Why Carbs At Night for Fat Loss

There are so dang many myths about fat loss it’s horrifying. The vast majority of these myths are about carbohydrates and calories. Many of us are so desperate for the “answers” to our fat loss problems that we’ll try anything any everything to take the weight off. Unfortunately, that means we waste a whole lot of time and energy on strategies that just don’t work and/or aren’t remotely healthy.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself why so many people are *always* on a diet yet can’t sustain lasting weight loss. No, seriously! Is what you’re doing working for you?

If you’d rather hear me explain this and watch a video training, click here!

One of the most common fat loss myths is that you should eat your carbs in the morning so you have all day to burn them off. That is not true. That does not reflect how your body works and in this post my goal is to explain why you should eat your carbs at night when fat loss is your goal.

Before I dive into the explanation, let me see if this sounds familiar to anyone out there: Have you ever had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and felt hungry less than hour later? Or chowed down on a big bagel but it didn’t hold you over for long?

When fat loss is the goal and we start the day with carbohydrates (think: granola and fruit, bagel, cereal, pancakes, etc) we set ourselves up to prevent fat burning and trigger extreme hunger, constant cravings and low energy.

This is true because of the unique hormonal environment in the body after an overnight fast and upon waking. After an overnight fast, your blood sugar and insulin levels will be low when you wake up. This makes the morning the time of day when we will have the most exaggerated response to consuming carbohydrates.

I like to explain it using this analogy: Imagine you were in a totally dark room for 12+ hours and then someone comes in and turns on a flood light. Your eyes would have an extreme response, right? Now imagine you’ve been outside in the sun all day and someone comes out and turns on a flood light. Very minor response, if any, right?

Introducing carbs in the morning is like turning on the flood light after being in the dark room for hours and hours. Your body has been fasting while you sleep. Your fuel is low. You will have an exaggerated blood sugar and insulin response in the morning.

Why does that impair fat burning? Because you cannot burn fat when insulin is high. Insulin is a storage hormone. A fuel delivery hormone. The presence of insulin tells the body, “Hey! We’ve got fuel! We’re in storage mode now!” and that message prevents the breakdown of body fat for energy.

Your body doesn’t need it when your blood sugar and insulin are elevated. The exaggerated morning response means a larger surge of blood sugar and therefore a more significant insulin response. The result: more time out of fat burning mode compared with introducing carbs later in the day. On the flip side, when we don’t send our blood sugar soaring in the morning, we don’t require a large insulin deployment and we will be in prime fat burning mode! Love it! Introducing carbs in the morning puts us in what I call the carbohydrate cycle (I’ve written in more detail about it here). This happens with high carb meals like pancakes, cereal, granola & fruit, etc.

  • We raise blood sugar and insulin (there is a heightened response bc it’s the morning so a larger increase in both than we’d see later in the day)
  • We feel a slight surge of energy
  • Insulin clears the sugar from the blood and blood sugar drops off (the more dramatic the peak, the more dramatic the valley. You’ll feel that!)
  • Energy crash
  • Sensing low blood sugar, your brain triggers hunger and cravings for carbohydrates even if your body doesn’t truly need more fuel.
  • Feeling artifically hungry and battling carb cravings, we eat more carbs
  • Finnegan Begin-again (anybody remember that song? Just me?)

 

Carb Cycle This carb cycle is why so many of us go searching for mid-morning sugary snacks like granola bars, soda or candy bars. We’re trapped in the carb cycle that we entered into with our high carb breakfast! I know what you’re probably thinking. I bet you have a couple questions:

  1. If this is true, wouldn’t it be best to never eat carbohydrates so insulin is always low? No, not necessarily. Hang tight, I’ll explain.
  2. How come I know lots of lean people who eat oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast? I did an entire episode on carbohydrate tolerance where I answer that question and talk about how you can IMPROVE your carbohydrate tolerance. But remember – there is a major difference between eating for fat loss and eating to maintain lean mass. Super different hormonal requirements. So listen to this episode.

Now let’s address #1. Remember the example of turning on the flood light after being outside all day? Very mild reaction, right? That is pretty similar to  your response to carbohydrates later in the day after your body has been responding to fat, protein and veggies in your meals and snacks.

As the day goes on, as we eat throughout the morning and afternoon, as our hormones shift with the normal daily cycles and we become less sensitive to those spikes in blood sugar and insulin.

