The Best Time to Eat Carbs to Lose Fat on a Low Carb Diet

While going on one of the many low carb diets  and cutting out most of your high glycemic index carbs is one of the most effective ways to lose fat, you will invariably have to eat some carbs, so the natural questions is “When to eat them?”. Nearly everyone has heard that you shouldn’t eat carbs late at night, don’t eat carbs after 6pm or some variation thereof.

Is that true?

  • Should you not eat any high glycemic index carbs later in the day?
  • Should you eat any carbs at all, glycemic index be damned, after your mid day snack?

I’ll take a look at these questions and more, such as timing your protein intake for maximum muscle gains and fat loss.

Remember too that eating more often throughout the day is essential to either losing fat or gaining lean muscle. I’ve mentioned this in numerous posts before, and it’s still true. Eat 5 or 6 meals a day, spread between your first meal and about 7pm, depending on your schedule. If you’re training hard, you should also have a small snack of about 60% high quality protein, 20%low glycemic index complex carbohydrates, and 15% “good” fat before bedtime. This last snack before bedtime is a good idea only if you are doing very high intensity resistance training.

You should eat your carbohydrates at two times throughout the day; your first meal of the day and about an hour after an intense training session. You can also have a carbohydrate / protein supplement immediately before an intense lifting session, as we’ll discover in a minute.

If you are eating carbs as part of your first meal, and also doing any sort of cardio training in the morning, make sure you eat your meal after your cardio session. The reason this is so powerful is that your body has used up most or all of the carbohydrates stored from the previous day. That means it will turn to your fat stores for energy, which is the goal, after all. After your cardio session, if you are doing one, you can indulge, but make sure your meal also includes good fats and high quality protein sources, not just carbs.

Why, is it Important to Eat Carbs an Hour After Your Training Session, but not Before?

Why eat carbs an hour after your training session, but not before? It has to do with the way your body metabolizes things. After you have depleted the glycogen in your muscles for energy, you will burn stored fat. Joy, Oh Freakin’ Joy!

Your metabolism is elevated due to your intense training session, so the body will be burning calories at an extra fast rate. To make sure it is burning calories from your stored fat, let it not get to any carbs for the first hour. After that, it is important you replenish the glycogen stores before the 2 hour window is closed, hence the one hour before any carbs timing.

An additional reason to shun simple carbs late in the evening come from a Swiss study in 2003. That research found that eating a meal rich in carbs late in the evening caused elevated body temperatures in the study participants. Why does this matter? Because the rise in body temperature could be an indicator of less effective sleep, and proper rest is vital for both fat loss and muscle gains.

When Should I Eat Protein?

Protein Timing for Maximum Muscle Gains

When you consume your protein has always been a matter of some conjecture. I have heard for years that you just have to have a protein shake immediately after exercise, especially hard core resistance training,  to help your muscles recover from the whipping you’ve just given them. That sure sounds logical, but is it the most effective time to eat protein for maximum muscle development?

If you’re going to get maximum results, a high quality whey protein supplement is going to be onf your best friends.

According to a study performed at the University of Texas Medical Center, when you eat protein definitely has an impact on protein synthesis, or how well your body uses the stuff to rebuild your muscles after you tear them down with an intense workout.

According to the study consuming protein immediately before, not after, intense resistance training has a greater effect on protein synthesis. It is a powerful revelation really. The study authors concluded that “the total response to the consumption of EAC immediately before exercise was greater than the response when EAC was consumed immediately after exercise. Furthermore, it appears that the change from a catabolic state in the muscle to an anabolic state was primarily due to an increase in muscle protein synthesis. “

Think about that for a second. The difference between a catabolic and an anabolic state in the muscles is primarily determined by when you have your protein supplementation! That’s great stuff, because you can make that one, small change and totally transform your training results.

The study also noted that protein synthesis at rest was at a lower rate as when the protein was given after intense exercise. The study noted that exercise definitely seems to have a positive effect on protein synthesis. Given that, and the results noted above, it looks like you should definitely have some sort of protein supplement immediately before an intense lifting session.

One more interesting item noted in the study is that it makes no difference weather the protein is give intravenously or taken orally, so all you guys out there mainlining protein can stop now and take it the old fashioned way! The study used a mixture of protein and carbohydrate, which has been demonstrated to increase the effectiveness of the supplements.

A 2001 study by Esmark et al revealed that there was a significant difference between older male participants in a resistance training program who had a protein supplement immediately after as compared to 2  hours after their workout. The group who ate the protein supplement immediately after their workout showed increases in muscle size, while those who consumed the supplement 2 hours after exercise had no such improvement during the time of the study.

Still more evidence backing up the need to supplement immediately before or after a workout comes from a Cribb and Hayes study performed in 2006. That study found that young, resistance trained men who had a protein / carbohydrate supplement with 40 grams of whey protein isolate immediately before and after their high intensity training sessions demonstrated significantly greater gains in both muscle size and strength compared to those who had the same supplement in the morning and evening.

Free Form Amino Acids vs Whole Protein Supplements

This has nothing to do with nutritional timing, but the results of a 2006 study performed at the University of Tokyo discovered that athletes showed significantly better performance when they used a mixture of amino acids that included the branched-chain amino acids, arginine and glutamine, than when they used a placebo.

A 2007–8 study performed at the University of South Carolina, entitled Effect of carbohydrate-protein supplement timing on acute exercise-induced muscle damage did have some timing implications, however. Using the same type of carb / protein mix as in the study above, the researchers found that whole protein had no effect on muscle soreness or subsequent strength measurements in volunteers weather the supplement was administered immediately before or after the exercise session. The experiment was for a single exercise session though, so the long term implications of such supplementation are not clear from this experiment.

What is interesting is that the researchers noted the results form the Tokyo study above, and other studies. They concluded that there is a strong possibility that free form amino acid supplementation may be more effective than whole protein supplementation for athletes.

What should You Eat, and When Should You Eat It?

Well, that is the question, isn’t it? According to what I’ve noticed after 20 years of training, the experience of others, and the wealth of scientific studies recently, it seems that there is one big rule to remember: Eat a protein / carb supplement immediately before your weight training sessions, because it definitely makes a huge difference, even compared to eating the same supplement a few hours later or earlier. Here is a sample of when to eat carbohydrates and protein throughout the day.

Wake up
Cardio training
1 hour after cardio training – Eat your 1st meal – consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein and fat. This first meal should have the most carbs of any meal throughout the day, but also some high quality protein and a fat source such as olive oil, fish oil, or flax seed meal.

2 hours later – small snack – this should have a good balance of all three nutrient categories

2 – 3 hours later – lunch –  again, a good balance of all three nutrient categories
Now is when your workout timing comes into play. If you’re going to have a workout session about 2 or three hours after lunch, have your protein / carb supplement immediately before your workout as your snack. If not, have your snack and then take your supplement immediately before your workout. Remember, minds greateer than mine have discovered, through  some pretty mind boggling research, that eating the supplement before your training session gives the best results. If you can’t take it then , have your supplement immediately after your training session.

5 – 7 pm dinner – this meal is the reverse of breakfast, with more protein than carbohydrates.

If you are not doing high intensity resistance training (and why not?  it is the best way to lose that stubborn fat) that should be your last meal of the day. If you are, have a high protein snack with a bit of low glycemic index, complex carbohydrates and some fat.

Well, you never knew that when you ate what made such a difference, did you? Some researchers have even gone so far as to suggest that when you eat things has as much of an impact as what you eat, but I personally think the jury is still out on that one.