Dr. Andrea Militello, specialized in Urology and Andrology, talks about this false food myth.
Can carbohydrates be consumed in the evening?
“Eating carbohydrates in the evening makes you fat, because you don't consume them during the night”.
I grew up with this belief, and only when the world of the web opened its doors to me, reading and absorbing information from the world of nutrition biology and endocrinology, was I able to really understand how inaccurate and misleading there was in this concept, however, it is also rooted in old medical texts.
On several occasions I had also noticed that by eating carbohydrates in the evening meal, I had a better night's rest.
Now everything is very clear, and I will try to make it clear to you too by explaining with simplicity the scientific mechanisms that govern the relationship between sleep & carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are an important macronutrient, necessary for our body to function at its best. In fact, consuming carbohydrates at night can actually reduce stress, helping us build muscle and burn fat. But how is this possible?
Carbohydrates and Cortisol
When we are under tension, our body produces a natural hormone called cortisol . Cortisol is released in response to fear or stress as part of our body's " fight or flight " response and can affect every metabolic activity in our body.
Cortisol activates our sympathetic nervous system (by sending commands to our brain such as "Run, lift, fight, act now"). When we are unable to switch correctly from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode (thus to commands such as "Rest, digestion, recovery"), we can become trapped in a vicious cycle of stress overload .
We should learn to manage our cortisol levels so they peak at the right time, including when we wake up in the morning, during our workouts, and when we need to be alert and focused. However, this also involves trying to avoid increasing cortisol levels at the wrong times (for example, just before going to bed or when meditating or relaxing), as this will inevitably lead to a state of stress. Reducing the production of cortisol allows our bodies to calm down so that we can rest and recover .
Carbohydrates can help us control our stress levels by attenuating the response to cortisol. Consuming them in the evening allows our bodies to draw on that parasympathetic modality so useful for rest , in order to find ourselves in a relaxed mental state that is also able to reconcile sleep.
Carbohydrates and muscle recovery
But that's not the only benefit that comes from consuming carbohydrates in the second half of the day. In fact, our body undergoes most of the repair and recovery processes while we sleep, using both Protein and carbohydrates as energy sources to counteract muscle catabolism and repair any damage. By eating carbohydrates at night or in the evening, we not only block cortisol production, but also provide the body with the resources needed to build muscle and burn fat. We recall in this regard the biochemical saying that praises: " fats burn in the fire of carbohydrates ". A truth that should be noted and remembered often.
Carbohydrates, good mood and sleep
Another very important condition, if not the main one, for a healthy night's rest is always linked to the consumption of carbohydrate foods. Complex carbohydrates are rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that we know is the precursor of serotonin, the good mood hormone . In turn, serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, the sleep hormone . This is why evening carbohydrates, so demonized in the "diet culture", can and indeed must be consumed even at dinner.
So ... Enjoy your meal!
McAllister MJ, Webb HE, Tidwell DK, Smith JW, Fountain BJ, Schilling MW, Williams RD Jr. Exogenous Carbohydrate Reduces Cortisol Response from Combined Mental and Physical Stress. Int J Sports Med. 2016 Dec;37(14):1159-1165. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-113467. Epub 2016 Oct 7. PMID: 27716864.
Leproult R, Van Cauter E. Role of sleep and sleep loss in hormonal release and metabolism. Endocr Dev. 2010;17:11-21. doi: 10.1159/000262524. Epub 2009 Nov 24. PMID: 19955752; PMCID: PMC3065172.
Vlahoyiannis A, Giannaki CD, Sakkas GK, Aphamis G, Andreou E. A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression on the Effects of Carbohydrates on Sleep. Nutrients. 2021 Apr 14;13(4):1283. doi: 10.3390/nu13041283. PMID: 33919698; PMCID: PMC8069918.
Poggiogalle E, Jamshed H, Peterson CM. Circadian regulation of glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism in humans. Metabolism. 2018 Jul;84:11-27. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2017.11.017. Epub 2018 Jan 9. PMID: 29195759; PMCID: PMC5995632.