All over the web, you will find so-called fitness “gurus” saying that eating before bed is a bad thing. They say that anything you eat within 3 hours of falling asleep will turn into fat overnight, and you’ll wake up feeling a little more… jolly the next morning. Well, is this a fact? Is there any evidence to support it? Will eating before bed actually cause you to gain weight?
Turns out, there actually hasn’t been a single study ever done that specifically sets out to ask and answer this question (as of 2012). In fact, there’s no empirical evidence that alludes to this even mattering at all. In other words, there’s nothing to suggest that eating before bed is either a good or bad thing.
What About the Effect on Your Digestive System?
Of course, there’s one exception to this is. That is, when talking about people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (aka heartburn). Eating before bed puts more pressure on your body to use peristalsis to move the food down, without the help of gravity. This means the cardiac sphincter is more susceptible to opening and causing acid reflux. For people who are prone to heart burn, it is definitely recommended by the medical community to limit ingestion of food before heading to bed. If this applies to you, then you may definitely benefit from not eating in the hours before you sleep.
What if You Don’t Suffer From Heartburn?
Is there any reason to fear eating before bed if you don’t get heartburn? Well, there are scientific studies that look at the topic of meal timing throughout the day that may help us get a better idea of the best route to go when it comes to eating before bed. In fact, there are a boat load of studies on this issue, and they all say the same thing; that meal frequency and timing doesn’t matter.
In 1997, a massive amount of research was done to compile the numerous studies that have focussed on meal timing. The goal was to connect obesity rates with some sort of pattern. What did they find out? That meal timing, in it’s almost infinite number of varieties, didn’t have any connection to obesity at all. In fact, the only thing that they could conclusively link to obesity was the foods that people were eating, and, more importantly, how much of those foods they were eating in a 24 hour period.
The take home message for us is not to concentrate so much on when we are getting our meals, but rather, the total number of calories that are in those particular meals. If your body is using 1800 calories per day, and you’re eating 1800 calories per day or less, you won’t gain weight. Not even if you eat 800 of those calories an hour or two before bed. It’s the calories in vs. calories out rule. In case you’re new to the site, it supersedes all others when it comes to weight loss and weight gain.
Now, I’m not advocating eating your dinner right before bed or anything like that. I’m not saying it’s okay for you to gorge out on ice cream right before bed either. I’m simply saying that going out of your way to not eat 2 or 3 hours before you sleep is unnecessary. As long as you’re not overeating within a 24 hour period, then you don’t need to worry about gaining weight by eating at the “wrong time.”
Let it be a comfort for you to know that eating before bed does not have some unique ability to put weight on your body any more than eating at any other time of the day does.
What’s the Best Food to Eat Right Before Bed?
In general, a high quality protein source is believed to have the greatest positive effect during your sleep. If I had to recommend only one food to eat before bed, I’d say cottage cheese. The casein protein in cottage cheese is released slowly, preventing your body from entering a state where it turns to muscle mass for energy. Not that your body will eat visible amounts of muscle while you sleep anyways, but for those of you who want to be fickle about your muscle mass, cottage cheese is my go-to bed time snack.
There are two substances that require special mention, as what I’ve said in this article definitely does not apply to them. They are, surprise surprise, alcohol and and caffeine. These two substances are known to disturb sleep significantly, and subsequently, make it harder to reach your fitness and health goals. People tend to underestimate or simply not care about the calories they’re consuming when they’re under the influence of alcohol, making it detrimental at any time of the day. Also, not being able to sleep at night due to stimulus from caffeine is also something to be avoided. Rest is one of the most important factors when it comes to losing weight and building muscle, but that’s for another post.