5 min read

Timing Your Carbs: Morning or Evening?

Should you consume your carbs in the morning, or evening?
Timing Your Carbs: Morning or Evening?
Photo by Stephanie Harvey / Unsplash

Carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet, providing the body with energy and playing a crucial role in various physiological processes. But does the timing of carbohydrate consumption make a difference in how our bodies utilize these nutrients? In this article, we will compare morning and evening carbohydrate consumption, examining the benefits and drawbacks of each, as well as discussing low carbohydrate diets and their potential implications.

Morning Carbohydrate Consumption

When you wake up and are craving something to eat, is this the perfect time to reach for the toast and oatmeal?

While the idea of three meals a day has been around for a long time now, reseach is showing us that the idea may be a little outdated.

For some individuals, waking up hungry and craving a carbohydrate-rich breakfast like toast and oatmeal might be a sign that their body is primed to make the best use of these nutrients early in the day, sure. However, for others, the morning hunger pangs might not necessarily indicate that it's the perfect time for a high-carb meal. With that in mind, here if you do feel better when you eat in the morning, that's wonderful! An early feeding window may be for you.

Eating in the morning if your body is primed for it could provide you with:

  1. Improved insulin sensitivity: Morning carbohydrate consumption may be beneficial due to the body's heightened insulin sensitivity in the morning. This can lead to better blood sugar regulation and may be particularly advantageous for individuals with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
  2. Fuel for the day: Consuming carbohydrates in the morning can provide the body with the necessary energy to kickstart the day, supporting optimal mental and physical performance during the day's activities.

However, there could be a downside to this, just like with nearly everything in life. For some people, a heavy carbohydrate meal in the morning may lead to a subsequent energy crash in the afternoon. This is due to the body's natural dip in energy levels during the day, which may be exacerbated by the rapid increase and decrease in blood sugar levels following a high-carb breakfast.

Evening Carbohydrate Consumption

Although some believe that the body is primed to consume carbohydrates in the morning due to the raise in cortisol and prepartion for our bodies to eat for energy, there is a case to be made for eating those carbs in the evening. A few people in the health and fitness space swear by evening carbs, particularly those participating in demanding sports or exercises, such as Ben Greenfield. Some of the benefits proposed are:

  1. Improved sleep: Consuming carbohydrates in the evening may promote better sleep, as carbohydrates can help increase the availability of the sleep-promoting neurotransmitter serotonin. A carbohydrate-rich dinner can thus help individuals fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper, more restorative sleep.
  2. Muscle recovery and growth: Consuming carbohydrates in the evening, particularly after an exercise session, can help replenish glycogen stores and support muscle recovery and growth.

Like with everything, however, the potential benefits don't effect everyone equally. Now, stating that these carbs are consumed in the evening is a little vague, considering the near universal recommendation to avoid any food 2-3 hours before bed, these arguments generally keep that in mind. The close that you get to bed, the worse that these negative sides of evening carb consumption may be, especially if you are insulin resistant:

  1. Potential weight gain: Consuming carbohydrates close to bedtime may lead to weight gain, as the body's metabolic rate slows down during sleep and may not efficiently utilize the energy from the carbohydrates consumed.
  2. Blood sugar fluctuations: Similar to morning carbohydrate consumption, eating a high-carb meal in the evening may lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can negatively affect sleep quality and overall health in the long term.

While there may be a valid argument for consuming carbohydrates in the early evening hours, you have to take individual factors and preferences into account. The potential benefits, such as improved sleep and enhanced muscle recovery, may be particularly advantageous for those engaging in demanding physical activities. However, it is important to keep in mind the potential drawbacks, like weight gain or blood sugar fluctuations (or both, considering their direct likely causal relationship), especially for those who are insulin resistant. As with most nutritional strategies, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Understanding and tweaking carbohydrate timinig to match your body's specific requirements and responses will pave the way for a more personalized, effective, and sustainable nutritional plan in the long term.

Low Carbohydrate Diets

While some individuals choose to follow a low carbohydrate diet, it's essential to weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks before committing to this lifestyle change. Although it is of course possible to commit to a low carbohydrate diet in essentially what could be called "part time", because most low carb or keto diets these days tend to incorporate a kind of refeed day, in order to replenish glycogen stores. Even so, it's essential to understand the implications of this approach on one's overall health and well-being and what it could mean for your individual biology. Here are two of the most well understood mechanisms that tend to happen with short term, and even long term keto diets:

  1. Weight loss: A low carbohydrate diet may promote weight loss by reducing insulin levels, which can help the body burn stored fat for energy.
  2. Improved blood sugar control: Reducing carbohydrate intake can help individuals with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes better manage their blood sugar levels.

However, even with keto, which can be touted is the be all end all diet for weightloss by some may have its issues. And, the biggest lesson in the heatlh and fitness space that I have learned in all the time I have spent studying it, is that you can support either side of any argument, and still have the data to prove it. Nutrition is hard, and the reason for this is because it bioindividuality! Everyone's body is unique and reacts to different foods and diets in different ways. Here are some ways that I have seen keto diets not work for some bodies:

  1. Reduced energy levels: Because the body mainly uses carbohydrates to produce energy, a low-carb diet may result in decreased energy. Even though it is now, by some people in the space, thought that carbohydrates are not a necessary macro nutrient.
  2. Nutrient deficiencies: Deficiencies in important nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, can result from restricting carbohydrates, which could have a negative effect on one's general health. This is not always the case, and the degree to which certain nutrients are required is up for discussion among those who follow a carnivore or ketogenic diet. Similar to most diets, if you exercise caution and speak with your doctor, you can follow this diet in a manner that ensures you get the best results and avoid potential deficiency problems.

In conclusion, the consumption of carbohydrates relies on personal preferences and requirements. While consuming carbohydrates in the evening may encourage better sleep and muscle recovery, morning consumption may be advantageous for controlling blood sugar and giving energy for the day. To prevent potential side effects like weight gain and energy slumps, it is crucial to strike a balance. And it is also crucial to ensure that the cabs consumed are not in the form of simple carbs, or sugars. Finally, while low-carb diets might have some advantages, it's important to think about any possible disadvantages and speak with a doctor before making any significant dietary changes. The key takeaway here should be to find out the amount of carbs that work for you and your body, and when to take them. Life is a game, so why not experiment with what makes you feel your best!

For myself, I have found that a lower carb diet in general, consuming my carbs for my first or last meal, and generally keeping them lower than 60 grams works the best for me. I tend to raise this when I am training to gain weight, and add more carbs generally to the evening to ensure good workouts in the morning, and that I can get repair I need when resting. This is unnecessary however, as a low carb diet is one that I feel confident in recommending for most people, provided it is safe for them.