Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is Late Night Eating Better for Fat Loss and Health?


If late night eating interferes with fat loss, why do people who eat more in the evening lose more fat than people who don't?

If carbs become fattening after 6 PM, how come people who eat more carbs after 6 PM lose more fat than those who eat them earlier in the day?

If we should "eat breakfast like a king, lunch a queen, dinner like a pauper", then why does breakfast skipping and nightly feasts lead to fat loss and improved blood lipids?

If eating late is bad for you, why does almost every controlled study show that eating later in the day is better than eating earlier in the day?

And if the above statements are true, why do people still believe that late night eating is bad for you...?

The Late Night Eating Myth

It's commonly believed that it's better to eat more earlier in the day and less later in the day; eating late can supposedly interfere with fat loss and/or cause unwanted weight gain. In a nutshell, this myth is summed up by the saying that you should "eat breakfast like a king, lunch a queen, dinner like a pauper."

You will often find proponents of broscience clinging to the notion that carbs somehow become more fattening after 6 P.M. This is nonsense of course.

You might already know that this is BS, as I debunked the late night eating myth in "Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked" (Myth 10). In "Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked" I concluded that there was no scientific evidence in support of the late night eating myth or the notion that we should eat more earlier in the day.

But the facts are actually more interesting than what I've previously stated; in controlled studies, late eating patterns are superior for fat loss and body composition.

In this article, I'll review studies on temporal distribution of calorie intake and summarize the results. I will devote a bit of extra attention to the latest study, "Greater Weight Loss and Hormonal Changes After 6 Months Diet With Carbohydrates Eaten Mostly at Dinner", which is what caused me to revisit this topic in the first place.

One pressing question first: Why is the late night eating myth still around if there are studies showing the exact opposite..?

Late Night Eating in Dietary Epidemiology

Someone asked this in comments:

"Is it ok to eat dinner 1-2h before bedtime? Note that every damn meat eating mammal goes to sleep after consuming massive amounts of food e.g lions, dogs, bears but apparently somewhere down the line, nutritionist´s came up with the conclusion that we somehow evolved. So it would be nice if someone came with some evidence that you shouldn´t eat before bed. I really don't understand why not, could you please explain?"

Yes, how did nutritionists arrive at the conclusion that eating before bedtime is bad for you?

The late night eating myth is mainly another consequence of mistaking correlation for causation in dietary epidemiology. There are plenty of observational studies that have found a positive association between calories consumed in the evening and a higher BMI in the general population.

This association is solely attributed to the fact that Average Joe's who like to eat more in the evening also consume more calories overall. In this study, it was deducted from food logs that late eaters consumed on average 248 calories more than the other group.

Similar relationships are commonly found in other observational studies on meal patterns. People who skip breakfast, skip meals and eat late at night are on average fatter and worse off than people who eat breakfast, regular meals and eat less in the evening. This has nothing to do with meal timing per se, but the lifestyle that goes in hand with "dysregulated" eating habits (as discussed in "Top Ten Fasting Myths Debunked").

Meal pattern with omission of breakfast or breakfast and lunch was related to a clustering of less healthy lifestyle factors and food choice leading to a poorer nutrient intake. (Ref.)

Late night eating is not only correlated to a higher calorie intake, but also less sleep time and more sedentary activities, i.e. watching TV and more time spent in front of the computer, which are additional confounders that can predispose people to weight gain.

Shift-Work and Circadian Rhythms

The imagined hazards of late night eating might also be the result of the scientific literature on shift-workers and metabolic health. Shift-workers are predisposed to a myriad of health disorders; obesity, poor mental health, cardiovascular disease, peptic ulcers and gastrointestinal problems (likely a result of chronic stress).

The negative effects of shift-work on health is mainly the result of a compromised diet, sleep deprivation, and stress - these tend to go hand. However, it's possible that feeding under conditions of a disrupted circadian rhythm and an irregular meal pattern is an independent factor in the predisposition towards poor health amongst shift-workers.

Humans can adapt to a wide variety of feeding regimens depending on the habitual meal pattern. This entrainment takes place on a cellular level and is regulated by ghrelin, a hormone that increases during meal times and prepare your metabolism to best handle a nutrient load. Similarly, the circadian rhythm - when you awake and go to sleep - is regulated by daylight and habitual sleep/wake-cycle, and adapts your metabolism accordingly.

Simply put, your body expects a certain routine every day, depending on habitual diet patterns and sleep/wake cycles, and adjusts its hormonal profile and metabolism accordingly. If this pattern is haphazardly and constantly shifted back and forth, and never allowed to adapt, as is the case with many shift-workers - it's very possible that it would be an independent factor in predisposing people to disease and health disorders. The hormonal profile of shift-workers tend to be less favorable than non-shift workers, for example.

It should be noted that permanent shift-workers, i.e. those who always work nights, or work nights on consecutive days, are better off than other shift workers, which is partly be explained by re-entraining the circadian rhythm; it seems that an "unpredictable" pattern, i.e. rotating day and night-shifts is the main culprit, as the circadian rhythm is constantly desynchronized. However, given the many confounders present amongst shift-workers, i.e. stress, sleep loss, calorie intake, it's hard to isolate which factor does what, i.e. is feeding during biological night worse than sleep deprivation, etc.

Dietary Epidemiology vs Controlled Studies

The aforementioned studies are of no interest to us. We are interested in controlled studies, not dietary epidemiology and observations in the general population. If you use dietary epidemiology to tell people how they should be eating you get this: The USDA Dinner Plate. When you use controlled studies to draw a conclusion, you get something that looks a little bit more like this. Throw some veggies in there and you're all set.

Controlled studies answers questions like "I'm on a 2000 calorie diet. How will fat loss be impacted if I eat most of those calories in the later part of the day versus the earlier part of the day?" That's what interesting to us, so let's look into this now.

Early Meal Patterns vs Late Meal Patterns: Controlled Studies

In all of these studies, calories were controlled and fixed for all groups. The only variable that differed was the temporal daily distribution of calorie intake. In late meal patterns, 67-100% of total daily caloric intake was eaten between 6 PM and bed time, and this was compared against an early meal pattern with an opposite pattern.

Starting with the earliest study and working myself down to the latest study, I'll briefly summarize the results, comment on the validity of the study, and interject whatever else of interest I find in each study.

Note that I will not include studies on Ramadan fasting. In loosely controlled studies on Ramadan fasting, fat loss and improvements in health markers is commonly found. This is a paradoxical and interesting finding, simply for the fact that people eat in the middle of the night, shortly before bedtime, along with a concomitant increase in intake of sugary treats and baked goods (and sometimes total calorie intake). However, these are rarely calorie-controlled studies, i.e. participants do not have strict guidelines about what they should eat, which is why I will not include them in this review.

Study #1

Results: In the very first calorie-controlled study on meal timing from 1987, it was found that weight loss did not differ when participants ate their daily calorie intake in the morning (10 AM) or evening (6 PM).

While it's interesting to note that lipid oxidation (fat burning) was consistently higher in the PM-group, the duration of the study (15 days) was very short, which makes it hard to draw any meaningful conclusion from it. Aside from lipid oxidation, there were no differences in cortisol levels, blood pressure or resting energy expenditure between the groups.

Study #2

Results: In this well-designed 12-week study, participants were habitual breakfast eaters and non-breakfast eaters, who were assigned a breakfast or non-breakfast diet. Interestingly, fat loss was greatest among ex-breakfast eaters who followed the breakfast skipping diet. This group ate lunch and supper and consumed 2/3 of their daily calorie intake at supper (6 PM or later). 

In contrast, baseline breakfast skippers who were put on a breakfast diet got more favorable results than those who continued the breakfast skipping pattern. The implication of these seemingly paradoxical findings might be related to impulse-control; dysregulated eating habits, such as breakfast skipping, tend to go hand in hand with uninhibited and impulsive eating. Eating breakfast might therefore be of benefit for those with poor self-control, such as the ex-breakfast skippers in this study. 

