Is Nighttime Eating Bad?
Yes and, um, no. The devil is in the details, or in this case, the devil is in the macronutrient makeup of your pre-bed snacks.
Previous studies on nighttime eating paint an ugly picture. Eating a late-night meal or big snack before bed leads to more fat gain. (See: The Meal That Damages Metabolism.) In short, fat metabolism is impaired.
Eating more before bed (as opposed to earlier in the day) also raises insulin, fasting glucose, and triglyceride levels, which adds up to a negative metabolic profile (1). Even if those Netflix snacks fit into your caloric limits for the day, the body just doesn't seem to "handle" those calories as well, which might lead to a disruption of your appetite-controlling hormones.
But these studies were usually conducted using "average people food." And the average person is chubby and makes really crappy food choices. So what happens if you switch out the carby or fatty snacks for pure protein? New research published in The Journal of Nutrition sheds some light.
Researchers gathered up a bunch of weight-training women for this study. In one experimental condition, the buff women consumed a casein-containing protein shake (30 grams of protein) during the day. In the second condition, they consumed the same protein shake 30 minutes before going to bed.
The researchers dragged out all their fancy machines for this one and used various methods to measure overnight fat oxidation and subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue (belly fat) metabolism.
The protein shake did not blunt overnight lipolysis (the breakdown of fats) and was not expected to increase subcutaneous abdominal fat (2).
The lead scientist summarized by saying, "Essentially, you can eat protein before bed and not disturb fat metabolism."
- The 30-gram protein shake did not contain a significant amount of fat or carbohydrate. So if you want to switch out your normal, metabolism-disrupting snack for a shake, be sure to use a low-carb protein powder that contains a lot of casein, preferable micellar casein like that found in Metabolic Drive® Protein®.
- The test subjects were resistance-trained women, though this should apply to men too. If you're not lifting weights, this info may not apply.
Drinking a protein shake while watching TV at night doesn't feel much like snacking. Here's how to change that:
- Mix one or two scoops of Metabolic Drive® Protein into a very small amount of water or unsweetened almond milk. You want it to be very thick and creamy, like pudding or yogurt.
- Partially freeze your protein goop. About 15-30 minutes should do it.
- Eat it with a spoon. It's damn close to pudding or soft-serve ice cream and feels a lot more "snacky" and satisfying than just chugging a shake.
- University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Timing meals later at night can cause weight gain and impair fat metabolism: Findings provide first experimental evidence of prolonged delayed eating versus daytime eating, showing that delayed eating can also raise insulin, fasting glucose, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 June 2017.
- Brittany R Allman, Margaret C Morrissey, Jeong-Su Kim, Lynn B Panton, Robert J Contreras, Robert C Hickner, Michael J Ormsbee. Lipolysis and Fat Oxidation Are Not Altered with Presleep Compared with Daytime Casein Protein Intake in Resistance-Trained Women. The Journal of Nutrition, 2019; DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxz186