Is Late Night Eating Unhealthy?

Is unhealthy, and doing so will pack on pounds, no matter how healthy you eat. Other people believe that eating late is absolutely fine, as long as you stick to healthy foods and stay away from junk. Which is true?

Should you refrain from eating past a certain time, or does it matter how late you eat, so long as you eat healthy?

Does your metabolism really slow down after a certain time?

The answer to this debate depends mostly on what diet or mechanic you are using to lose weight. There are two basic mechanics that effect weight and body composition.

1. Calorie restriction

2. Macronutrient ratios (controlling the ratio of proteins, carbs, and fats) Low carbohydrate diets use this mechanic to force the body to burn more lipids for fuel.

Note: There are many other strategies aimed at controlling hormones, glycemic load, etc, that can be helpful. These additional strategies are often combined into a diet. The primary mechanic however remains the same.  Reduce calories or carbohydrates.

What happens to our metabolism at night?

When we sleep at night our bodies power down into a state of extremely low energy expenditure. At this point any left over fuel in the tank is more likely to be stored as body fat. Not all fuel is the same, however. Proteins, for example, are still used even while we sleep to repair tissue. If we have excess sugars at night time it's unlikely that we will be able to burn them off and therefore store some as unwanted body fat.

Pros & cons when deciding whether to include a food “cut off time” as part of your diet program:

Pro: In the short run it will seem as though you are losing more weight. This is mostly because your body will be in a “fasting” state for a longer period of time in a 24 hour cycle. You will wake with less intestinal bulk and feel mildly lighter and digestively “empty”.

Pro: If you are following a reduced carbohydrate program, it will ensure that you don’t unintentionally get carbohydrates late at night. Carbohydrates at night undermine the mechanic that triggers fat loss. This is especially the case when the diet is already built around that mechanic (low carbs).

Pro: Most Americans consume the bulk of their calories in the second half of the day. If your weight loss plan is built around calorie restriction, a cut off time for meals can help keep you within your targeted caloric intake.

Con: It’s a gimmick. No serious athletes should completely eliminate their intake at night. The same mechanic that causes us to lose more weight by going consecutive hours without food (fasting) causes us to plunge deeper into a catabolic state (feeding off our own muscles). This is counter-productive when trying to develop lean mass, recover from intense training, or improve athletic performance. 

Tip: There are three basic body types. Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph. Learn which one you are. Ectomorphs will be most negatively impacted by the above mentioned catabolic effects of fasting while Endomorphs will be the least effected.

Con: Many people are subject to blood sugar swings. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is more likely to effect someone aggressively dieting. Cutting off food too early in the day may impact you if you’re prone to low blood sugar.

Conclusion:

Based on the pros and cons it’s reasonable to conclude that it’s important to know your body type and understand the mechanics involved in the diet you’re following.

If you’re following a reduced carbohydrate diet, some people see benefits from allocating less carbs in the evening while still getting some proteins and fats.

When following a reduced calorie diet that doesn’t restrict carbohydrates you’ll still benefit by avoiding highly processed foods at night. It's a safe assumption that sugar before bed is undesirable for any diet.

I sincerely welcome any questions or comments,
Angelo PoliSET, SPN, CF