On the other hand, more favorable results were had with breakfast skipping amongst the "controlled" eaters (habitual breakfast eaters). This group would be more representative of us, meaning people who are used to count calories, follow an organized diet and not just mindlessly eat whatever is in front of us.

There were no differences between groups in regards to the weight loss composition (75% fat / 25% lean mass) or resting metabolic rate.

Interesting tidbit: The breakfast eating groups showed a slight increase in depression-induced eating whereas the subjects in the no-breakfast group showed a slight decrease. Furthermore, subjects in the breakfast group saw the diet as more restrictive than the no-breakfast group. Quote:

...the larger meal size of the no-breakfast group caused less disruption of the meal patterns and social life than did the smaller meal sizes in the breakfast condition. 

Perhaps it was these favorable effects on their social life that also resulted in the no-breakfast groups showing superior compliance rates at the follow-up 6 months later (81% vs 60%).

Study #3

Results: In this study participants alternated between two 6-week phases of the same diet of which 70% of the daily caloric intake was eaten in the morning or evening respectively. Larger morning meals caused greater weight loss compared to evening meals, but the extra weight lost was in the form of muscle mass. Overall, the larger evening meals preserved muscle mass better and resulted in a greater loss in body fat percentage.

The greater weight loss associated with the AM [morning] pattern that we found in our study was due primarily to loss of fat-free mass, which averaged about 1 kg more for the AM pattern than for the PM pattern.

An interesting study with a few glaring limitations, mainly the small sample size (10 participants) and the way body composition was measured (total body electrical conductivity, which is somewhat similar to BIA discussed in "Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss Preserves Muscle Mass?").

This study also included weight training 3x/week, which was a serious confounder in this specific study design. Given that the PM-group consumed a greater percentage of their calorie intake post-workout, this study might simply show the benefits of nutrient timing, and not bigger PM meals per se.


Breakfast, 8-8.30 AM: 35% of total daily calorie intake
Weight training (circuit style), 9-9.30 AM
Lunch, 11-12 PM: 35%
Dinner, 4.30-5 PM: 15%
Evening snack, 8-8.30 PM: 15%


Breakfast, 8-8.30 AM: 15% of total daily calorie intake
Weight training (circuit style), 9-9.30 AM 
Lunch, 11-12 PM: 15% 
Dinner, 4.30-5 PM: 35%
Evening snack, 8-8.30 PM: 35%

As you can see, the PM-setup is quite similar to the "One Pre-Workout Meal" protocol of Leangains.

My client Gary here demonstrates the fattening effects of post-6 PM carbs. Gary followed the Leangains one pre-workout meal protocol and ate more than 75% of his daily calorie intake and >200 g carbs after 6 PM.

Finally, the researchers speculate on the muscle sparing effects of the PM-pattern:

Certain endocrine influences might have contributed to the difference in fat-free mass change between the meal patterns. Growth hormone secretion displays an endogenous rhythm that is partially linked with the sleep cycle. At night pulsatile secretion increases after 1-2 hours of sleep, with maximal secretion occurring during stages 3 and 4 of sleep.
Although the effect of prolonged changes in dietary intake or meal patterns on growth hormone release are not known, it is conceivable that a greater flux of dietary amino acids with the large evening meals, coupled with the known protein anabolic effect of growth hormone, might combine to favor deposition of lean tissue.

Study #4

Results: Using almost the exact same setup as the aforementioned study by Sensi & Capani (1987), it was found that splitting the daily calorie intake evenly into five meals consumed every other hour between 9 AM-8 PM, eating all calories in the morning (9-11 AM), or in the evening (6-8 PM) did not affect weight loss, metabolic rate or cortisol differently. The limitations here are once again a very short study duration for each phase (18 days). Quote for those worrying about cortisol and fasting:

At the end of the stages studied, we found no significant changes in the circadian rhythm of cortisol secretion regardless of the timing of diet ingestion, even after 22 h of fasting.

