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Much like dark alleyways, shortcuts through the woods and creepy looking guys lingering on street corners, carbs are something most people tend to avoid at night.
The premise is that eating too many carbs late in the day prevents fat loss, and may even cause weight gain.
There are a number of reasons why this theory exists, the main one being carbs’ association with insulin. Insulin is the hormone in the body that is responsible for shuttling nutrients through your bloodstream. Whenever you eat a meal, insulin is released by the pancreas, and it goes round, picking up all the nutrients you’ve just eaten, and taking them to the right places. The main role of insulin is to pick up carbohydrate, take it to the liver or muscle cells, where it’s converted to glycogen (the stored form of carbohydrate) to use for energy when it’s needed later on.
Sounds good so far, but there’s a curveball coming up.
Too much insulin in the bloodstream has been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and, possibly worst of all – obesity and weight gain. Elevated insulin in the blood, combined with high levels of blood sugar means that your body has a ready supply of easily accessible carbohydrate, and therefore won’t ever tap into your fat stores when it needs energy.
End result – you feel lethargic, and burn little, if any body fat.
So in small to moderate amounts, insulin is most definitely needed, but in large amounts it can be hugely detrimental.
Insulin is released in bigger quantities when you eat carbs, hence the first reason for avoiding carbs at night – high insulin before bed equals fat storage overnight.
Secondly, and perhaps even more critical is that unless you’re an extreme sleepwalker, you don’t burn any calories at night. There are minor processes that go on, such as breathing, organ function, digestion and metabolic turnover, but the average adult only burns around 60 calories an hour while sleeping – far fewer than you’d burn while exercising, or even working at your desk or standing in the kitchen.
This is where the idea comes from that calories eaten before bed are more likely to be stored as fat.
If you eat a large carb-filled meal, your body won’t have enough time before sleep to burn them off and they’ll therefore be stored as body fat.
So, by the sounds of it, carbs at night should be avoided like the bogeyman.
Not so fast though, not only could these theories be false, there could actually be benefit to eating carbs late in the day.