunch – repeat breakfast, but go ahead and toss in some green veggies.
- Afternoon – repeat breakfast or lunch (but only if needed).
- Dinner – consume carbs in the evening, along with protein, and lower fats. This will signal your hormone leptin to rise, and this will turn on a strong fat burning effect during the over night hours. In addition to leptin, you will increase the hormone serotonin, which makes you sleepy. Keep in mind, however, that this hormone signalling only has a profound effect when you start eating carbs in a carb-depleted state. So, if you are like most Americans, and are jamming sugar down your throat all day long, the hormone signalling effect will be minimal. And so will your overnight fat burning!
One final tweak, per Coach Poliquin for those who are morning trainers. If you train in the AM, eat some carbs directly after training to replenish glyocogen stores (up to 30% of your daily allowance), and then go carb free (except for green veggies) until night time, when you can have the remainder of your daily carb allowance.
1) Fagerli, Borge, http://forum.reactivetrainingsystems.com/content.php?108-The-Biorhythm-Diet
2) Keim et al. Weight loss is greater with consumption of large morning meals and fat-free mass is preserved with large evening meals in women on a controlled weight reduction regimen., J Nutr. 1997 January; 127 (1) :75-82.
3) Sofer et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner., Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011 Apr 7
4) Sofer et al. Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects., Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Aug;23(8):744-50
5) Alves et Al., Eating carbohydrate mostly at lunch and protein mostly at dinner within a covert hypocaloric diet influences morning glucose homeostasis in overweight/obese men. Eur J Nutr. 2014 Feb;53(1):49-60