The belief that you should avoid carbohydrates in the evening meals is very vivid in the fitness environment. At the same time, people who lead sedentary lifestyle still follow the rule of not eating anything after 6pm. Are you afraid of carbs in the last meal during the day? Check if your worries are justified.
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Carbs in glycogen. This explanation is rather not convincing. Let's take a closer look at the results of research in this area, especially one publication inspired by studying Ramadan.
The rule of avoiding carbs in the meals before sleep could seem well described in literature, but the reality is different. There haven't been many studies investigating the influence of evening meals on shape so far. I will only mention, that the first research considering the influence of consumption of proteins before sleep on the recovery after strength workout was published some time ago .
Going back to carbohydrates, there is one, quite famous, research pointing that supplying majority of the consumed calories (70% of the supplied energy) in two evening meals may have more positive influence on keeping lean body mass during using reduction diet, than supplying the same amount of calories in the morning meals . The loss of body mass was larger in the group with large meals in the morning, but this result was mostly connected with larger loss of lean body mass, not fat. Within this article, I would like to concentrate on another study, which took more time (6 months) and which was done on bigger group of volunteers (78 police officers started the test, 63 finished it) . I will start with few words of introduction.
Leptin, hormone released mostly by fatty tissue, has crucial influence on the feeling of satiety and the tempo of metabolism. Majority of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts have heard about leptin, but not so many people realize that the highest concentration of this hormone can be observed at night (1:00). The exception are Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. At that time, Muslims eat only two meals – suhur before dawn and iftar after sunset. Whereas, from dawn till dusk it is forbidden to consume any food or beverages. On that basis the researchers created a hypothesis, that eating meals rich in carbohydrates in the evening, like iftar, may change the way of releasing leptin from the night time to day time, and increase the feeling of satiety during the day and make it easier to obey the diet, at the same time.
The volunteers were divided into two groups and obliged to eat 1300-1500 kcal a day (people who did not follow that recommendation, or those who did not attend the meetings with dietitians once in three weeks were excluded from the experiment). The content of macro nutrients in both groups was following: 20%, 30-35% and 45-50% of the energy was supplied from proteins, fats and carbohydrates. In the research group, the participants consumed carbohydrates (about 170 g) mainly during a meal at 8 pm or later. Whereas, in the control group, carbohydrates were divided equally in all the meals.
The results of this experiments are surprising. After 6 months all the measured parameters (body mass, waistline, level of body fat, the feeling of satiety, inflammation markers, lipid profile, concentration of glucose, insulin, leptin and adiponectin, as well as insulin sensitivity) improved more significantly in the group were carbohydrates were eaten in the evening.
The presented results don't necessarily show, that adding large amount of carbohydrates to the last mealduring the day is beneficial. In the test described above there is nothing about adding carbs, but it's about the skillful layout of that macro nutrient during the day, what can be especially interesting in the context of some methods of periodic fasting (intermittent fasting), where the calories are supplied in the afternoon and in the evening. Nevertheless, excessive worry of carbohydrates in the last meal is not justified, especially, when the workout is performed in the afternoon or evening. For the effects, the key is the daily (or rather weekly) balance of the supplied and released energy.
Sources: 1) Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, van Loon LJ. (2012). Protein Ingestion Prior To Sleep Improves Post-Exercise Overnight Recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc. Feb 9. 2) Keim NL, Van Loan MD, Horn WF, Barbieri TF, Mayclin PL. (1997). 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. 127: 75-82. 3) Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, Voet H, Fink G, Kima T, Madar Z. (2011). Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 19: 2006-14.