How long before bed should I stop eating? It is a very common question, and one that gets answered wrong most of the time. Answers that I have heard in the past are: ‘you shouldn’t eat anything after 6:00 pm’, ‘no carbs after dark’, ‘you don’t burn anything while you sleep so everything you eat is turned into fat’, ‘it decreases your metabolism’, ‘it keeps you up at night’, and so on.
Proper nutrition is needed all day, and the last meal of the day is no exception. You should already be eating every 2-4 hours in order to increase your metabolism and maintain your lean muscle tissue. Skipping meals is very detrimental to your metabolism, and your health and fitness goals. Whether you are trying to lose body fat or gain muscle mass, you simply can’t lose body fat skipping meals and you can’t put muscle on skipping meals.
So why would someone skip the last meal of the day? My guess is because it is what those crazy, low-calorie fad diets have told us to do. Those diets don’t work. You lose weight on them sure, but it’s unhealthy, and as soon as you go off the diet the weight comes pouring back on.
Skipping the last meal of the day is a great way to slow your metabolism down and put body fat on. Think about it. Let’s say you eat dinner about 6:00 PM, go to bed at 10:30 PM, wake up at 7:00 am and eat breakfast at about 7:30 am. That’s 13.5 hours since your last meal. Your body is starving! And most of the time when it starves the next time you feed it, you have a greater chance of converting what you eat into fat.
You still burn calories and fat while you sleep. But not from skipping the last meal of the day. Now burning of calories is not as great as when we are awake and moving around, but it still occurs. The most important factor for this is eating frequent meals throughout the day including before bed.
The last meal is not as important as breakfast or your post-workout meal, but it is just as important as all the other meals of the day. The problem lies is ‘what to eat before bed?’ Most people eat the wrong things and that’s where some of these myths have come from about eating before bed.
Obviously sugary foods are out, and should be out throughout the day anyway. Foods high in saturated and trans fats are out also. You want to focus on foods that have a slow digestibility and are healthy for you. So protein foods would be casein protein, cottage cheese, low-fat cheeses, whey protein, and natural peanut butter.
Healthy fats would be natural peanut butter, nuts, other natural nut butters, and seeds. For carbohydrates, the best choice would be green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, or kale. Other vegetables are also good, but do avoid potatoes. You can consume some complex carbohydrates like oats or whole-wheat products, but calories can add up quickly so watch the serving size.
The key to eating before bed is not overdoing it. You should never feel full after this meal, and you should drink plenty of water with it. The water will actually help fill you up some and ensure you don’t go to bed dehydrated.
How long before bed should you eat? It will vary from person to person, but anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes is a good rule of thumb. It will be a matter of preference really. Switch it around to see what works best for you.
How much should you eat? Again, this will differ from person to person. It all is a matter of your goals and how well you have managed your calories throughout the day. But general rule of thumb is that you want this meal to be one of your smallest in terms of calories.
The pre-bedtime meal is very important. It’s important to stay out of a catabolic state (muscle and tissue breakdown). It’s important to keep the metabolism running high. You do burn calories and fat while you sleep (not as much as when you are awake), but it won’t happen if you skip the last meal of the day. What will happen is your body goes into a catabolic state, and the next time you eat something your body will have a greater chance of storing it as fat. And that is the vicious cycle when you skip meals. Metabolism drops, lean muscle tissue drops and body fat increases.