It might be worth noting that nitrogen loss, which is a rough marker for muscle loss, was not affected by eating time or meal frequency; there was no difference between the 5-meal phase or the 22-hour fasting phases with one AM/PM-meal. 

Study #5

In this latest and well-designed 6-month study on calorie distribution throughout the day, participants who ate most of their daily carb-intake at dinner (8 PM or later) lost more fat, experienced greater fullness throughout the diet, and saw more favorable hormonal changes than those who ate their carbs earlier in the day.

Background: This study was founded on the premise that the diurnal peak in leptin can be altered, as noted during the month of Ramadan. (I've covered leptin and intermittent fasting here: "Intermittent Fasting, Set-Point and Leptin.")

Previous studies have described a typical diurnal pattern of leptin secretion that falls during the day from 0800 to 1600 hours, reaching a nadir at 1300 hours and increases from 1600 with a zenith at 0100 hours. Ironically, this crucial hormone responsible for satiety is at its highest levels when individuals are sleeping.
It was hypothesized that consumption of carbohydrates mostly in the evening would modify the typical diurnal pattern of leptin secretion as observed in Muslim populations during Ramadan. 

Simply put, the goal of this study was to see whether it was possible to shift leptin secretion to strategically induce greater satiety and diet adherence during the morning and noon of the next day, instead of having leptin peak during night time (as it does on a standard diet). was predicted that the diet would lead to higher relative concentrations of leptin starting 6–8 h later i.e., in the morning and throughout the day. This may lead to enhanced satiety during daylight hours and improve dietary adherence.

Note that leptin displays significant latency in response to carbs; if you eat carbs before you go to sleep, you won't be experiencing the peak until you wake up in the morning (an added bonus is that you sleep good with some carbs pre-bedtime).

This study also sought to examine the effect of the experimental diet on adiponectin.

Adiponectin is considered to be “the link between obesity, insulin resistance, and the metabolic syndrome”. Adiponectin plays a role in energy regulation as well as in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, reducing serum glucose and lipids, improving insulin sensitivity and having an anti-inflammatory effect. Adiponectin’s diurnal secretion pattern has been described in obese individuals (particularly with abdominal obesity), as low throughout the day.

* Low adiponectin = bad. High adiponectin = good.

* When insulin is low, adiponectin is high, but adiponectin also follows a diurnal pattern; low during night time, high during daytime (in normal weight individuals). was also hypothesized that adiponectin concentrations would increase throughout the day improving insulin resistance, diminishing symptoms of the metabolic syndrome and lowering inflammatory markers.

* In the obese, chronically high insulin causing chronically low adiponectin is a problem as it increases insulin resistance and inflammation. By omitting carbs during the earlier part of the day, the researcher's hypothized that this would increase adiponectin and improve health markers more than the conventional diet.

Setup: Both groups received the same diet divided into breakfast, lunch, dinner and as three "snacks" (morning, afternoon, night):

1300-1500 kcal
45-50% carbs
30-35% fat
20% protein

Group A received the carbs evenly split throughout the meals and snacks. Group B received the great majority of the total carb allotment (~170 g) at dinner. There are no details concerning the exact macronutrient amounts provided at each meal but the full-text paper contains the menus of each respective group. I would estimate that approximately 100-120 g carbs were consumed at dinner in group B.

Results: Both groups lost weight and saw improvements on several health markers, but group B lost more weight (-11 kg vs -9 kg), body fat (-7% vs -5%), stayed fuller and more satiety, and improved their hormonal profile more than group A:

Hunger scores were lower and greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, and homeostasis model assessment for insulin resistance (HOMAIR), T-cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were observed in comparison to controls.

