Nutrient timing is all about eating certain foods at specified times of the day to achieve weight loss, muscle gain, or improved performance. In this article, we shall focus on carbs.
When is the best time to eat carbs when you’re looking to lose weight? What about muscle growth? For performance? Is it okay to eat carbs before bed? Follow us into the discussion as we answer all these questions.
Why Do Carbs Have A Bad Reputation?
Carbohydrates have had a bad reputation for a long time as people believe they’re the leading cause for weight gain, among other side effects. Well, let’s debunk that myth.
Carbohydrates are one of the essential macronutrients the body needs alongside fats and protein. Furthermore, carbs provide the most significant body fuel source as it is converted to glucose/sugar, then from sugar to energy.
Types Of Carbohydrates
All carbs turn to glucose then energy, a process called gluconeogenesis. However, there are two distinct types of dietary carbs that have different effects on the body (6).
- Simple/refined carbohydrates. These carbs only have one or two sugar molecules, hence quickly absorbed into the body. These carbs include fruit juice, honey, white flour, and milk.
- Complex carbohydrates. These carbs have more sugar molecules than the former but are healthier and have more nutrients and fibers. They include oats, brown rice, beans and sweet potatoes.
Both types of carbs are necessary for the body, but they play different roles in different scenarios. For example, simple carbs are better before a workout as they create energy faster in the body than complex carbs. However, complex carbs are best if you want to feel full for longer.
In summary, carbohydrates are essential in your diet; otherwise, you risk your body seeking alternative body fuel such as fat or protein, which aren’t effective energy sources. Fats are ineffective as they lead to the production of ketone bodies which are acidic and may be harmful to your body in the long run.
Protein as a source of energy will significantly reduce your muscle mass and affect the building of other body cells. The best carbs you should take include whole fruits and vegetables, whole grain carbs, and unrefined sugars.
When Is The Best Time To Eat Carbs?
Unfortunately, there’s no straight answer to this as there is no right time to consume carbs. What’s vital is what type of carbohydrates you take and how much you’re consuming. Nutrient timing may come in handy for athletes and other sportspeople but, what matters is the quality and portions of carbs you eat; that’s what will affect your performance, health, and body composition.
Before you focus on nutrient timing, pay keen attention to these elements:
- 100% whole grain products
- Avoid excessive added sugar
These elements aligned with your goals and activity levels will ensure you gain the right micronutrients, macronutrients, and supplementation you need to achieve your desired outcomes.
Nonetheless, some of you may be looking for a way to add some edge to your nutrient timing routine to achieve weight loss or muscle gain. Let’s look at the best time to eat carbs to lose weight and the best time to eat carbs for muscle growth.
Best Time To Eat Carbs For Weight Loss
With weight management or weight loss, several factors come into play:
- Glycemic indexes from the carbs
Even though there are inconsistencies, studies show that when you consume carbs can affect how it’s absorbed in the body. A particular study showed that eating targeted carbs for one meal, say dinner, rather than in every meal of the day, can affect weight, leading to weight loss and feeling fuller (4).
Another study showed your body is better at burning carbs if consumed in the morning rather than in the evening. The studies align with other studies that suggest that weight gain tends to occur with eating more calories later in the day, so larger, carb-rich meals in the evening may hinder fat loss (2).
Due to these inconsistencies, many experts say that when you eat carbs, it isn’t as important as what carbs you take and how you expend the energy from the carbohydrates. To achieve weight loss, reduce your total calorie intake to achieve a caloric deficit. That plus exercise will help you lose weight.
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Glycemic Index (GI)
Carbs can have a high, medium, or low GI. The glycemic index is measured on a scale that goes from 0 to 100. The higher it is, the more carbohydrates contained in the food that we have eaten pass into the blood. Studies show that carbs with low GI, such as kidney beans, green vegetables, and carrots, are much better for weight management and weight loss than high GI carbs such as white bread and potatoes.
Moreover, your glycemic index can affect your blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, affecting weight loss and risk of diabetes. Studies show that the best time to eat complex carbs or any carbs would be in the morning as it improves glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, leading to regulated body hormones and better body composition.
All in all, carbs are vital in your diet as they provide essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Aim for high-quality carbs that nourish and provide all the nutrients in your body.
Best Time To Eat Carbs For Muscle Growth
We have established that carbs are macronutrients essential in your diet.
However, there isn’t conclusive evidence to prove how they can help with bodybuilding. Studies show that taking carbs and proteins post-workout helps with increased protein synthesis, helping with muscle hypertrophy (8).
On the other hand, some studies reveal that only protein is essential for protein synthesis regardless of whether you consume carbs or not (1).
Here are some best time to eat carbs bodybuilding tips:
- Take plenty of refined carbs pre-workout to ensure your body has enough source of fuel for training, especially if you’re into strength, endurance, or resistance training. The carbs will also aid with improving your performance.