But wait! There’s more! Haha. There is another morning hormonal situation that creates a really strong argument for skipping the carbs at breakfast. Cortisol levels are at their peak in the morning. Cortisol, a stress hormone, rises throughout the night and reaches it’s peak in the morning. This is part of your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. The rise of cortisol overnight helps you naturally wake up in the morning. The mere presence of elevated cortisol in the morning can help facilitate fat loss. However, if you elevate your insulin levels, game over.

Cortisol compounds the fat-storing effects of insulin. Not only that, in combination, they can actually trigger the generation of brand new fat cells. No thanks! I’ll pass on the carbs in the AM!

But, cortisol levels drop throughout the day. They are lowest in the evening. Again, this is part of your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Lower cortisol in the evening helps you to fall asleep and stay asleep until it is time to wake up.

By limiting your carbohydrate consumption to the evening, you’ll avoid these less-than-desirable effects of a high-insulin + high-cortisol environment.

This discussion begs the next question: “What should we eat in the morning when the goal is fat loss?” I’m so glad you asked! The most popular episode of the Primal Potential podcast is actually the episode where I talk about breakfast options for fat loss and give tons of recipes and meal ideas. You can check it out here.

And I’m sure you’re wondering: “So when should I eat carbohydrates and which ones are best?” That’s where the Golden Rules of carbs & fat loss come into play and you can read about those here.

The short answer is this: When fat loss is the goal, keep your carbs clean and limit them to dinner time or post-workout, whatever feels best for your body.

There is no doubt at all that there is a ton of misinformation about carbs and fat loss and so many people get confused. But when you understand that fat loss is primarily a hormone game, it gets easier. Your hormones determine when fat loss is allowed and when it is not. Understanding these hormonal principles and the food choices that create the right hormonal environment is the key to removing all your weight loss struggles, frustrations and plateaus.

Carbs at night is a strategy I personally have used to lose over 100 lbs and it’s a strategy I work on with all my 1:1 coaching clients and here are some of the most common results:

  • Fat loss (of course, right?)
  • Increased energy
  • Improved mood
  • Improved mental focus, attention and memory
  • Significantly fewer and less intense cravings
  • Less hunger
  • Improvements in menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, mood swings and night sweats

Sometimes it is easier to hear someone explain these concepts than it is to read about them. I’ve done a handful of podcasts on these topics which you can check out below. Still got questions? I’ve got answers! Hit me up! If this was helpful, get yourself on the  for regular info, recipes, workouts and more!

If carbs are where you struggle – if you feel like you’re carb sensitive & you want to improve your body’s responsiveness to carbohydrates, do not miss my carb strategies for fat loss e-course!

To learn more about the course, check out this video.

Sugar addiction & Cravings

Hormones & Fat loss part 1

Carb Spillover – When Carbs Are Stored As Fat

Carb Tolerance

Understanding Fat Loss – The Insulin Effect

 


Want 100 Fat Loss Meal Ideas?

Sign up here to get 100 fat loss meal ideas plus weekly motivation, tips, workouts & recipes!

45 replies
  1. Mallory
    Mallory says:

    WOW – this is BY FAR the best article I’ve read on the subject. Thank you for detailing this so clearly. I’ve heard the argument before but never understood the science behind it until now.

    Thank you for this. Just discovered your podcast which led me to your blog and I can’t wait to get through all the articles.

    Reply
      • Lee
        Lee says:

        Are you a Registered Dietitian? I know the answer to this is ‘no’ because there are so many gaps in your logic and responses. There are so many details you leave out and I pains me to see you misleading so many people. Weight loss is so individualized, and most of the people reading your blog should NOT be skipping out on carbs. Glucose is the only fuel source for the brain…

        Reply
        • Elizabeth Benton
          Elizabeth Benton says:

          I am not an RD. Vegetables are carbohydrates. When you follow the Golden Rules of Carbs and Fat Loss, you are liberally eating veggies throughout the day. I am talking about limiting starchy carbs until night. So, while I respect your comment, there is way more than adequate glucose to fuel the brain. For what it’s worth, your brain can generate glucose with or without carb consumption. But, that’s not the point as I’m not restricting carbs but rather suggesting a more optimal time for STARCHY carbs. My wish for you is that everyone can respond to you with open-mindedness and respect. It’s cool to disagree, but let’s always try to be open and respectful. All the best!

          Reply
  2. Liz
    Liz says:

    This was the most convincing argument I’ve ever heard. I too have heard about the advice to avoid carbs in the morning, but this really hit it home for me. It reminds me of the body’s exaggerated response to alcohol on an empty stomach.

    Reply
  3. vittorio
    vittorio says:

    If i do my workout in the morning, what should be my post workout meal? should i eat carbs or stick to eating carbs at night. Thank you for your time.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Unless you’re a super competitive athlete, most of us simply don’t require a special post workout meal. I talk about this in detail in my carb strategies for fat loss course, but basically, eat as you normally would, following the golden rules of carbs & fat loss. Let your body be your guide here. Your body will let you know what it responds best to after a workout. In short, yes, stick to carbs at night regardless of if you’re working out in the am. This is ideal for fat loss.

      Reply
  4. Jose
    Jose says:

    Hello , im trying to build strong lean muscle mass. Should i still skip carbs in the morning or how should I approach carbs? What if i work out in the morning? Dont i need the carbs to fuel my workout? I want to bulk and build muscle without the extra fat. Im 17 and i want to bodybuild.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Hi Jose! Great question! Regarding: do I need extra carbs to fuel my workout? No. Your body can efficiently use fat as fuel. In addition, fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates as well. That DOESN’T mean that you shouldn’t have carbs before a workout. If your goal is to build muscle, that don’t sweat carbs at night. Your goal is to put on weight (muscle) and this post was written “for fat loss”. The hormonal conditions required for an anabolic state (muscle building) are very different from those required for a catabolic state (fat loss).

      Reply
  5. Daniel
    Daniel says:

    Hey Elizabeth what is more effective for shedding body fat. The method you proposed in this article or the carb cycling method?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      The answer depends on the individual’s carb tolerance. There are so many factors here. Everyone’s individual body will give them the answer. There is no black or white “this is more effective” – it is about finding what is most effective for your body. I work primarily with women who have yo-yo dieted. Because of that, they are more insulin resistant and carb cycling = hunger and craving cycling. No bueno. For someone who is very insulin sensitive and has a lot of glucose transporters in their muscle tissue, they might respond very well to carb cycling. Bottom line: I don’t think ANY question like that can be answered categorically. It is based on the individual. For most of the people I work with, consistently following the Golden Rules of Carbs & Fat Loss is most effective but everyone needs to listen closely to their own body.

      Reply
  6. Sanee
    Sanee says:

    This was excellent. I was reviewing my nutrition strategies and your insight has been very useful. Im 94lbs down. I see a rough outline of my abs… a few more weeks to go!

    Reply
  7. Casey
    Casey says:

    What about folks with adrenal fatigue? Adrenal fatigue is characterized by cortisol levels that are too high at night and not high enough in the morning. Wouldn’t that mean some of us should eat our carbs in the morning rather than at night for the effect you describe?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Nope, not necessarily, because remember that veggies are carbohydrates and we want to consume them liberally throughout the day. I recently did an episode on adrenal fatigue, in case you haven’t seen that one yet, but the thing is this: there are much “bigger rocks” when it comes to adrenal fatigue. I’d still really encourage skipping the AM carbs for folks with adrenal fatigue, but might have them up the veggies throughout the day. I’d encourage them really hone in on the big rocks like sleep, meditation, caffeine, stress and avoiding strenuous exercise. Having a piece of fruit in the AM or avoiding the piece of fruit in the PM isn’t likely to move the needle.

      Reply
  8. rosalind
    rosalind says:

    This is very interesting, I have found that about half an hour to an hour after eating carbs I get fatigue and have to eat something high in sugar to get energy again. Don’t know why but it doesn’t seem to happen so much after eating protein and fat so could this be adrenal fatigue? Just you mentioned you knew about adrenal fatigue so just thought I’d ask.
    Thanks

    Reply
  9. Zein
    Zein says:

    Hello Elizabeth. Today I found you on spotify and god how much I am happy to find you. You’re thought,ideas and the science behind resonate with my way of thinking.
    Related to this topic `Carb recycle`, I am a keto guy and for the last 2 years I was almost always keto adapted but as you know it is not easy and I am afraid to return back to some of my old habit. I did lot of research about Keto+Carb recycle but never found an answer. Can you help with that? Thank you

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      I really feel like the only answer to these kinds of questions is to try the strategy and pay close attention to whether or not it works for you. There is no “yes”, “no” answer here. There’s only what works best for you. That means: what delivers results for you, what makes you feel amazing and what is sustainable for you. I don’t do well yo-yo’ing between approaches. I do best with a steady, consistent approach of real foods based on what I love and feel like eating. That’s not the approach for everyone and what matters is not what you find in research but what your body tells you works or doesn’t for YOU.

