Evening Meals: Mistakes And Solutions
There are a lot of myths about eating in the evening. To be more specific, it’s about the last meal of the day: many think that we should consume carbs before bed, while others believe we should not eat at all after 6 pm. There are a lot of pitfalls, so it’s easy to fall at this point. And this can have an impact on your body composition in the long run. Below you can read a few things which are worth considering when planning your evening meals.
Late carbs and body fat
You can hear it a million times: amateurs, or even people with better physiques saying things like: “No carbs after 6 pm, because that will lead to fat gains and a total disaster”. Many schedule the last meal with carbs to even earlier. On the other hand, I often see diet plans with a full portion of Jumbo or a protein shake with oatmeal scheduled before bedtime. So, I am not shocked any more, if I hear something like choking down 100 grams of dextrose before going to bed. To cut a long story short: the opinions on this matter are extremely variable: some people minimize carbohydrate intake in the second half of the day, while others take it too far and stuff themselves with simple or complex carbs even minutes before bed. And worst of all: these guys often hear all this nonsense from personal trainers or at fitness shops.
Basically, what’s the problem, if any, with consuming carbs in the evening?
There are several aspects. First, we keep telling you ourselves that as long as you are active, you should eat, including carbs when necessary. Especially if the last meal of the day is although late in the evening, but right after workout. However, it also makes sense that in the evening, your carbohydrate needs decrease in parallel with your activity levels. But it also matters a lot how far along you are in bodybuilding: the bigger your muscle mass, the greater freedom you have. Maintaining a bigger muscle mass requires more energy by default, and the BMR is bigger, too, which means, you can burn more calories even when you are inactive. On the other hand, if you are skinny with less muscle, a carbohydrate-vendetta before bed is not the best idea for you. One portion of mass gainer before bed is OK if you are skinny, provided that you aim for fat gains.
Leading a bodybuilder lifestyle implies that you have about 4 or, more likely, 5-6 meals a day. By the end of the day, you can usually consume the amount of carbohydrates that is needed to refill your depleted glycogen depots. In this case, if you eat carbs in the evening before bedtime, your body won’t be able to stack it into the glycogen depots any more, because they are full. So, the carbs will land in your fat deposits. For this reason, if your daily carb intake is not divided into several smaller portions more or less evenly during the day but you plan to tailor your carb intake to your activity levels, the best solution is to schedule a smaller part to the evening hours. If a late meal is scheduled because you are up late: in this case, a protein or protein-fat based meal like meat+vegetables is ideal. Plus, if one more meal is scheduled right before bed, it is recommended to have a shake or other lean solid protein source like low-fat cottage cheese.
Insulin sensitivity should be taken into consideration as well. Insulin sensitivity is poorer in the evening hours. This means, you are more likely to build fat from the carbs you eat. On the other hand, if your glycogen storages are not full or straight depleted (e.g. after workout), your insulin sensitivity is better, so you will be less likely to gain fat if you eat carbs. Of course, starvation is not an option, as this is the best way of teaching your body how it should start to stack up the carbs like crazy whenever it gets some. To stack them in the fat depots. So, if you are not planning to eat after 6 pm but you are active until 11 pm or midnight, this is not the way to control your body fat level.
“I avoid fats in the evening, because they prevent GH production!”
Another common misconception. In fact, optimizing growth hormone production is another good reason for lowering your late night carb intake. It is a misbelief that the consumption of fats or essential fatty acids will lower growth hormone production. The secretion of this hormone begins approximately 30 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. But high insulin or blood sugar levels can seriously interfere with growth hormone production. The human body works in an extremely complex manner. And after all, it makes sense that if you go on a binge shortly before going to bed, you will gain fat. However, this depends on several factors including lower growth hormone levels. If you happen to work out in the evening, that’s a horse of a different color: you will need carbs to refill your glycogen depots. In this case, your post-workout shake can be followed by a meal of moderate carbohydrate content. Or, if you are prone to fat gains, a meat+veggies type of meal. In that case, your shake will provide you enough carbs after workout. Your blood sugar level will drop quite fast as your glycogen storages are getting refilled, so this won’t interfere with your GH production.
So, if your diet requires more calories but you don’t want to eat carbs before bed or with the last solid meal of the day, feel free to eat protein with some fats, preferably essential fatty acids. There is nothing wrong with the fat content of low-fat cottage cheese either, if you eat it in itself or with protein powder. Just skip carbs and there will be no problem.
“You can say whatever you want: I go on a binge in the evening because I work out in the morning and I need fuel!”*
Well, do as you wish, but you should know: this is not a solution. It is another common myth that the glycogen storages will be depleted by morning. Why would they? Does the glycogen evaporate? Will you sweat it out? Or the sandman steals it because he wants to be muscular, too? True: recovery processes that take place while you are sleeping, as well as brain activity and the maintenance of basic life functions all require energy, so your body will use up some glycogen by morning. But if you went to bed with your storages full, they will remain more or less full when you wake up. For this reason, working out on an empty stomach might make sense: you will have pretty much fuel for workout. Still many don’t dare to try it, mostly because they overworry it (while others simply cannot work out in the morning). If your last solid meal in the evening is rich in all the macro nutrients, you will more likely gain fat. Plus, if you add a meal that is rich in carbs and proteins before bed, you are wrecking the natural hormone production processes of your system, too. So, you better not do it.
Useful tips and hints for evening meals
Just a few small things; not a big deal.
- Schedule most of your carb intake to the morning hours and after workout.
- Or, you might split up the daily amount evenly to several portions including evening meals, if you are active at this time of the day.
- If you are prone to fat gains, you should gradually decrease the amount of carbs in your meals as the day goes by. And, if necessary, add some essential fatty acids (for example, flaxseed oil) to your protein-based evening meal.
- Needless to say (I hope so!) that you should eat vegetables with your meals. But this becomes especially important in the evening: fibers reduce the glycemic index of carbohydrate sources and slow down their digestion, which entails beneficial physiological effects.
- Avoid carbohydrates before bed, except for the negligible amount in the protein shake.
- Right before bed, you can eat protein in itself, as a shake or from other lean sources.
- No need to worry about fats either. However, make sure they are from quality sources.
For evening meals, classic protein sources are ideal, most of all, meats or low-fat dairies. The same goes for the meal before bed. A protein shake is the most convenient solution, generally of a slow absorption type. However, I do not necessarily agree with this. All this hype about casein may be a little bit exaggerated: even the biological value of micellar casein (which is considered a quality source) is only 77, mostly because of its absorption characteristics. Let’s say that you have 20 g of casein before bed. This slimy stuff will sit in your stomach for about 3 or 3.5 hours, and while it is being slowly digested, it will gradually flood your blood stream with amino acids. This sounds pretty good, yet it is questionable whether those few milligrams of amino acids matter over such a long time span. A plain whey protein concentrate shake, on the other hand, is fully absorbed in about one hour and provides “night provisions” in the form of amino acids in a higher concentration at one time.
As for myself, I appreciate that better. Alright, you don’t have to agree with me. But in my experience, it is pointless to use 2 or 3 kinds of proteins with different absorption characteristics just because you care so much about slow absorption.Believe me: your development won’t stand or fall on this. Casein is definitely a good solution, especially if you are prone to starve at night, because it fills you much better. Otherwise, plain whey protein concentrate or a whey-based product is a more economic solution. Or, for example, if beef protein is the only option for you, choose beef protein concentrate. It will do the job just as good. Cottage cheese contains micronutrients and beneficial bacteria as well, which are important for your intestinal system. So, in the big picture, it has a lot of benefits. You might as well try meat before bed. Your digestive system can handle it easier than cottage cheese, and remember: meat is still a superior protein source.
*The matter of morning binges may be a different topic, but let me mention it here, in relation to evening binges. Because many have mass gainers or other simple carb sources in the morning, or schedule a cheat meal to this time of the day. This is a huge mistake! Your insulin sensitivity is at the bottom in the morning right after waking up. This means, muscle cells are less capable of taking up the glucose coming from the carbs you ingested. And, if you bomb your body with sugars, simple carbs or junk food at this time: well then, you have just bought your ticket to the express train heading for obesity. Speaking of quantity: if you opt for complex carbohydrate sources, you can have more of these at this time, provided that they come from quality sources.
If I had to highlight one thing in this article, I would say it is carb intake. Because usually, this is the Achilles heel of all diets, even if having mass gainer or 100 g of dextrose before bed is out of the question for you because you are smarter than that. To sum it up: the evening meal is at least as important as any other meal during the day. However, there are several other aspects you should keep in mind when planning your dietary regimen to get into a perfect shape.
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