Late night eating. It’s something that we’ve all done before, more often than we care to admit. You’ve heard the rumors that late night eating is one of the worst things you can do for your body weight. It’s often thought that putting food into your body at this time is a fast-track way to gain weight rapidly.
After all, you’re about to go in to sleep for 7-9 hours, lying there motionless and burning very few calories. It would only make sense then that you’d set yourself up for fat gain, right? The answer to this might actually surprise you. Let’s go over a few key points that you should know and remember about late night eating.
Your Metabolism Does Not Stop During Sleep
The very first thing that needs to be cleared up before continuing on is the fact that your metabolic rate is not just going to stop running the minute your head hits the pillow. While it’s true that your body may not be moving like it does during the day while you go about your various activities, what you need to remember is that your cells are still very busy. In fact, some cells are even busier during the overnight period as they are rapidly working to repair any damaged cells that occurred during the previous 16 hours or so. This is hard work and will require energy. Furthermore, your heart doesn’t stop beating, your lungs don’t stop taking in oxygen, and your brain doesn’t stop working, all of which will require energy to be utilised as well.
So the notion that what you eat at night will automatically turn to body fat because you aren’t burning up any calories isn’t correct at all. This isn’t to say that it can’t happen, as we’ll discuss momentarily, it’s just that it isn’t guaranteed to happen. There is more at play when it comes to determining whether the food you eat before bed will be converted into body fat storage.
Blood Sugar Matters
The next thing that you’ll want to take into account is your blood sugar levels. One thing that you don’t want to have happen is a blood glucose crash mid-way through the night. This will cause you to awaken, often ravenous, disrupting your quality of sleep and potentially causing you to go into the kitchen looking for some food to eat.
Ideally you want to maintain a stabilised blood glucose level prior to bed and going into bed as this will also help keep insulin levels down. When insulin levels are high, you are also at a greater risk of accumulating excess body fat, so this too can help keep you leaner despite eating before bed.
The Factor Of Recovery
Another factor of consideration here should be your recovery rates. If you are someone who is active and performing intense exercise training, be it cardio training or resistance training, you will be creating tiny microtears in the muscle tissues that will then need to be repaired after you finish exercising. Sleep is one of the primary times this repair process takes place. But, if you are not providing your body with the raw materials it needs for that tissue repair to take place prior to going to bed, how do you think it’s going to complete those processes? It simply won’t – at least not to the full extend it could be. This means you don’t experience as great of a recovery level the next day, meaning you may even have to take another day off from the gym before you can go back in for your next session. Lack of recovery is a huge hindrance to progress on any gym workout program, so don’t take this lightly.
If you’re neglecting recovery – sleeping time included – you simply won’t see results as quickly as you could. Optimising your sleep time by fueling your body properly is one of the best ways to create better recovery. It’s during your sleep that your body is going to be releasing hormones such as growth hormones and testosterone, both of which are critical in muscle building and repair.
What It All Boils Down To
So all of this said, what does it all come down? Whether or not you gain fat after eating late at night will depend upon two key factors.
- What your total calorie intake is
- What foods you choose to eat
The first one is quite self-explanatory. Basically, to maintain (or lose) weight, you need to be eating as many calories as you burn off over the course of the day, or eating fewer if your goal is fat loss. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain body fat. It doesn’t matter if you eat those calories at noon, 3pm, 6pm, or 10pm. If there is excess energy that the body does not need, it will store it for future fuel (otherwise known as body fat). The number one rule if you want to eat at night without risking fat gain is to make sure that you are maintaining a proper calorie intake. Build that snack you plan to have right into your daily total, making sure that you still stay within your target range while eating it.
Then the second thing that you need to do is look at what you are eating. The problem with late night eating that most often leads to weight gain is the fact that people are not eating grilled chicken and vegetables or some egg whites with avocado. Instead, they’re eating chips, ice cream, chocolate, pizza or other high fat, high sugar, and very high calorie items. What’s worse is they tend to eat these mindlessly. They sit down in front of the TV with a bag of chips or a box of cookies and eat away, reaching the end of the bag or box before they even realised it. That is what’s leading to weight gain. Now, not only are you taking in hundreds of calories, but you’re also eating foods that will spike blood glucose levels as noted above, leaving you left with high insulin in your body. This in turn makes it more probable that your body will convert those extra calories to body fat stores.
All in all, when you go this route, you are just setting yourself up for problems over the long term. While a one night binge-a-thon may not cause too much problems, if you are doing this nightly, you are going to be getting yourself into some serious weight struggles. To add to this effect even further, most of the time when individuals are eating like this, they aren’t even hungry. They’re often eating this way because of some emotional reason or simply due to boredom. That is what needs to stop.
Late-Night Eating Without Weight Gain
So how can you eat right at night without weight gain? It’s really quite simple. First, plan your snack or late night meal ahead of time. This way, you’re less tempted to eat because of emotions and more likely to keep yourself on track by eating the proper types of foods. Next, figure out how many calories you plan to eat during this meal and add it to your daily total. This may mean you now need to subtract calories from some other area of your day. For instance, you may shave 100 calories off both your dinner and lunch meal, leaving you with a budget of 200 calories for this late night snack. This gives you that wiggle room to eat without putting you into ‘weight gain territory’ as far as your calorie intake is concerned.
Then you need to choose your food selection properly. The key thing here will be making sure that you are eating a source of lean protein and then combining that with some healthy fats or some very complex carbohydrates, so as to not spike your blood glucose levels. You’ll want to get the protein in as this will help keep blood glucose levels stable and also help to provide the amino acids mentioned that will help assist with tissue repair and recovery during the overnight period. Adding some dietary fat will help slow the digestion process down even further, making sure you stay on an even keel until morning. It’ll also help to keep hunger at bay, ensuring you don’t wake up halfway through the night ravenous. If you prefer to add carbohydrates (as would be the case if you had done a workout in the evening and needed carbohydrate replenishment), just try and keep it to very wholesome carb sources such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes. These will serve you best.
So there you have the final verdict on late night eating. If you plan your food properly for this time of day, it doesn’t need to mean weight gain. If you aren’t careful however, weight gain is precisely what you will be left with.
Looking to enhance your knowledge of nutrition and health? Join our top-rated professional diploma in nutrition today!