      Reply
  10. Aniesha
    Aniesha says:

    Love your advice! I just started a low carb diet as in past it worked well. Last nite I was awake until 3 AM! Then was also so hungary had some crackers and cheese and fell asleep! So I think your carb at nite advice must be the trick. No sleep is disastrous for health! I want to know if coffee & cream first thing is ok in AM? Then protein? Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Jason Elliott
    Jason Elliott says:

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I’m interested in giving this a try but I need an idea of how to split up my daily carb intake AM vs PM. Would you recommend something like 20% AM / 80% PM? Or should you avoid carbs in general in the AM and just consume them in the afternoon/evening/night. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      This depends on YOUR personal baseline. Any reduction in the AM is going to help and your body will respond to what represents an improvement for YOU. I personally avoid carbs in the AM in general and my clients have the best success when doing so.

      Reply
  12. dave
    dave says:

    Great article, you had me identifies in the first paragraph or two. Are there certain carbs you should stay away from even at night?

    Reply
  13. Paul Acadia
    Paul Acadia says:

    Hi thanks for the post! I am a vegetarian currently in weight loss mode and I have a few follow up questions on the article! I would like to try to limit my carbs to dinner. I try to workout in the mornings and typically like to eat an apple before I workout. Would that diminish my potential weight loss returns? What about a protein shake after the workout? Would that run contrary to what you are suggesting? For lunch, the easiest low carb vegetarian friendly options are usually a salad. Are things like beans, hummus, avocados, and carrots off the table throughout the day? Finally, at the end of a long day, is it better to stay low carb if it possible, even if you have been low carb throughout the day as well?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Hi Paul! Great questions! When we look at things like “is having an apple in the AM going to diminish my fat loss results” we have to stay away from theory and look at YOUR reality. Does it represent an improvement for you? In theory and in practice, following the Golden Rules of Carbs & Fat Loss will be best for fat loss. But in reality, what you were eating before matters. I talk often about how when I was at my heaviest, I was eating biscuits and hashbrowns and fried chicken for breakfast. Having an apple would have been a MAJOR improvement (it would raise my blood sugar by less and for longer and therefore create a smaller insulin response) than my previous breakfast. On the other hand, if I were to add an apple now, it would not be an improvement for me and it would not create results because it would raise my blood sugar more and for longer (creating a larger insulin response) than what I eat now. So, consider whether or not it represents an improvement for you. Also look at: are you getting results with the way you’re eating. We don’t have to go for the ideal. The ideal is certainly to avoid the carbs in the AM (including fruit) and minimize beans/hummus at lunch. But that doesn’t mean that’s the step you have to take next. As for if it’s better to stay lower carb in the evening – your body will give you these answers via your energy and your fat loss results. I certainly prefer to avoid starch/fruit all day most days, but that’s just what works for my body.

      Reply
      • Paul Acadia
        Paul Acadia says:

        Thank you so much for taking the time to respond!!! I’m really happy that I came across your website because I feel like like having the freedom to eat carbs in the evening will help make things easier for me in terms of eating with my gf and family. Regarding breakfast, what do you recommend for people who exercise in the morning if we’re talking about best practices and the golden rule? Would you advise against protein shakes? If I had to eat something light before my workout to get some energy, what would you recommend? For lunch, what do you think about traditional “healthy” foods like almonds and avocados since they have some carbs. Do you personally like to snack on anything throughout the day or do you stick to three meals? Thanks again for taking the time to respond to these comments, it’s incredibly nice of you.

        Reply
        • Elizabeth Benton
          Elizabeth Benton says:

          Hi Paul, Please feel free to email me any time for answers to more in depth questions.
          Re: protein shakes, I’ve done a full episode on them which you can listen to here: http://stfi.re/gppepoo
          Re: eating before a workout – this depends on what works for you.
          Re: foods with carbs. This is not a black/white thing. When I talk about the golden rules, I’m talking about true carbohydrates, not fats or proteins with trace amounts of carbs. I think as you listen to more podcast episodes, you’ll find lots more answers to these kinds of questions.

          Reply
  14. George
    George says:

    Hi, I’m a little confused about this.
    I’ve seen multiple sources, saying to eat your carbs at night.
    Yet every single time I give that another try, I weigh more the next day. And my wife has the same experience.

