Since I could remember, there has always been a huge stigma towards eating before bed because of the rumor that it makes you fat and disturbs your sleep. But is this true or is it simply another hoax to disturb dieters and gullible individuals?
The fact that many fitness “experts” believe that it is bad to eat before bed has almost made it a form of common sense. They claim that eating within 3 hours of sleeping will make you store excess fat and that you’ll wake up a little more plump than the day before.
Is it Bad to Eat Before Bed?
Is this fact or fiction? As any critical thinker, we must examine the evidence. Is it bad to eat before bed? Does eating before bed really make you fat?
It turns out that it has never been definitively proven whether or not chowing down before bed will lead to weight gain. Rather, there have been no studies to date that have examined this specific question. Basically, we can’t prove whether it is good or bad.
Although there are no studies specifically examining the effect of eating before bed, there are trials that have looked at the effects of meal timing throughout the day. And most of them report the same result; meal timing and frequency are insignificant when it comes to weight gain and obesity.
Several studies were performed in 1997 looking at the association between meal timing and obesity rates. The results were clear; meal timings were not associated with obesity. The only definitive link that could be made with obesity was the specific foods that people were ingesting and most importantly, how much of those foods they were consuming over a 24 hour interval.
What Does This Mean?
Instead of getting riled up on when you’re eating, focus more on the number of calories that you are taking in during those meals. If you consume 2000 calories but balance this out by expending 2000 calories in a day, you won’t gain weight. Not even if you eat 1000 of those calories within 3 hours of sleeping.
Again, it comes down to the energy balance equation – calories in versus calories out.
Not to be mistaken, I’m not saying that you should now indulge to your heart’s content before sleeping. I’m simply staying that it is pointless to abstain from eating 3 hours before bedtime. As long as you’re not consuming more calories than you burn in a day, you will not gain weight.
There is no specific physiological process that causes your body to gain more weight when eating before bed versus any other time of the day.
Effects on Your Digestive System
With anything, there are always exceptions. The people that fall into this category are those that suffer from heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Eating a hefty meal and lying down right after will make it more difficult for your body to move food down your digestive tract. Normally, gravity is a beneficial aid in digestion and without it, your body solely relies on a phenomenon known as peristalsis which is a series of muscular contractions that help to move the contents of your digestive system.
Without the aid of gravity, acid reflux is more likely occur. This is where the contents of your stomach propel backwards into your esophagus and cause symptoms of indigestion. If you suffer from this condition, then you would most likely benefit from not lying down within a few hours of eating.
Meal Timing and Appetite Effects
While we’re on the topic of meal frequencies, I want to inform you that the time of day you eat may have an effect on your appetite.
A 2003 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that people who constantly missed breakfast were more prone to obesity compared to those who actually had breakfast.
Why is this? It was found that people who consumed something in the morning generally ate less during the day and were less susceptible to food cravings. And those who avoided breakfast had a greater tendency to go on food binges and as a result, consumed more calories in a day.
So even if you’re not necessarily hungry when you leave the house, try to grab a small snack like an apple or granola bar to help regulate your appetite throughout the day.
Best Food to Eat Before Bed
So let’s say you’re starving before bedtime and simply need a snack to quench that hunger.
Slow digesting amino acids from a high quality protein source are believed to be beneficial to eat before sleeping.
The idea behind this stems from the fact that you enter a fasted-state throughout the night. Ingesting a source of protein can prevent the breakdown of your muscles during these fasting hours. This plays a larger role for those who exercise later in the evening.
An ideal source of protein would have to be cottage cheese.
For years, cottage cheese has been my signature bedtime delicacy. Cottage cheese contains casein protein which is slowly released overnight and effectively inhibits this catabolic state. Even though your muscle isn’t likely to deteriorate overnight, this recommendation is to alleviate those of you who love your muscles a little too much.