Are Carbohydrates Better For Lunch Or Dinner?

If you don’t eat carbohydrates at dinner, will you lose weight? No more talking about the calorie deficit, making long-term assessments, considering calories, or the importance of training in the gym: the truth to losing weight is to exclude carbohydrates. As well as removing fat. Or the proteins. 

But, between us, no one lives on air. Putting aside the terror of risotto, a portion of baked potatoes, or even a pizza for dinner is the goal of this article, thanks to references to the physiology of nutrition and not to food myths (such as, precisely, the ‘exclude carbohydrates in the evening!). A small spoiler for more or less advanced athletes, gym goers, and bodybuilding lovers: eating carbohydrates for dinner after training even becomes an advantage!

Better Carbohydrates In The Evening Or At Lunch?

When to eat carbohydrates is subjective; you should eat them for both lunch and dinner. If you need to eat them mainly in one meal, it is better to introduce them in the one closest to training  (if you are sporty), it doesn’t matter if it is before or after. Otherwise, please put them in when it suits you best.

Carbohydrates in the evening help to sleep better, while at lunchtime, some can cause the famous post-prandial drowsiness, which is best avoided if, for example, you immediately go to work or study in the early afternoon. Some prefer a plate of pasta for lunch, those for dinner even just out of habit: both can sleep soundly (but those prefer them in the evening more), from the point of view of the daily energy intake, nothing changes!

Carbohydrates In The Evening, Yes Or No? Are They Good Or Bad?

It is commonly believed that it is better to eat carbohydrates during the day and not in the evening, mainly for two reasons:

  1. The first concerns calorie consumption, as adding sugar when you are about to go to sleep increases the chances that these will be transformed into fat.
  2. The second, however, is a hormonal issue: the production and the nocturnal peak of growth hormone (GH) are dampened by the introduction of sugars – GH is in antagonism with carbohydrates, as it pushes the cell to use the lipid metabolism.

Both of these beliefs are wrong:

  1. The first is because we need to realize that energy expenditure in sleep is roughly equal to that of low-impact activities, such as sitting on a bench or desk. So, if you have a sedentary job, the energy changes need to be more significant to justify the daily distribution of carbohydrates. In addition, the night before sleep, there is a surge in thyroid hormones, increasing energy expenditure.
  2. The second concerns the nocturnal GH peak: the hormonal variations in natural people (who do not use anabolic steroids) are not so significant in radically changing body composition. To understand each other, with the same calories, it’s okay if you don’t have the night peak and you don’t lose weight: the alterations are there, but they are not so determined. In addition, if you eat high glycemic index carbohydrates at 20.00, you have reactive hypoglycemia during the night, enhancing GH’s effects. This hormone preserves blood sugar; the more they drop, the more the growth hormone acts.

Carbohydrates In The Evening To Lose Weight?

Weight loss is not based on acute factors, such as eating carbohydrates at one time or another, but on maintaining a low-calorie diet over time. This is why losing weight is difficult: you can go on a diet 5 days a week, but if you go wrong on the weekend, it’s like going back to normal calories. Eating carbohydrates when it suits you (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) is a great strategy to improve adherence to the diet.

Furthermore, after 18.00, carbohydrate consumption is associated with greater leptin production the following day. Leptin is an essential hormone to keep the metabolism active, and it is also a substance that suppresses the sense of hunger: it makes you feel fuller. The fewer constraints you have and the fewer problems you have, the more you manage to make a low-calorie diet feasible and sustainable and, therefore, the more you lose weight. Eating carbohydrates in the evening does not make you lose or gain weight. If you feel like it, it makes the diet easier in the daily energy context.

Is It True That Carbohydrates At Dinner Help You Sleep And Fall Asleep?

Eating carbohydrates after 18.00 promotes sleep and the production of serotonin, a hormone involved in sleep quality. For this to happen, you must have a glycosidic meal with at least 80-100g of starch to stimulate insulin correctly. The fructose that you find mainly in fruit does not improve sleep quality, so it is better to prefer cereals and legumes for dinner, and fruit and vegetables alone are not enough.

Furthermore, carbohydrate intake, if not excessive, is associated with decreased cortisol. Cortisol (the stress hormone) is a counter-insulin hormone that stimulates lipid and protein metabolism. When you eat carbohydrates, you activate carbohydrate metabolism and thus turn off the production of the hormone produced by the adrenal glands. This is another valid reason to eat carbohydrates after 18.00; stress is a factor that does not favor falling asleep.

Do Carbohydrates Eaten In The Evening Make You Fat?

A 100 g plate of pasta (sauce excluded) has around 365 kcal – a value you can check on the nutritional table printed directly on the pasta packet. At 1.00 pm, this dish has 200 kcal; as the hours go by, the calories go up until midnight, when they count as many as 600 kcal. Is it possible? Thankfully not:  the calorie content always remains the same regardless of the time of day. 

Even at the metabolic level, despite the variation in hormone levels due to circadian cycles,  the metabolic response does not change the caloric content and, therefore, the weight loss. You don’t gain or lose weight depending on a single meal but over longer periods (24 hours or a week). The difference between entries and exits over medium-long times decides how your weight varies, not if you eat carbs at 8 pm or 1 pm.

Carbohydrates In The Evening For Bodybuilding And The Gym

For athletes, training is the biggest factor influencing when to eat carbohydrates: if you train in the afternoon/evening, dinner becomes the best time to consume a high carbohydrate content; more generally, the advice is to include carbohydrates in the post-workout. This is because insulin sensitivity remains elevated for two hours after training, then does not drop dramatically but begins to decline gradually. 

If you train in the morning, carbohydrates are better for lunch. If in the afternoon/evening for dinner, because high insulin sensitivity (GLUT4 receptors already present on the membrane) and low muscle glycogen will ensure that the eaten carbohydrates improve recovery, interrupting the catabolic phase and favoring the anabolic one, with a lower risk of transforming excess carbohydrates into triglycerides (fats)!

Having depleted carbohydrate stocks many hours after training can initially lead to weight loss (better lipolytic activity); however, in the medium to long term, it can trigger processes that lead to insulin resistance. Low sugars, high beta-oxidation, and high lipolysis shift the metabolism towards fats with advantages and defects, including an increasingly worse affinity of cells with glucose.

Also Read: Fructose And Glucose, Differences: What Changes?


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