There is a substantial amount of mythology and miss-information circulating in the fitness world regarding nutrition. We all know all fitness trainers are nutrition experts right? Any serious trainer should tell you that to unlock the potential of you’re training program, proper nutrition is one of the most important elements. No matter how much weight your able to lift, hypertrophy (muscle building) will not happen if you’re not in a caloric surplus. Likewise, all the cardio in the world will not help you shed any fat if you’re eating too much.
One popular point of discussion is meal timing. Even the least experienced fitness enthusiasts have probably heard the theory that eating prior to sleep will essentially guarantee that you gain fat, as the calories consumed close to the end of the day won’t be used and stored as fat etc. But this isn’t quite accurate. Admittedly sleeping does not burn many calories (approx 61 per hour) which incidentally isn’t too much different than the amount burned when sitting around as you may do at work, home or at school (approx 68 per hour). And yet no one thinks twice about eating before work?
It’s important to remember that your metabolism doesn’t sleep, even when you do.
Several studies have focused on meal timing, and yet none of them found that eating during the evening led to unreasonable fat gain. One particularly interesting study suggested that eating at night ‘might’ be beneficial. The research found that subjects consuming 70% of their daily caloric allowance had “better maintenance of fat-free mass” than those consuming most of their calories earlier in the day.
I was taught a long time ago (more than 15 years) that it is “not what you eat, but when!” This was the best information we were given at that time. I now know this not to be true. In the long run, it seems that the total number of calories consumed, not when they are consumed, is the determining factor on body composition.
Another research review compiled the data from a number of studies concerning dieters and found that “meal pattern had no significant impact on weight loss.” Additionally, the review found that 24-hour energy expenditure was not significantly altered when varying patterns of “gorging” and “nibbling” during the morning and evening.
What else we know
A more valid argument against consuming a lot of calories late in the day is that such a pattern might deprive the body of proper nutrients around you’re training, when they are needed for recovery and growth. While it is essential to make sure you have the proper fuel to get through your workout, some research suggest that clustering significant caloric intake and protein consumption around exercise does not seem to be as important.
A 10-week study investigated the effects of supplementing protein in the morning and evening versus immediately before and after weight training. Interestingly while these great variations in timing might seem to have the potential to wreak havoc on recovery, muscle building and strength, this was not the case. The study found no significant variations between the groups, and researchers concluded timing of protein supplementation “does not provide any added benefit to strength, power, or body-composition changes”.
Based on these studies it seems that regardless of timing, overall caloric balance should be your primary concern. So don’t worry, unless you’re pushing yourself into an unwanted caloric surplus, that after dinner snack is not going to kill you after all.