Eating protein before bed helps build muscle after exercising.

Do You Get Fat If You Sleep After Eating?

by Jill Corleone, RDN, LD

When it comes to weight loss, there is an endless supply of advice on what makes you gain weight and what helps you lose it. No doubt, you've heard or read that eating late at night or going to bed on a full stomach will make you gain weight. Most nutrition experts agree that weight gain is caused by eating more calories than you expend regardless of what time you eat them. But there is still debate about whether this is true, and in some instances eating before bed may be beneficial.

1. Animal Studies

Scientists are learning that there may be a connection between the circadian rhythm, energy expenditure and weight gain. The circadian rhythm manages your sleep-wake cycle, hormones and body temperature. Abnormal circadian rhythms are associated with obesity, according to the National Institute of General Medicine. In 2009, a study published in "Obesity" found that when mice ate when they were supposed to be sleeping they gained weight, even though they ate the same number of calories as they did when they were supposed to be awake. Although this is an animal study, the researchers suggest that making behavioral changes that include limiting your caloric intake before bed may help prevent weight gain in people.

2. Human Studies

While the animal study may indicate that eating before bed may make you fat, human studies show that people who eat before they go to sleep just eat too many calories. A 2013 study published in "Appetite" investigated the effects of meal timing in relation to sleep and weight. The study found that people who ate late or before bed were more likely to gain weight because they ate too many calories.

3. Eating Before Sleep for Muscle Building

If you want to build muscle, before bed eating may be the way to go. A 2012 study published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" investigated the effects of eating protein before bed on protein metabolism and muscle recovery after strength-training exercises. The study found that the protein was digested and absorbed, and stimulated the synthesis of new protein, helping post-exercise recovery. So on days you strength train you should snack on some low-fat cheese or hard-boiled eggs before you go to bed.

4. When to Eat

When it comes to managing weight, total calorie intake matters more than when you eat them. But when it comes to exercise, when you eat can mean the difference between a good workout and a bad workout. If you're looking to energize your workouts and improve your athletic performance, you don't want to eat most of your calories right before you go to sleep. For better workouts, you should always eat breakfast, have a small snack one hour before you exercise and eat a carb and protein snack, such as peanut butter and crackers, after you exercise.

About the Author

Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.

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