    Last night, I made us a curry dinner.
    Chicken, tomato sauce, coconut milk, precooked frozen white rice, peas, corn and (of course) lots of spices (turmeric, ginger, black pepper, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin).
    The entire pot totaled less than a thousand calories, so we each had just under 500.

    Weighed in this morning, I was a pound heavier, and she was up 4 ounces.

    Are we “doing it wrong”?

    Any information/suggestions would be appreciated.

    If our earlier in the day eating habits would help you answer, I do intermittent fasting (at least 16 hours a day), when I first ate yesterday (around 3), I had a smoothie (hemp protein, collagen protein, maca powder, raspberries, blackberries, spinach, and broccoli), took fish oil and a multi vitamin. I had a spoonful of (all natural, no-sugar-added) peanut butter, a few hours between my smoothie and dinner.

    She had a bunch of veggies and an egg for breakfast and a bowl of kidney bean and kale soup for lunch.

    We’ve been losing weight pretty steadily with our chosen eating plans. But every time we have a day where we keep it low-carb or free of non-fiber carbs until dinner, we wake up heavier the next day.

    So, are our systems so weird/messed up that this won’t work for us? Or are we doing something wrong?

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      First, the scale isn’t a good indicator of what is happening with your body.
      Second, peas, corn and rice are all carbs, so this isn’t exactly what i mean by the golden rules of carbs and fat loss (listen to episode 195 for more on this)
      Third, weight being up in the morning is reflective of the fact that each gram of carb holds onto about 4 grams of water. So this is likely water retention and has little to nothing to do with fat loss.
      Also, peanuts are a carb with some fat and protein. Fruit = carbs.
      Kidney beans = carbs
      Check out episode 195 and/or my course on carb strategies for fat loss. I could write a novel here and it’s tough to address all the issues in a comment but the golden rules of carbs and fat loss are super specific and work like a charm. Nothing you share here is a surprise. If you need more specific responses, never hesitate to email me.

      Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Raghda – It’s not about “no carbs”, it’s about limiting STARCHY carbs during the day. Vegetables are carbs and most of those are totally fine at any meal. We’re just limiting starchy carbs, processed foods, sugar, etc. Definitely listen to episode 195, I think this will clear this up. I personally don’t eat “simple carbs” but really, progress comes down to what represents an improvement for YOU. Def take a listen to episode 195 of the Primal Potential podcast 🙂 I really think it will help a lot.

      Reply
  15. Joel A Stevens
    Joel A Stevens says:

    So my big question for you is this. Is the ketogenic diet effective? I struggled with adrenal issues for the last several years so intense workouts on intensity interval training that kind of stuff aren’t really an option for me. I stumbled upon your article accidentally and was rereading it thinking that it was from a ketogenic site and now I’m confused.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Hi Joel – I would say that almost anything works for SOMEONE. We’re all different and it’s about finding what works for you. Not only what gets you the results you want, but also what is sustainable for you and what makes you feel your very best. Can a ketogenic diet produce results? Absolutely. Does it for everyone? No. But that’s true of almost everything. The challenge with a ketogenic diet is that if you do it with 70% compliance, it could really backfire. Ultimately though – your body will give you these answers. No need to be confused because you won’t find YOUR answers in any blog. Only in your practice. Your body has all the answers. Do the work and your body will tell you what works for you (results, sustainability, how you feel)

      Reply
  16. Raghda
    Raghda says:

    Hey I’ve done this for like 6 days but now there is an anoying feeling in my kidneys some sort of cramps It happens when I eat to much salty bad food and little amount of water but during these 6 days I didn’t do that at all could the reason be eating too much meat products I’m afraid from procuring in this because of this bad cramps any advice?
    Sorry for bad english I seriously need some help

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] got from the Primal Potential Podcast. I trust Elizabeth. She’s one of the voices in my head! She explains this so well. This will be another tricky one because this girl loves sandwiches at lunch and oatmeal and cereal […]

  2. […] and the second lost 25 pounds.  That’s almost 10 more pounds lost for the carb hoarders! Also, this article does a swell job of explaining it […]

  3. […] Why you should reserve your carbs for the night […]

  4. […] #1 Why Eat Carbs at Night for Fat Loss […]

  5. […] Eat carbs later in the day/evening and avoid all forms of sugar. Keep all carbohydrate intake to complex carbs and low-glycemic items. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *