Eat breakfast like a king, eat lunch like a prince and eat dinner like a pauper.
This maxim can be attributed to nutrition writer Adelle Davis.
Since her passing in 1974, the advice to eat less at night to help with fat loss has lived on and continued to circulate in many different incarnations.
This includes suggestions such as:
“Don’t eat a lot before bedtime”
“Don’t eat midnight snacks”
“Don’t eat anything after 7pm”
“Don’t eat any carbs at night”
“Don’t eat any carbs after 3 pm”
and so on.
I too believe that eating lightly at night is usually very solid advice for people seeking increased fat loss.
Especially for people who are inactive at night.
However, some fitness experts today, when they hear eat less at night start screaming Diet Voodoo!
Opinions on this subject are mixed.
Many highly respected experts strongly recommend eating less at night to improve fat loss, while others suggest that it is only calories in vs calories out over 24 hours that matters.
Critics point out that it is ridiculous to cut off food intake at a certain hour or to presume that carbs turn to fat at night.
As if there were some nocturnal carbohydrate gremlins waiting to shuttle calories into fat cells when the moon is full.
They suggest that if you eat less in the morning and eat more at night, it all balances itself out at the end of the day.
Of course, food does not turn to fat just because it is eaten after a certain cut=off hour and carbs do not necessarily turn to fat at night either.
What we do know for certain is that the law of energy balance is with us at all hours of the day.
Which bears some deeper consideration when you realize that we expend the least energy when we are sleeping and many people spend the entire evening watching TV.
I had the privilege of interviewing sports nutritionist and dietician Dan Benardot, PhD, and he gave us an interesting perspective on this.
According to him, thinking in terms of 24 hour energy balance may be a seriously flawed and outdated concept.
He says that the old model of energy balance looks at calories in versus calories out in 24 hour units.
However, what really happens is that your body allocates energy minute by minute and hour by hour as your body’s needs dictate, not at some specified 24-hour end point.
Let us assume most people come home from work, then plop on the couch in front of the TV all night.
They tend to go to bed late in the evening, usually around 10 pm, 11 pm or midnight.
Therefore, night-time is the period during which the least energy is being expended.
If this is true, then it is logical to suggest that one should not eat huge amounts of calories at night.
Especially right before bed because that would provide excess fuel at a time when it is not needed.
The result is increased likelihood of fat storage.
From the within day energy balance perspective, the advice to eat less at night makes complete sense.
Of course, it also suggests that if you train at night, then you should eat more at night to support that activity beforehand and to support recovery afterwards.
Those stuck on a 24-hour model of energy expenditure would say timing of energy intake does not matter so long as the total calories for the day are in a deficit.
But who decided that our body should operate on a 24-hour day?
A more personalized suggestion is to cut off food intake 3 hours before bedtime, if practical and possible.
For example, if you eat dinner at 6 pm but do not go to bed until 12 midnight, then a small 9 pm meal or a snack makes sense.
But keep it light, preferably lean protein, and do not raid the refrigerator at 11:55pm.
Having said that, night time eating will remain a subject of debate.
Especially the part about whether carbs should be targeted for removal in evening meals.
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is the author of Burn the Fat, lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements.
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