As predicted, the big carb-rich dinner was able to alter leptin and adiponectin in a way that might have favored greater fullness and a better hormonal profile:

The experimental diet modified daily leptin and adiponectin concentrations compared to those observed at baseline and to a control diet. A simple dietary manipulation of carbohydrate distribution appears to have additional benefits when compared to a conventional weight loss diet in individuals suffering from obesity.

But what I found most interesting, at least for those of us who want to maintain low body fat, was that the carb-rich dinner increased average leptin levels compared to the standard diet:

Our experimental diet might manipulate daily leptin secretion, leading to higher relative concentrations throughout the day. We propose that this modification of hormone secretion helped participants experience greater satiety during waking hours, enhance diet maintenance over time and have better anthropometric outcomes.

Perhaps this is why me, and many others with me, have found Leangains/intermittent fasting to be such an easy way of staying lean once you've reached your goals.

This study was solid, but for some reason there was no mention of how body fat percentage was measured. Similarly, calorie intake was not set individually and according to energy needs. However, given that everyone had the same job (police officer), it's fair to assume that physical activity did not vary much on an individual basis. Furthermore, sample size was very large (78 participants), which makes it unlikely that the results were confounded by these factors.


Dietary epidemiology commonly find associations between certain meal patterns and higher BMI / body fatness. However, this association can solely be attributed to lifestyle-related factors and eating behaviors; snacking in front of the TV in the evening, making poor food choices in general, and so forth. People who eat more in the evening simply eat more calories, which explains why they weigh more.

Calorie-controlled studies looking at the effects of distributing a fixed caloric load differently throughout the day are scarce; I have listed all of them above. These tell a much different story than the one found in dietary epidemiology. While short-term studies (15-18 days) do not find a statistically significant difference between early and late meal patterns, long-term studies (>12 weeks) show that late eating patterns produce superior results on fat loss, body composition and/or diet adherence. This might be explained by more favorable nutrient partitioning after meals due to hormonal modulation.

I understand that these facts might be hard to swallow for some people, given everything we've heard about late night eating being bad, fattening, and so forth. But then again, we hear a lot of strange things in the fitness and health community. Rarely do these old wives' tales mix with reality; think of all the myths about fasting, alcohol and meal frequency, for example.

That's all for tonight. I hope you've enjoyed the article and will rest easy knowing there's nothing bad about late night eating and big meals before bedtime.


Bob Loblaw said...

Hey Martin, are you still planning on writing a book, or has the Leangains Guide taken its place?

Anonymous said...

Martin, thank you once again for a great article.

Anonymous said...

Great article, as always. Thanks Martin!

Dexter said...

Martin, great article!

Lately I have been working out in the morning, since all calories on workout days are now consumed post-workout, would there be any difference in feeding windows of 11am-7pm vs. 3pm-21pm? On rest days I stick to 11-7.

Ahmed said...

Thanks a lot Martin, the research behind the late night eating myth is obviously lacking, and it's great that you pointed out research pointing in the opposite direction.

Nia Shanks said...

Awesome research. Thanks for sharing!

Mike said...

Great article, Martin.

I believe the logic is this.

Within 90 minutes of going to bed a bunch of HGH is released into the system.

HGH helps you be leaner.

Insulin stops HGH release.

Therefore you shouldn't eat right before sleeping.

However, from what I have read is that HGH still gets released because the sleep "overrides" the insulin release.

By that logic I wonder if eating right before bed is beneficial as HGH + insulin = IGF1.

rochettejf said...

Great article! What's your take on If and shift workers? Do you have a specific protocol for that?

Nick Capelety said...

Does this change any recommendations for caloric/ carb/ fat intake on workout or rest days?

I beleive the approximate percentages are as follows. (I Follow fasted training 90% of the time so assume meal 1 is always the post workout meal)

Training days: Higher carbs, lower fats, medium to high protein
meal 1 50% of daily intake
meal 2 30% of daily intake
meal 3 20% of daily intake

Rest days: Higher fats, low carbs, high protein
meal 1 40% of daily intake
meal 2 30% of daily intake
meal 3 30% of daily intake

Love your no bull research Martin, who knows how much cardio I'd still be doing if I still thought that was the key for fat loss.

