While it is generally agreed upon that proper nutrition is of great importance in any training regimen, it’s no secret that there is an astounding amount of misinformation and mythology being disseminated regarding nutrition and how one should be programming diets in order to yield desirable athletic outcomes. At the end of the day, it does not matter how much weight you are benching, squatting, deadlifting, curling, cleaning, or throwing. If you are not in a caloric surplus, it will be incredibly difficult to induce hypertrophy. Similarly, it does not matter how much cardio you knock out on the track, treadmill, or elliptical. If you are eating too much food, you will not be able to shed any fat!
Dispelling the “Bro Science”
Let’s talk a bit about meal timing. Even if you are brand spanking new in the world of fitness, you have probably heard the theory that eating late at night is a surefire way to increase the amount of body fat on your physique. If you eat at night, your body will consume calories that it will not use, right? Wrong. While it is true that you will not burn very many calories while you are sleeping (only about 60 calories/hour), you are not burning many more calories when you are sitting around idle at school or work (where you are burning about 70 calories/hour). So, when was the last time you saw people hesitating to eat before heading to class or the office?
There have been a myriad of experiments and studies that have focused on this whole concept of meal timing, too many for me to sit here and list off one by one. The point is that none of them have found that eating during the evening will lead to unreasonable fat gains (obviously if you sit around eating donuts all day, you’re going to put on fat no matter when you decide to “time” your sugary indulgences). A relevant study cited by Nancy Keim in the Journal of Nutrition even goes so far as to say that eating at night yields a great deal of advantageous results. The research pointed out in this article finds that subjects who consumed 70% of their daily caloric allowance were better able to maintain their fat-free mass than those who consumed most of their calories in the beginning of the day (1). Given this information, it seems reasonable to deduce that one should focus primarily on the total number of calories consumed instead of when these calories are consumed when attempting to change body composition. Obviously, there are certain benefits to meal timing. There are thousands and thousands of biochemical and hormonal interactions occurring in the body at any given point in time. I am simply stating that, as long as you are keeping an eye on total caloric intake throughout the day, you will notice enhancements in your performance and body composition.
Dispelling a Perhaps More Educated Theory
A more validated argument against eating late at night contests that calorie consumption during this time of the day will deprive the body of many needed nutrients around actual training. While it is essential that the body has proper nutrients before, during, and after training in order to prime performance, and facilitate recovery and growth, it is not actually necessary to time all (or even most) of your food around your workouts. A ten-week study assessed the differences between supplementing protein in the morning and evening versus supplementing the same protein immediately before and after working out. The study found no significant differences between the two groups and concluded that timing of protein supplements does not significantly affect strength, power, or body composition changes (2).
So please, don’t be like one of my training partners who got a speeding ticket in an attempt to get home and have his protein shake within his 30 minute “anabolic window”. By all means, have your post-workout protein shake, but understand that, sometimes, unexpected plans may pop up in your life and you may need to move around some meals accordingly. This is completely ok! Keep tabs on your total caloric consumption and you will be well on your way towards building a better you.
- Keim, Nancy L., 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. The Journal of Nutrition, 1997; 127(1): 75-82
- Hoffman, Jay R., et al. Effect of Protein-Supplement Timing on Strength, Power, and Body-Composition Changes in Resistance-Trained Men. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, 2009; 19(2)L 172-186