Diets like the Atkins and Paleo diets have very much popularised low-carb nutrition over the past few decades. Undoubtedly, reducing carbohydrates (especially high glycemic carbs and sugar) from our diets help speed up weight loss and body fat reductions.
But a carbohydrate-free diet is not without problems either. Thank goodness people have started to realise this in recent times. But something is still very much up for debate:
WHEN is the best time to eat your carbohydrates?
Traditionally, higher carb breakfasts and low carb dinners (“no carbs after 6pm”) are what most health-conscious people do.
It fits in well with the whole philosophy around “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” where we should reduce the carbs and size of our meals as the day goes on. But this may not be the best way to do things.
Advice to eat high carb breakfasts relies on the following assumptions / reasons:
- societal norms and western “breakfast foods”, which are always there like toast and porridge
- you’ve had an overnight fast
- you need ‘energy’ for the day
- because you’ve not eaten for a while overnight, this increases your insulin sensitivity and enables you to use carbs better.
Yes, you are more insulin sensitive in the morning.
What this means is that your body’s cells better receive the increase in blood sugar that comes with eating carbohydrates. But if your muscle cells are more insulin sensitive, do you know what that means? … So are your fat cells!
So by eating carbs in the morning, they are actually going to fuel your fat cells better too. This is not good if fat loss is on your agenda. As well as this, there is nothing to say carbs are needed for energy.
Low Carb Breakfasts
In fact, if you get used to low carb, high protein & fat breakfasts, you’ll actually switch to burning fat for fuel a lot better. Awesome, right?! We all want to be burning through our fat stores just by existing, don’t we?! Well a higher protein and fat meal in the morning can help you do this.
Remember that you’re never going to be burning exclusively calories from body fat. But changing around the ratio of macronutrients in your diet (carbs, protein, fat) in favour of a slightly lower carb set-up makes for a slight physiological shift where your body is more inclined to use fat for substrate than sugar… And this is a good thing.
This is why eggs / salmon / protein smoothie / organic bacon etc etc will almost always be a better breakfast choice than toast / porridge / muesli.
Carbs in the evening?
And as for not eating carbs in the evening, once again, there is some sound rationale for this. Right before you are going to go to bed seems like a counter-intuitive time to eat carbohydrates because you aren’t going to be using these carbs for daily energy… so they’re more likely to be stored as fat, right? Wrong.
As long as your calories are in control and your food choices are healthy for the most-part, there is no reason that a little bit of starch / grain should go to your waist-line any more than it would from some meat / nuts / oils. It’s all still just food!
Carbs help you relax and sleep
In fact, eating carbs in the evening actually will help you in other ways because carbohydrates help facilitate with transport of the amino acid tryptophan across the blood brain barrier for synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin and hormone melatonin. Without these two chemicals, you won’t be relaxed and you won’t sleep very well. This will ultimately lead to increased cortisol levels, increased body fat and increased cravings. So even if you are still concerned about your evening carbs going to your waistline, you should know that the overall effect on your health and fat loss from eating a little bit of evening carbs will be good because you’ll be better able to relax, get regenerative sleep and control cortisol levels (the stress hormone).