When to Eat Your Carbs
This blog post is inspired by a recent question I received where a follower on Twitter asked when they should have their carbs throughout the day. There a few things that I want to touch on here and I will break down the information into the following sections: metabolism, insulin and hormones and the two major myths surround metabolism and insulin. I will firstly explain why you have been lied to about carbs and unpick the myths that surround eating carbs at night. Once we’ve covered the two myths we’ll then cover the best times to eat your carbs for not only building muscle, but also optimal hormonal function and stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Lets get into it…
1. The metabolism myth
The first myth is that your metabolism slows down whilst you are sleeping so you should limit your carb intake at night because it will be more likely to be stored as fat and less likely to be burned as fuel. The reasoning goes that since you aren’t moving around or doing any physical activity, your metabolism will drop. This has been proven wrong by many systematic reviews in the scientific literature such as in this article, and this article.This means that you can eat carbs at night without worrying about it all turning into fat. Furthermore, transient changes in metabolic rate throughout the day are not driving long term changes in body composition (muscle to fat ratio). The common denominator when it comes to body composition is your total calorie intake every day.
2. The insulin myth
The second myth surrounding carbs is that they should be limited at night because insulin sensitivity is lower. When insulin spikes your body stops burning fat/reduces fat oxidation meaning more fat is stored as body fat. Some research has supported this such as this article here, which found that when comparing the insulin response to a morning meal (8:30am) and an evening meal (8pm) with equal carbs, the insulin response was better to the first meal. However this is very likely due to the fact that there was an overnight fast whilst the subjects were sleeping. Regardless of acute transient changes in insulin sensitivity, systematic reviews such as this article have shown that there is no difference in weight loss when comparing individuals who eat low carb evening meals compared to those who eat high carb evening meals. This makes sense since total daily energy expenditure and being in a calorie deficit is what determines fat loss. Kind of like energy expenditure and metabolic rate, concerns to do with insulin sensitivity should be focused on improving it over the long term by maintaining a better body composition (muscle to fat ratio). Coming full circle on this, the idea that carbs should be limited at night due to reasons related to metabolism and insulin can be busted.
3. Carbs and optimal hormone function
You shouldn’t have carbs in the morning because you have different hormonal responses that are occurring in the morning. You have higher levels of cortisol and catecholamines that are helping your body burn fat. If you consume glucose you’re going to shut that fat burning process off a lot faster. Since you are currently skinny this shouldn’t be your number one concern, however if some of you reading this are the “skinny fat” types this is extremely important. Even if you’re skinny, there are other reasons below for why you too shouldn’t be having carbs in the morning. With that being said, lunch time is your best time to start eating carbs. However, you don’t want to go crazy with your carb intake at midday. Anywhere between 50-100g of low glycemic (low insulin response) carbs is fine as this is enough to raise your blood sugar levels slightly (compared to high glycemic carbs) without the huge insulin spike you’d get in the evening if you delayed all your carbs until the evening and had zero carbs at midday. On a side note, the effect food has on your insulin levels is measured by the glycemic index. The lower the glycemic index the lower the insulin spike.
Now that we’ve busted the two myths surrounding when to eat your carbs, there is some more scientific support and practical reasons for eating carbs at night. As you already know, when you eat a high carb meal insulin increases. But it doesn’t just end there. Insulin then allows tryptophan and amino acids from protein to get to the brain and tryptophan triggers melatonin to be released which, together with serotonin, helps you feel relaxed and sleepy. Melatonin is basically your sleep hormone that promotes good quality sleep. Unless you like grinding and hustling until 3am or staying up all night being a nerd playing fortnite, this is the perfect time to get the majority of your carbs eaten for the day. From a practical standpoint, allocating the majority of your carbs to the evening is better because you’ll have a blood sugar crash at the perfect time: right around bed time before you go to sleep.
4. Carbs around your workouts
It doesn’t matter whether you train in the morning, afternoon or evening you need to have around 50-100g of low glycemic carbs at midday and the rest of your carbs in the evening for the reasons explained above in terms of optimal hormonal function, blood sugar levels and better quality of sleep. Not to forget that carbs are a lot more satiating and filling than fats, so having carbs in the morning (besides their negative effects against cortisol and catecholamines mentioned above for fat burning and losing that stubborn belly fat) will make you feel more bloated. So from a practical standpoint, a high fat breakfast is the way to go to make sure you hit that important calorie surplus you need for weight gain and building muscle.
If you always train in the morning then you can replenish muscle glycogen stores at midday with 50-100g of low glycemic carbs. If you train around midday then you can have your carbs either 1-3 hours before you train (if you train at 3-4pm) or 1-3 hours after you train (if you train at 12-1pm). If you train in the evening then make sure you have your first carb intake around midday and then have a high carb meal after you’ve worked out in the evening to replenish muscle glycogen stores. Your evening meal should contain between 200g-250g of carbs dependent on how many carbs you had at midday.
That’s everything about when you need to eat your carbs, but you don’t know how many calories, how much protein and the specific foods you need to be eating to build muscle effortlessly. This is all done for you when you buy a Skinny Guy Meal Plan. Get yours on the link below: