Repeat after me:
“If you eat carbs after 6 p.m. it gets stored as fat!”
I’m sure you’ve heard this old chestnut before, as it’s been making the rounds in the fitness industry for decades.
But what does science have to say about this?
Is it true that your body will store more fat if you eat food late at night?
Does it only apply to carbs? Or is it protein and fat, too?
You might be wondering if your evening meal is literally ruining your efforts in the gym, right?
And hey, what if you work night shift..? You supposed to avoid food at all costs?!
Let’s dive in and put an end to this nonsense once and for all…
Does Eating Late At Night Cause Weight Gain?
In a nutshell; no.
In fact, let’s make that a “F**k no!”…
But I can totally understand why so many are confused by it.
Because every magazine states it as truth, and every “influencer” claims it’s one of the golden rules of staying lean all year round…
(Despite the fact that they themselves are not lean all year round.)
But when we put all the bulls**t to one side, real science tells us a very different story.
This myth finally needs to be put to bed alongside other crazy statements like “Eat 8-10 small frequent meals per day to speed up the metabolism!”, and “Do light weights and high reps to tone up!”…
Let’s Prove It
Because we are less active at night, we won’t burn off that late night food…
… hence, it’ll be stored as fat.
But it’s wrong.
This theory is linked to claims that our metabolism grinds to a halt during sleep, making fat loss “impossible” – something which has already been debunked. (1, 2)
Further still, let’s look at the findings of a 2011 study published in Obesity by researchers from Israel which set out to get to the crux of this very matter once and for all…
During this trial, the team of researchers worked with two groups of individuals following a calorie controlled (and macro controlled) diet against the following protocols:
- Group A ate their food at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Group B kept the bulk of their carbohydrate intake until their evening meal.
The second group lost more body fat.
Hey, they also reported greater feelings of satiety and less hunger between meals, and the study itself was performed over six months! (3)
One of the reasons for the confusion, though, is the slew of misleading headlines on this matter.
For instance, let’s take a quick look at a 2019 review published in The Endocrine Society, which claimed that eating later in the day is associated with weight gain. (4)
During this trial, researchers put two groups of participants on intermittent fasting-style diets which saw them either:
- Eating earlier in the day.
- Eating later in the day.
They found that the group who ate later in the day had a higher fat gain.
But before we run away with the headline, we need to look at the things which aren’t being reported for a clearer picture of what’s going on…
First, this trial only lasted 7 days.
I could skew those results all kinds of sideways with one big poo.
Second, no restrictions were placed on calories or macronutrients.
So while it’s a useful study in terms of human behavior, it doesn’t relate to this topic. The researchers did not find that eating later in the day caused fat storage, they found that people who eat later in the day tend to eat more food.
There are no studies in the history of academic research showing a person failing to lose weight when in a calorie deficit.
You needn’t be concerned with magical fat storage fairies, and your muscles definitely do not know what time it is.
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- Zhang K, et al. Sleeping metabolic rate in relation to body mass index and body composition. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (2002)
- Mischler I, et al. Prolonged daytime exercise repeated over 4 days increases sleeping heart rate and metabolic rate. Can J Appl Physiol (2003)
- Sofer S, et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity. (2011)
- Zaman A., et al. Eating later in the day may be associated with obesity. The Endocrine Society. (2019)