Q: Is it true that I shouldn't eat carbs after 6pm?
This is another weightloss myth (or broscience from some fitness "experts") that has been around for ages but it still gets brought up by some new clients.
The reason for this misconception is because people believe that they will not be as active in the evening so will not be ‘burning off the carbs”, therefore they will be stored as fat.
This is not how it works.
You need to think about the total amount of carbs you are consuming over a 24 hour period as your metabolism is working over this time. The minute you eat carbs, they are not instantly ready to be used so if you go to sleep soon after, it doesn’t mean they have been stored as fat straight away because you didn't have much activity.
In fact, some lean individuals have been shown to have an increased metabolism during sleep (Zhang et al, 2002). Also, whilst we need carbs for energy, your body uses them for other processes too so you don’t know where those carbs are actually heading.
More interestingly, a group of researchers in Isreal (Sofer et. al, 2011) carried out a study on the effects of a calorie-restricted diet on a control group and an experimental group. Both groups consumed the same amount of calories from protein, carbs and fats but the control group ate their carbs during the day and the experimental group consumed at least 80% of their carbs at night.
The results? Not only did the experimental group consuming the majority of their carbs at night lose significantly more weight and bodyfat than the control group, they also experienced better satiety and less hunger! (Norton, 2015).
If you are in a calorie deficit (eating less calories than your body needs for maintenance) then you’re not going to store fat. Regardless of what food you eat.
If you’re in a calorie surplus (eating more calories than your body needs for maintenance) then it’s the extra calories that are going to be stored as fat. It doesn’t matter if they come from carbs, protein or fats. Although the thermogenic properties of protein would suggest you would store less from protein than from carbs or fats... but that's another topic!
To conclude, I'm not trying to say that based on the evidence above, you should eat all your carbs at night because I do think further studies are needed. However, don't base your carb consumption on the belief that you shouldn't eat carbs at night. As a nutritionist, I would say not to focus on carb timing but I would certainly advise carbs before and after your workout for energy and recovery. If you don’t want to gain weight, all you need to worry about is how much food (total calories) you’ve eaten over the whole day...
Personally, I love my evening carbs, they make me happy and I feel they help me sleep well 😀