Hang around bodybuilders long enough and you'll hear all sorts of different advice on what dieting methods are optimal. One aspect that seems to split the training community down the middle is eating before bed. In the one camp you have those who say eating before bed is vital for maintaining muscle growth, while others are staunch believers that eating late at night leads to excess fat gain.
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Late Night Fat Gain Myth
Many bodybuilders avoid eating right before bed as they fear that the calories are more likely to be stored as fat. This is not the case though. Your body doesn't have an on-off switch and you still burn calories while you sleep. According to the American Dietetic Association, it's excess calories that determine whether you gain weight, not when you eat them. Too many calories at breakfast or lunch will be just as detrimental as too many calories right before bed.
Clearing Up Carbs
Even some bodybuilders who don't subscribe to the eating before bed myth still choose to go low-carb for their late night snack. This often stems from the idea that carbphydrates are used for energy, and as you don't need as much energy before bed, excess carbohydrates will be stored, not burned. Just like calories though, it has much more to do with how many carbohydrates you eat during the day, not whether you eat them early or late, notes nutritional scientist and bodybuilder Dr. Layne Norton. Eating carbohydrates at night will be no more likely to elicit fat gain or impair fat loss than carbohydrates consumed at any other time.
The Protein Puzzle
Protein plays a key role in muscle growth and repair and you may well benefit from including protein in your pre-bed meal. A protein-based food, or a protein shake, combined with some carbs, fat, or fiber can maintain nutrient availability and support growth while you sleep, according to nutritionist Lyle McDonald. Bodybuilding website Simply Shredded adds that a slow-digesting protein such as cottage cheese may be even more beneficial.
Ultimately, whether you eat before bed on your bodybuilding diet or not, comes down to your overall daily calorie and macronutrient intake. Meeting these targets is far more important than when you eat your meals, notes nutritionist Alan Aragon. If you find you sleep better after eating a meal, save some protein, carbohydrates and fats for a pre-bed meal. If, however, you find that eating before bed makes you feel bloated, aim to eat your calories earlier in the day.