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FITNESS 101: THE TRUTH ABOUT EATING BEFORE BED

Audra Yocom is a certified personal trainer based out of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, who brings you monthly fitness tips and helps us to disspell those myths we’ve all been subjected to regarding fitness at one point or another in our battle with the bulge. To learn more about Audra or to inquire about training sessions visit her site http://audrayocom.com.

As a personal trainer I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people say proudly, “I always make sure I don’t eat after seven o’clock.” As if this, in and of itself, is some sort of critical piece of the puzzle to losing weight– and it always makes me chuckle.  This concept plays a very minor role in weight loss and may even serve to hinder your fitness goals.  What matters most for weight loss is consistently burning more calories than what you take in.

According to Nutrition: The Complete Guide by John Berardi, PhD and Ryan Andrews, MS/MA, RD, eating small meals every 2 – 4 hours stimulates metabolism, regulates blood sugar levels, and helps maintain body mass.  It also explains that if the 2-4 hour time frame happens to fall right before bed, you should eat regardless of what you have heard to the contrary.  PJ Glassey (author of Cracking Your Calorie Code) has some great suggestions on foods to eat before bed (see link http://pjfit.com/?p=123) that can actually boost your fat burning ability while you sleep such as whey protein and organic cottage cheese.

Studies do show people who eat infrequently and wait until late at night after eating little all day tend to eat more when they finally do eat.  In addition, they tend to eat higher calorie foods that are quicker to get or easier to prepare such as: fast food, fried food, frozen pizza, or vending machine food.  These behaviors are partly to blame for the misconception that eating right before bed can cause weight gain.  Keep in mind that when your body thinks it’s starving (which it tends to do when you go several hours without eating) it stores fats and carbohydrates from your next meal to use as fuel later, because it’s preparing for another fast.  Just imagine what this does to your body when you go for that greasy burger after seven or eight hours without food.  The flip side to your body storing fats to use as fuel later is when your body depletes all its fat store reserves and starts using muscle in its place.

This brings us to the next argument: Muscle catabolism.

Muscle catabolism is when the body breaks down muscle for fuel.  When the body doesn’t have enough fats and carbohydrates to use as an energy source it will then break down muscle in its place. Remember, the more muscle you have the quicker and more efficiently you burn fat, so when your body is burning up its own muscle there’s a slight conflict of interest.  I know of trainers who actually have heavily-training clients wake up in the middle of the night to eat a lean snack just to avoid muscle catabolism.  By eating the right foods before going to bed you actually help your body’s metabolism process continue using the fat and carbohydrate fuel sources instead of the muscle fuel sources during an all night fast.  Eating the proper snack before bed time can also help you sleep better, which is proven to help your body maintain proper hormone levels and, in turn, helps maintain a healthier body weight.

Things to remember:

  1. For weight loss you must consistently consume fewer calories per day than you are burning
  2. Eat every 2 – 4 hours even if that happens to fall right before bed time
  3. Stay away from greasy and sugary foods before bed (go with more protein, less carbohydrate as it gets later)
  4. Avoid muscle catabolism
  5. Get the recommended 7 – 8 hours of sleep as consistently as possible

References:
Nutrition: The Complete Guide by John Berardi , PhD & Ryan Andrews, MS/MA, RD pg. 335-336
Eating Before Bed and Gaining Weight”: http://www.livestrong.com/article/87749-eating-before-bed-gaining/
Pubmed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11255140

“Protein Foods to Eat Before Bed to Delay Metabolism While Sleeping”: http://www.livestrong.com/article/286044-protein-foods-to-eat-before-bed-to-delay-metabolism-while-sleeping/
“Sleep Yourself Skinny and Eat Yourself Thin”: http://pjfit.com/?p=123

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