Eating protein before bed as a way of burning fat is just a theory. It’s at least partly based on the idea that the metabolism slows down at night as a result of fasting. Combining this with the theory that protein helps the body burn fat has paved the way for this premise, but no scientific evidence has been provided for protein’s actual benefit in weight loss when eaten prior to sleep.
Depriving yourself of food does cause the body to hold onto calories, which can have an effect on the metabolism. Basically, it learns to live on less, using fewer calories to meet the body’s needs for energy to fuel its bodily functions. However, your energy needs stay consistent and aren’t easily changed. Just because the body isn’t digesting food while at rest doesn’t mean your metabolism comes to a screeching halt. In fact, thermogenesis, which is the process of digesting and absorbing food, accounts for only 10 percent of your metabolism, according to a report from the University of New Mexico.
Although no specific foods cause you to burn more calories than others, protein does appear to have some benefit in burning fat. A study published in the December 2008 issue of "Nutrition and Dietetics" found that people burn more fatty tissue after high-protein meals. This outcome, however, only seems to occur in overweight or obese individuals. It doesn’t have the same effect on adults within a healthy weight range. Plus, this study didn’t measure actual weight loss, so it’s still unknown whether the burning of more fat translates into weighing less.
Create a Calorie Deficit
Regardless of when you choose to eat, burning fat and losing weight comes down to calories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eating more calories than you use each day leads to weight gain. The reverse is true for weight loss. To lose 1 pound of fat, you need to generate a deficit of 3,500 calories. This deficit is accomplished through diet and exercise. Reducing your caloric intake and increasing your level of physical activity to create a deficit of 500 calories a day causes a weight loss of 1 pound each week. Eating protein at night doesn’t change this fact.
Calories in Protein
While there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad with eating protein prior to bed, mention should be made to your selection. Burning fat and subsequent weight loss comes down to calories, so choosing proteins that are relatively high in fat will increase your caloric intake. A gram of fat contains roughly 9 calories, whereas protein and carbs contain only 4 calories per gram. Proteins high in fat are also higher in calories than low-fat or lean varieties.
- American Journal of Nutrition: Nighttime Eating: Commonly Observed and Related to Weight Gain in an Inpatient Food Intake Study
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center: True or False: Eating at Night Will Make You Gain Weight
- Nutrition and Dietetics: High-Protein Meals May Benefit Fat Oxidation and Energy Expenditure in Individuals With Higher Body Fat
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight