Eating Late At Night- Good Or Bad?

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” “Don’t eat after 7:00 pm if you want to lose fat.” Blah blah blah. This well-known approach is recommended and adhered to by just about every dieter and fitness expert out there.

The fascination with this eating plan is based on the belief that eating late at night can make you fat. Why would eating late at night make a person fat, you ask?  Here are some of the more popular reasons:

1) Since you’re less active at night, you’ll be less likely to burn the calories you just ate. This will lead to a greater percentage of these calories being converted to body fat.

2) Food choices usually get worse in the evening.

3) Eating at night can disturb sleep patterns, thus leading to poor recovery and regeneration.

4) Your digestive system slows down at night, so any food eaten then will not be fully absorbed.

5) And last but not least, a scientific study showed that mice that ate during the evening were more likely to gain fat than mice that consumed the same amount of calories earlier in the day.

At first glace, some of these arguments seem to make sense. The perceived validity of these viewpoints definitely had me buying into the “do not eat late” theory for quite a while, and I recommended that my clients not eat too late in the evening.

This is me, after 12 weeks of late night eating

Then one day, I broke away from this rigid eating philosophy and began to eat meals after 7:00 pm. I was a bit apprehensive about this drastic change because I was getting ready for a physique competition and the “eating late makes you fat” mantra had been effectively pounded into my head by just about every authority in the biz.

Quite frankly, the only reason I changed my eating pattern was because I was hungrier during the evening hours. So I threw the accepted norm out the window and decided to listen to my body (and specifically my growling stomach!).

For 12 straight weeks, I ate late at night on a regular basis. The result? How about the exact opposite of conventional wisdom? I started dropping body fat and getting ripped even faster than I had when I didn’t eat at night!

This experiment and its surprising result gave me the confidence to recommend that my clients follow in my footsteps.  Their results were equally impressive. In addition to getting lean fast, my clients and I discovered some other advantages to this new approach:

1) Sleep dramatically improved- This side effect was not expected by any of us, so there is no chance that our sleep improved from a placebo effect. After further review, it actually makes perfect sense. I think most of us have gotten tired at some point from eating a relatively large meal. This “food coma” probably has to do with hormonal shifts following the ingestion of a meal.  Our new approach actually took advantage of this physiological phenomenon by letting it help us get more tired during the time of day when we are winding down.

2) Daily productivity is significantly increased- This point is a continuation of point one. By consuming the majority of your calories at night, you can lighten up the quantity of food ingested in your daytime meals. This keeps your energy levels peaking during your most productive hours.

3) Dietary compliance is greatly enhanced- Most dietary cheating gets done during the evening hours. This is due to the combination of hunger and boredom. You see, most of us are busiest during the daytime. When you’re busy, it’s less common to stop your activity, drive over to the local Friendly’s and engorge yourself with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Sunday 10 minutes before an important meeting.

It’s usually nighttime when our minds are less distracted and thoughts of a pizza delivery become so tempting.  Therefore, if you have healthy meals PLANNED for late evening, there will be much less of a temptation to cheat at night.  Simple…yet brilliant!

According to the "experts", after a strenuous night of sleeping, a recovery breakfast is absolutely critical to success

4) Recovery is boosted- Eating at the end of the day has the same effect as having a post-workout meal. It helps you recover from your active day, whether you worked out that day or not.  When we unwind at night, our body can actually benefit from a replenishment meal.

Most other experts will try to convince you that the most important replenishment meal is breakfast. Really? Do we really need to so desperately replenish ourselves after sleeping motionlessly for eight hours? I don’t think so.

5) Better maintenance of lean muscle mass during a fat loss phase- I have noticed this effect on just about every dieter (and I have body composition tests to back it up). Quite frankly, I’m not sure why this phenomenon happens, but I’m willing to take a stab at it.

One theory of mine is that eating late at night could lead to a greater rate of nutrient absorption. You see, from being active and eating lighter during the day, muscles become depleted. Depleted muscles soak up nutrients like a sponge, much more so than at any other time.

The explanation could also be hormonal. Lighter daytime eating could lead to increases in growth hormone production. Then, eating at night could trigger a release of the anabolic hormones testosterone and insulin.

Whatever it is, it’s real.  So take advantage of it!

In closing, I’d like to say that although I recommend eating late at night, I do insist on stopping eating at least 90 minutes prior to going to bed.  This is because digestion does take energy, and when you’re sleeping, your energy should be reserved for recovery and restoration.  Therefore, you should not go to sleep with a good deal of food in your stomach that still needs to be digested.

Well there you have it. Eating late at night does NOT make you fat! Instead, eating crappy food and/or eating too much are the culprits of excessive body fat. Okay, it’s getting late, I’m going to go grab a bite.

Dedicated to your success,

John Alvino

Comments

  1. Marc says

    Wow John, great article!

    And I really like the fact that you back it up with your own experience and the people you trained.
    About 4 weeks ago after reading a different post from you about intermittent fasting I started eating like this:

    - 12:00 PM: first meal, shake with an apple, orange, some grapes, banana, lots of spinach, carrots, cellery, a tomatoe, cucucmber, table spoon coconut oil, a scoop brown rice protein, some macapowder and cacaonibs.

    - 05:00 PM: banana, slice of whole wheat bread with humus.

    - 07:00 PM: to the gym, directly after the workout a brown rice protein shake and some fruit.

    - 09:00 PM: big meal: yams, 200 grams beef from grass fed cows, huge salad with spinach tomatoes, paprika etc. topped with olive oil.

    - 11:00 PM: sleep

    I feel great eating this way and it gives me the freedom of not walking around with tupperware boxes all day. And the biggest advantage is like you said, the high energy level during the day! I used to eat quite a big breakfast because I was afraid of losing muscle mass.

    Do you have any distinctions about my daily food schedule?
    (206 pounds, 12,5 % BF, want to gain muscle without getting fat)

    Thank you very much!

    Greets, Marc

    • John Alvino says

      @Marc: Hey Marc, I definitely have the same effects that you are experiencing- more energy and no hassling with the tupperware lifestyle. I would switch up your 5:00 meal. Just eat lean protein, some vegetables, a potato and some healthy fats instead. Keep up the good work!

  2. says

    John, it’s funny because I have gravitated to eating the majority of my calories (not all) in the evening. I train in the morning, so I find drinking a protein shake convenient and “less” filling than “eating” my breakfast. For lunch, I usually eat a small sized lunch (which is usually some lean protein, fruit, and yogurt). I save my largest meal of the day when I can come home and be the stereotypical “couch potato”!! And like you, as long as I give my body time to digest the food before I hit the snack, I usually sleep like a baby ….

  3. Gianni says

    I pretty much follow Marcs exact meals (even down to brown rice protein, but not bread). I do it as often as possible but I work a random shift, and AM training make it uber hard! Thanks for info as per usual John.
    -G, uk

    • John Alvino says

      @Gianni: you got it Gianni, just adjust things to the best of your abilities during shift work. Shift work definitely throws things off a bit. I know this from working with the troopers I train. But it’s all good, we make it work. Good luck to you!

  4. Jessica says

    Thanks for putting another great article out there! I have noticed a difference in my body starting my meals later in the day (12pm & on) I love being able to sleep thru the night and not wake up hungry!

    • John Alvino says

      @Bob: Hey Bob, most people opt for a rice protein shake instead of whey for a few reasons. 1) because they may suffer from dairy side effects (bloat, gas, etc.) 2) variety 3) vegan 4) there are other reasons regarding health concerns of high volume, daily, dairy intake so it is not a bad idea to mix it up

  5. Andrew Morris says

    Another great article, I always remember those old school bodybuilders who would wake up in the middle of the night in order to guzzle down a protein shake or whatever.

    Evening meals keep you growing overnight and breakfast refuels for the day ahead.

  6. john says

    “Do we really need to so desperately replenish ourselves after sleeping motionlessly for eight hours? I don’t think so.”

    uummm….yes, we do need to replensih in the morning…….do u really think your body is doing nothing while in bed while it sleeps???

  7. Lisa says

    I never eat after 7:00 pm. But come 9:00, I am starving! I even force myself to go to sleep to avoid feeling my cravings. this post puts a smile on my face! What time would you say is the latest I could eat?

  8. Brandon Cook says

    John you are like a fitness rebel! Yet also as Napoleon Hill calls an “accurate thinker” who first determines the facts from mere information and then separates the facts into either important and unimportant. You are definitely a coach I want in my corner as I continue to learn about the best methods of training as an ectomorph. Keep up the great work! By the way seems I’m always eating late at night with no real negatives.

  9. Andrew Morris says

    This article once again shows that there are many and varied ways to look at eating. There are so many theories out there, from not mixing your protein with carbs (Don Lemmon and others), eating every 2-3 hours (Tom Venuto and others), eating 2 breakfasts (Jim Stoppani), cycling your diet (Venuto again) , times of protein restriction for metabolic advantage (Jeff Andersen), Eat Stop Eat style fasting , gluten free (like the current Wimbledon champ)etc etc.

    My advice is to test out an eating plan to the limit to see if it works for you. Some folks hate breakfast and can’t eat in the morning others cannot function without it.

    The interesting thing about this article is the reference to cave man style eating, according to research cave men would often get up with no breakfast and go hunting often with an empty stomach.

    The animal/fish foods they did eat was not a daily diet and during times of little protein they would eat large quantities of berries and other plant matter (thanks to Ray Mears BBC series for that info). Also according to tests done on gladiators bones they had a vegetable rich diet- I love my steak but it is food for thought if you pardon the pun.

    Experiment and you may find that the accepted wisdom may not work for you. I find a light breafast works better for me and as the day goes on I tend to have more calorie dense meals (often with a protein shake and an evening meal fairly soon after I do my evening workout – I found out that just a protein shake was not enough for me). Others I know well swear by a 9 white and 1 whole egg omelette for breakfast.I have trouble keeping that down in the morning and when ever I do have a large breakfast I sometimes get the food coma effect.

    Listen to your body and act accordingly.

  10. Andrew Morris says

    I also had to add Venuto has often said to do your fat burning cardio in the morning on an empty stomach -loads of the other guru’s got up in arms talking about the need for big breakfasts and some still to this day talk about having multiple breakfasts.

    My own experimentation showed that steady state cardio done on an empty stomach in the morning worked better then after breakfast.

  11. Darin says

    Interesting, but not sure I agree with not eating right before bed. I even get up and have a midnight snack and this has seemed to help me sleep better. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this?

    • John Alvino says

      @Darin: Hi Darin, I personally believe that during sleep, your body should at rest. Disturbing your sleep pattern and ingesting food in the middle of the night would obviously disrupt this process, which is why I don’t recommend it. But if it’s working for you… Thanks for sharing your experience with us

  12. Jose Garza says

    If you’re fit and hungry, eating late is not a problem, but it should never be a heavy meal. Eating late can lead to digestive and sleep problems.

  13. Justin says

    I don’t care about eating a gigantic breakfast in the morning, now a days I try to make a habit by having some fruits before breakfast and I find that it keeps your hunger under control for a good while. I really don’t think lunch is very important but I do believe that breakfast is. You need something to give you energy to start your day. I think dinner is important because you just have to eat something. You never should go to bed on an empty stomach. One more thing, I use to weigh 213 pounds once and now In in my 170′s just by working out and eating right. I think its not what you eat, its how you eat that makes the difference. Thanks John, your story is very informative.and helpful.

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