- Take equal amounts of proteins and carbohydrates post-workout so that the body can convert them into glycogen stores for energy, and protein works on synthesis for building muscles.
- Take complex carbs after workout as the body will digest them much slower, resulting in the slow breakdown of protein, which aids with muscle growth.
Carbohydrates have no direct effect on building muscles. However, you have to ensure the energy in your body is enough for other activities such as protein digestion and synthesis, which will lead to the building of muscles and recovery.
The bottom line is that your total carbs for the day should be able to support your energy expenditure, especially when the workout is involved to avoid loss of muscle protein for energy. Nonetheless, carbohydrate nutrient timing isn’t as crucial with ordinary people as energy expense isn’t much.
Read More: How To Break A Weight Loss Plateau?
The Truth About Carbs Before Bed
Eating carbs before bed is an exciting topic as there are many theories involved. While some claim it’s healthy and allows you to sleep better, others say it often leads to weight gain. Let’s find out the truth.
Carbohydrates taken before bed can positively affect your sleep by increasing tryptophan production, a serotonin precursor that promotes sleep. It also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, allowing you to feel relaxed and inducing better sleep. Complex carbs also contain magnesium, which can reduce anxiety, so eating them at night can help you sleep better.
On the other end, carbohydrates don’t necessarily have to cause weight gain as it all depends on the type and amount of carbs you’re consuming. If it’s more than your body burns throughout the day, you may experience weight gain as your body is in a calorie surplus.
However, it’s not harmful to take carbs at night because the body will still use carbohydrates’ energy. Your body will use this fuel during rest as you sleep, an expenditure called resting energy expenditure (REE) (7). Therefore, eating complex carbs or protein before bed is okay and leaves you feeling full till morning.
When you take carbs shouldn’t matter as they’re the body’s primary source of energy. So long as it aligns with your activity level and your health and fitness goals, taking carbs at night is healthy and safe.
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Eating Carbs As Part Of A Balanced Diet
Carbohydrates can be in two types, simple and complex. Also, carbs can be in the form of starches, fibers, and sugars. These two types of distinctions are what determines a good carbohydrate from a bad carbohydrate.
Simple Vs. Complex
Simple carbs are easy to digest sugars, quickly absorbed through the gut, and significantly affect your blood sugar levels. These simple sugars can either be in fruits or refined types such as those on baked goods made, soda, syrup, and candy.
Complex carbohydrates are in whole grains, legumes, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. They have more sugar molecules, therefore, take longer to be absorbed. These complex carbs will leave you feeling full for longer, not because of how long they take to be absorbed but because of their fiber content.
Complex carbs are better to include in your meals because they have fiber prebiotic and feed good bacteria. Still, it also allows for the absorption of the carbohydrate to be slower into the bloodstream. Hence, it won’t spike glucose levels and insulin levels like refined carbohydrates.
Complex carbs offer more consistent energy than simple carbs; therefore, even though simple carbs provide faster power, they won’t last as long as complex carbohydrates. Complex carbs are also high in vitamin B9 and Potassium. Lastly, complex carbs usually have a low glycemic index that doesn’t negatively affect your blood sugar.
That said, simple carbs are not entirely bad for your health. If you wish to include a simple carb in your diet, go for exclusive products such as whole fruits rather than processed cookies or sweets.
These will be more nutritious as they contain fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols. Dairy too is best because of calcium, protein, and probiotics from yogurt. The idea is to avoid excess added sugars and sweetened drinks and foods which only boost energy at the moment and don’t contain any nutritional value for your body.
Including carbohydrates in your meal depends on numerous factors, including your activity levels. If it’s pre or post-workout, you could take half a portion of carbs, leaving protein and fats to each take a quarter. For weight loss, take a small percentage of complex carbs in the morning to sustain your activities of the day.
Timing your carbohydrate consumption shouldn’t be a priority as there is no evidence showing how it could have consequences on your health and lifestyle. Carbohydrates have always been and will always be essential to a balanced diet, regardless of at what time you’ve eaten them.
Eating a balanced diet and sticking with your fitness goals, whether it’s bodybuilding or losing weight, is vital to your health. These should be the basis of any diet you follow.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Carbohydrate does not augment exercise-induced protein accretion versus protein alone (2011, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Consuming more daily caloric intake at dinner predisposes to obesity (2014, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Eating carbohydrate mostly at lunch and protein mostly at dinner within a covert hypocaloric diet influences morning glucose homeostasis in overweight/obese men (2014, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner (2011, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Intake of Protein Plus Carbohydrate during the First Two Hours after Exhaustive Cycling Improves Performance the following Day (2016, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Physiology, carbohydrates (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Relationship between overnight energy expenditure and BMR measured in a room-sized calorimeter (1999, pubmed.nih.gov)
- Timing of post-exercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans (2001, pubmed.nih.gov)