When selling a diet book, telling the truth is fairly far down the list of the typical marketing strategy. No one wants to hear that eating too much is what led them to poke new notches in their belt. I’m yet to see the day that titles such as “your fat is your fault”, or “eat less to lose weight” make it to the top of the bestsellers list. Instead, fad-diet books are focused around something nasty sounding like toxins, gluten, acidity, and insulin. Sometimes, though, the message can backfire. Banning carbs as a fat-loss strategy is one such example.
While completely shunning carbohydrate is all the rage at the moment, no one, despite what they claim, is sticking to that long-term. The next step in making a sugar shy fad-diet more accessible is to focus on carb timing. Eat them after a HIIT workout, before 6 pm, or only on days you weight train and you’re A-OK. Eat them outside of these windows, though, and we’re told that all that sugar will be stored as fat. Does when we eat carbs actually matter compared to how many we eat? As with anything to do with fad diets, there’s every reason to not believe the hype.
I once met someone who claimed that she couldn’t eat after 6 pm. Apparently, her digestion would not work at all past this point. It made me wonder if 5:55 pm was ok, or what happened when the clocks went back. While not being able to stomach anything after six might seem extreme, there are legions of people who refuse to eat carbs in the evening for fear of them turning to fat.
I can understand why people might believe that “unused” carbs could end up in our love handles. Carbohydrate is often thought of as purely an energy source, and sitting on the sofa in your pyjamas doesn’t seem too taxing. However, when you’re consuming fewer calories than you burn, eating carbs in the evening might actually lead to greater weight loss.
- A study from 2011 compared two diets; one with carbs throughout the day, and one with the majority eaten at night.
- Both the diets were matched for calories.
- The people who ate carbs at night lost 3kg more fat, reduced their waist circumference more, and felt fuller for the duration of the diet.
So it seems like carbs at night might actually be beneficial for fat loss. It’s worth pointing out that eating most of your carbs at breakfast has also shown to be highly successful or weight loss. The reason for the difference doesn’t come down to any metabolic magic, it’s purely to do with peoples preferences. The diet you can stick to is the one that will work best.
The fear that excess carbohydrates will be stored as fat, combined with the knowledge that no one will stick to a no-carb diet for longer than 5 minutes has left fad-diet authors with a problem. The way around this tricky situation is to allow sugar to be eaten, but only after “intense” workouts. This both allows for an adherence boosting carb fix while making the dieter feel like they’ve earned it. The body coach, Joe Wicks, describes the convincing reasoning for post-workout carbs like this:
Inside your muscles carbohydrates are stored as glycogen, and this is what gets used to provide energy during intense cardio and resistance training. When it becomes depleted after the session, your body is exhausted, and at this point it is screaming out for sugar, as this is the quickest way of replenishing your muscles’ carbohydrate stores… So sugar at this time is vital – it will NOT make you fat, as it gets digested and, quick as a bullet, is used for refuelling. However, when you eat simple carbohydrates while you’re at complete rest, they get turned into triglycerides, which are stored in your fat cells for use as energy later.
Sounds legit, right? Unfortunately for the millions of people who’ve bought his books; it’s all bullshit.
- No one’s body is exhausted after a HIT cardio session unless your pushing things to ludicrous extremes. Downing a Lucozade sport the second you get off the treadmill is doing nothing but adding unwanted calories. Rather than your body “screaming out for sugar” eating normally in any of the meals after training is enough to recover enough to hit the gym, fresh as a daisy the next day.
- Turning sugar into fat is a really inefficient process; your body much prefers to use it as fuel. The more carbs you eat, the more you’ll burn. Only after days of super high carbs will your body even think about turning some of them to fat. Fat is much easier to store, and will always be the thing that gets squirrelled away first if you have eaten any kind of meal.
- it’s perfectly normal for fat to be stored, and it happens on a short-term basis every time you eat. However, as easy as it is to store, it’s just as easy to get back out of fat cells to use for fuel, like taking butter in and out of the fridge. What Wicks fails to mention is that is the number of calories you consume that determines if you store fat long-term and nothing else.
Fuelling up on carbs before or after training won’t be of any benefit on a fat loss diet unless you’re an athlete. If you want to have a bagel on your day off from the gym or, shock horror, right before you go to bed, have at it. Nothing is getting stored as fat if you in a calorie deficit.
It’s the number of calories you take in compared to the number you burn that determines if you lose or gain weight. It doesn’t matter when you eat carbs.
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