Ask the Fat Loss Guru
Does Eating At Night Make You Fatter?
Tom, thanks for the valuable info you provide through your BURN THE FAT e-book and through all your websites and newsletters. I have one important question about burning fat: I come home from work at 7:00 pm, work out from 7:30 to 8:30 and have my last meal (veggies and protein) at about 9:00. I go to sleep two hours later at 11:00 pm. Is there any problem with eating just two hours before going to bed? Is it probable that eating at night causes more fat to be stored for any reason?
"Does eating at night make you fat?"
That is definitely one of the most common questions asked about fat loss, but what's frustrating is that you hear so many conflicting answers. Some fat loss experts and bodybuilders swear by not eating late at night, while others say it's just a myth that eating at night makes you fat (or slows down fat loss).
Let me share the facts with you, as well as my opinions, personal experience and then some practical suggestions.
The fact is, eating at night does not necessarily make you fat. There are too many other variables involved to make such a big assumption and generalization.
The primary factor in whether you gain or lose fat is not when you eat but rather how much; i.e., the total calorie intake and energy balance for the day (surplus or deficit).
However, that doesn't mean meal timing doesn't matter at all, it simply means that it's entirely possible to eat one of your meals late at night right before bed and still lose body fat, as long as you're in a caloric deficit and other necessary factors for fat loss are in place.
It would be more accurate to say, "Eating large meals late at night before bed, especially calorie dense high carbohydrate meals, increases the probability that you will store some of those calories as fat."
Based on my personal experience as a competitive bodybuilder with 28 contests under my belt, as well as my work with thousands of clients, I've found that tapering your calories and carbs so you eat more early in the day, and slightly fewer calories and carbohydrates at night, will accelerate fat loss or make it easier to lose fat. (but that's not the same as saying "eating at night makes you fat.")
Although some scientists and dieticians reject the "eat less at night to burn more fat" theory and believe that 24 hour calorie balance is the only thing that matters, there are some logical and scientific reasons why fat loss is accelerated if you eat less at night and keep the last meal at least two hours from bedtime:
Whether you decide to restrict your calories (and/or carbs) depends on variables such as:
First, be sure to adjust your nutrition according to your goals. For thin people ("ectomorph body type") who are having difficulty gaining lean body mass, eating right before bed could actually be quite beneficial.
If you're on a strict fat loss program, or if you want to accelerate fat loss, ideally you would want to eat your last meal 2-3 hours before bed, if that's practical. You would also want to eat fewer concentrated carbs at night, keeping the evening meals small and mostly consisting of lean protein and fibrous carbs/green veggies (small amounts of healthy fats are ok too).
Also consider what time of day you're training. If you usually train in the evening, I would definitely recommend eating a protein + carbs meal after your workout (even at night) because post workout nutrition is so important for the recovery process.
The food you eat right after training is very unlikely to be converted to fat because it's needed to restore depleted energy substrates (muscle glycogen) and to begin the muscle repair and growth process.
Most importantly, and I repeat this advice often because it's SO vitally important, but so often ignored:
Make your decisions about your nutrition based on your results:
If you're successfully losing fat while eating at night, even right before bed, even large meals, even with a lot of carbs, then there's no need to need to change a thing, is there?
If you're trying to lose fat, but aren't successful yet, THEN consider making your diet stricter, and one way to make your diet stricter is to move back the last meal of the day and / or make it smaller by dropping out the starchy and concentrated carbs.
The idea that "eating at night makes you fat" is not literally correct, but there are situations when you may want to eat less at night and eat your last meal earlier... that is, if you want to really want to kick your fat loss into high gear!