If you ask most people when to eat carbs, they’ll probably tell you ‘never’.
That’s unfortunate, because in all honesty, many people simply don’t know about carb backloading – an extremely effective weight loss strategy that actually encourages carb consumption.
I’ll get to what that is in a minute, but suffice to say, fitness trends in the last few years have demonized carbs, leaving many to axe them from their diet entirely.
Not only is this unnecessary, it’s also unhealthy.
The truth is that the wrong carbohydrates are bad for us.
Simple carbohydrates like breads, pastas, cereals, pastries and muffins will make you put on weight and are generally bad for your health.
Good-quality carbs like sweet potatoes, cooked, then cooled, regular potatoes, lentils, legumes, and plenty of vegetables and fruits are all great for you.
In this case, however, it’s a matter of knowing when to eat carbs.
When to Eat Carbs?
The best time to eat carbs is right after your workout.
This is because your muscles use carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, mostly, during a workout. If we don’t replenish the muscles afterward, it’s like driving your car into the ground without ever refilling the gas tank.
Let’s say you had a grueling, sweat-inducing workout—this is the one time when you want to have a simple carb coming into your body.
There are certain simple sugars that charge you up as well, like my homemade Gatorade sports drink. Bananas, grapes, watermelon, and dates are all great sources of simple sugars you can have right after your workout, too.
Don’t worry too much about downing protein shakes right after your workouts. Sure, you can have some protein, but be sure to get the carbs in there. If you don’t, you’re going to feel tired and you’ll potentially do some damage to your thyroid.
Another Carb Timing Technique
You might fall off your chair when I say this, but the second best time is to eat carbs at night.
We’ve been taught to believe that oatmeal, cereal and bagels are appropriate breakfast foods, but consuming these simple carbs early in the morning spikes our blood sugar well before lunch.
This results in a nasty mid-morning “sugar crash” that sends us reaching for coffee to stay awake.
What’s worse, this process offsets your circadian rhythm and suppresses cortisol release, setting you up for some even nastier health challenges.
To avoid all of this, it’s best to focus on protein in the morning.
You can have eggs, one of my protein-packed vegan smoothies, or whatever other healthy protein works for you. This will charge you up for the day ahead.
If anything, save the carbs for later in the day, as they will help you sleep.
This practice is called carb backloading, and was favored by Arnold Schwarzenegger back in his body building days.
Carb Backloading Research
If you have carbohydrates later in the day, they’re going to increase your brain’s ability to produce melatonin, which is going to help you sleep better.
The reason this happens is because when you increase your blood sugar a little bit, insulin is going to remove sugar out of the blood; it’s also going to remove a lot of the amino acids out of the blood, and it’s going to leave free tryptophan circulating in your body.
That tryptophan is going to cross the blood-brain barrier in your brain and turn into serotonin, which will then turn into melatonin. That melatonin will help you sleep like a baby.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting you go crazy with big bowls of pasta or hoagie sandwiches.
You still want to be mindful about what kind of carbs you eat.
If you do want to indulge, try my sweet potato pancakes. They will help you get your nighttime carb fix without overdoing it.
The ideal time to eat carbs at night? About four hours before you go to bed.
I hope this gives you some clarity on the right approach on when to eat carbs. You don’t have to stay away from them, but knowing exactly when to eat carbs will do wonders for your health!
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.