In the the “Carbs and Fat Loss – Timing Matters” episode of the Primal Potential podcast we are busting a major weight loss myth – the myth that you should eat carbs in the morning so you have all day to “burn them off”. I hate to break it to the folks perpetuating that myth, but that’s just not how the body works. The human body is not accounting software working on a first in, first out burn model.
The Myth: For optimal fat loss results, eat carbohydrates in the morning so you have the rest of the day to burn them off. Avoid eating carbs at night because you won’t burn them while you sleep. THESE ARE FAT LOSS MYTHS!!!!!
The Facts: Carbs in the morning might be a perfectly fine strategy for endurance, muscle gain or weight maintenance but it is the WRONG strategy for fat loss. Why? There are certain unique hormonal conditions in the morning that make adding carbs a bad idea when fat loss is your goal.
- It’s the same way with our reaction to carbohydrates. Because of that overnight fast we have a much more extreme reaction to carbohydrate introduction in the morning. But as the day goes on, as we eat throughout the morning and afternoon, as our hormones shift with the normal daily cycles, we become LESS sensitive to those spikes in blood sugar and insulin and we won’t create as extreme of a response. So there is definitely a RIGHT TIME for carbohydrates that still allows you to burn fat. But we’ll get to that.
- So if that’s true, how can we ever eat carbohydrates at ANY time of the day and still burn fat? That’s a really great question. The overnight fast makes us SUPER sensitive to a rise in blood sugar. Its like if you’ve been in a dark room for 8-12 hours and all of a sudden you step into the light. You’re going to have a more extreme reaction than if you’ve been periodically exposed to light all day and then go out into the sunlight.
- Here’s the other thing that happens when we start the day off with carbohydrates – I bet you’ve experienced it before – you wake up and start your day with some granola and fruit or an English muffin – you’re hungry again in just an hour or two! And you’re craving more carbs like crazy!!! THAT is a direct result of eating carbs in the morning. Because our blood sugar is low in the morning, introducting these carbs causes a spike in a blood sugar and rapid insulin response. As sharp as the spike was, the drop off is just as extreme. Our blood sugar falls really fast because of the massive insulin response. And that drop in blood sugar tells our body to sound the alarms of hunger and cravings. When we make better food choices, we AVOID that hunger/cravings cycle. But when we start our day with cereal, a bagel, an English muffin, fast food, even fruit, we enter into that cycle of hunger, cravings and fat storage because of the way we have triggered an insulin reaction at the most sensitive time of the day.
- The wrong food choices? Yup. Carbohydrates? Why? Because they are broken down into sugars which travel through blood and trigger the release of insulin. The presence of insulin turns off fat burning.
- The good news is that when we wake up in the morning after not eating overnight, we’re in peak fat burning mode. If we make the RIGHT food choices, we can STAY in fat burning mode. If we make the WRONG food choices, we turn off that fat burning state.
- Insulin is deployed in response to sugar in the blood, right? Sugar is in the blood after we consume carbohydrate rich foods like wheat, oats, grains, fruit or processed foods. The presence of insulin sends a message to the body that there is EXTRA fuel (via the sugar) in the body. The body then goes into storage mode and turns off any breakdown activities like fat burning. Your body is really efficient, so its not going to break down your stored body fat for energy when there’s already enough fuel available. And extra sugar in the blood tells the body, “Hey, we’ve got energy here. We’re good. No need to provide anymore” – and burning fat does exactly that – it takes your stored energy – body fat – and breaks it down to provide immediate fuel for the body. The presence of insulin keeps the body from allowing fat burning because insulin tells the body that extra fuel is not needed.
- We have to understand the environment we’re in when we wake up in the morning. We naturally wake up in peak fat-burning state because we’ve been fasting overnight. Having not eaten for many hours, our blood sugar is low and therefore we don’t have much of the hormone insulin floating around our system. That creates great conditions for fat loss. What does low insulin have to do with fat burning?
- There is another hormonal situation that creates a really strong argument for skipping the carbs in the morning. 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 prescence of this high cortisol level 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. We do NOT want to raise insulin levels at the time of day when cortisol is at its highest.
- Cortisol levels drop throughout the day. By limiting your carbohydrate consumption to the evening, you’ve avoided these catastrophic effects of a high-insulin + high-cortisol environment. (Keep in mind that excessive stress elevates cortisol so you want to do all you can to manage your emotional and physical stress).
- Avoid carbohydrates in the morning. That’s right – for optimal fat loss – no carbs for the first part of the day. This means saying no to oats, wheat, grains, processed foods, most dairy and even fruit. At least in the morning!
- Emphasize fat and protein in the morning. Great breakfast options include bulletproof coffee, eggs, bacon, fritattas, meat muffins, chia seed puddings, or if you’re in a time crunch, a low-carb protein shake
- Limit your carbohydrates to your dinner time meal or post workout.
- Watch your carb portion sizes. We always want to manage our insulin response, no matter the time of day. Try not to exceed 1/2 cup carbohydrates at any point. Some people will get best results with 1/4 cup.
- Always consume your carbohydrates with either fat or protein, never consume them on their own. This might look like adding butter to your sweet potato and always having a piece of chicken or fish with your rice.
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