There are many myths surrounding carbohydrates, not the least of which being the timing of their intake. Some say consume carbs in the morning, some say after a workout, some say not at all. The best recommendation? Consume them later in the day, to maximize body composition and health benefits.
While many bodybuilding gurus have preached, and continue to preach, carbs in the morning, this is not the best option. Consuming carbs later in the day can benefit body composition, by teaching the body to use fat as a primary fuel source, and can also improve sleep, which is very important for fat loss, recovery from training, and overall health.
Nutrition experts of the last few years have been pushing for new diets that call for moving carb intake to the end of the day. John Keifer’s “Carb Back-Loading” protocol, and “Carb Nite” diet, make a case for eating most of the carbs at the end of the day. Another very popular, and educated fitness professional, Ben Pakulski, advocates no carbs until later in the day, and is a big fan of consuming high doses of protein and healthy fats for breakfast, such as meat and nuts.
In addition to the teachings of these experts, several studies have come out, validating these claims. One study in 1997 (1) showed that by eating 70% of daily carbohydrate totals at night, while on a moderate diet, participants lost more fat, while losing less overall bodyweight. This was due to the morning carb eaters losing 30% of their weight from muscle, versus the evening carb group, who lost only 7% muscle.
In 2011, another study was completed, this time looking at Israeli police officers varying their carbohydrate intake times (2). Over a period of six months, the officers were observed in two groups. One group had their carbs in the morning, one had their carbs at night. The results were the same. The evening carb group showed improved body composition, and improvements in overall health markers.
In 2013, in a study by the same authors as the Israeli police force study (3), the authors suggest that a low-calorie diet, with carbs placed around dinner, could positively affect hormones. They said this hormonal regulation could help prevent hunger and cravings throughout the day, helping aid dietary adherence.
Lastly, a 2014 study (4) showed that eating mostly carbs at dinner, with mostly protein at lunch, resulted in a higher dietary-induced level of fat burning, known as thermogenesis, compared with a control diet. In the opposite group, with carbs at lunch, and protein at dinner, glucose levels were disrupted, which is not a desired effect for overall health.
So, to summarize. The best way to schedule your day, is to consume high protein foods in the morning, through early afternoon, along with high doses of good fats. Natural animal fats, such as those found in meats and eggs, are great for these meals. In the evening, consume whatever amounts of carbs is allotted to you on your current nutrition plan. This will increase leptin output, a hormone responsible for fat burning, which will work to burn fat overnight, and the next day. Another benefit to eating carbohydrates at night is the serotonin release, which can improve sleep quality.
The one exception would be for morning trainees. If you strength train in the morning, it’s okay to consume some carbs after your workout for recovery purposes, say, 20-30% of your daily total. Otherwise, save them until the evening.
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1) Keim et al. 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. 1997 January; 127 (1) :75-82.
2) Sofer et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner., Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011 Apr 7
3) Sofer et al. Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects., Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2013 Aug;23(8):744-50
4) Alves et Al., Eating carbohydrate mostly at lunch and protein mostly at dinner within a covert hypocaloric diet influences morning glucose homeostasis in overweight/obese men. Eur J Nutr. 2014 Feb;53(1):49-60