Rob said...

Great article as always Martin!

I'm currently working nights about 8-12 shifts week every month. Typically 4-5 days consecutive each time around. Normally i eat late, 16-24. On night work days i typically break fast at 18 and then make sure i have eaten my last meal before 02. So its as close the same time in the day as i can, but i eat the first thing i do instead of before bed.

Any comments on this setup? Actually I guess the question is, should the feeding window be consistent in relation to sleep cycle or absolute in matters of time as I do it now?

stev said...

Very interesting, I find it hard to stop eating after dinner (don't know if it's habit or what), but I try to keep it in my eating window. The problem is sometimes I eat too late which doesn't allow me a fully fasted workout (I'll wake up in the middle of the night and snack). Just curious does anyone have suggestions to help this?

Anonymous said...

All of the studies are on obese people. Are they relevant for people with lower bf?

LayzieBone085 said...

Outstanding article as always Martin. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking the time to do this research and posting it for everyone to read. For a lot of people its easier to follow these fitness and diet "myths" vs. questioning and trying new approaches to diet/fitness. Most people fear change.

Kashka said...

Hey Martin, I read that there was a 10 year study of women that concluded skipping breakfast or dieting for more than 14 hours a day may increase the chances of getting gallstone. Have you read any research on that? Thanks.

coltos said...

Great article as usual, Martin. I am looking forward to get my hands on your book if you ever finish it. :)

Anonymous said...

Like MIKE above, I too am interested in hearing your thoughts on the Insulin HGH argument.

Russell Demczak said...

Thanks Martin, interesting as always. Curious to see how this interplays with some of the Leangains guidelines of making the first meal of the day on rest days the largest, as well as those of us who train earlier in the day and therefore are having our large post workout meal earlier in the day as well. Maybe splitting hairs at this point.

Buck said...

Hope you're working on finishing the book!

Price it high.
It well sell.

Piles of cash waiting for you man!

You rock!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting! The only guys I follow on nutrition are you and Keifer, and you guys are beginning to overlap! Thanks for another great article! can't wait for the book, bro

geert said...

I have been eating all my food for several months now between 8 pm and midnight.

Example for carbs on WO days(4/week): 320-550gr (i´m not exactly huge-1.83cm-75kg)

Results:I´m getting leaner and leaner and breaking one PR after the other.

I mean,if Monica Bellucci were to tell u :”let´s have sex later tonight”,would u reply “sex after 6pm is bad,Monica”?????

Risto said...

Martin, did I understand you correctly -- you recommend that people eat their meals at the same time every day? If that is the case, could you explain why?

Vainaa said...

Excellent article, Martin.

I was wondering if you have any take on this, have experienced it yourself or have clients who do:

I prefer late dinners (usually meat and veggies with sweet potato, maybe a glass of red wine) but I find myself waking up after 4 hours of sleep and having to go take a leak.

On the other hand, if I eat dinner before 7PM I don't tend to have this problem of waking in the middle of the sleep.

Any thoughts on this? Really appreciate the effort you put on your articles!

All the best,

Daniel Vass said...

Your client Gary is in phenomenal shape, as is spencer from the last post.

How long has he been on the leangains programme?

I have had some success following your principals - I have lost fat, but I look flat and soft?

Jamie said...

Great post.

I wonder how long it will take before the bogus trend of eating 6 meals a day, finally goes away.

I look around at my gym and all I see is a whole lot of lost souls, if only they knew.

Thanks Martin :)

Terry said...

Great writeup! Due to a busy schedule I've steadily pushed my eating window later into the afternoon and evening where now I usually have my last meal around midnight and my PWO meal at 8pm. I haven't noticed any adverse effects, other than that I find the sweating pretty annoying sometimes.

Steffen said...

Hey Martin,

thank you for the great article

I would also like to hear your oppinion about the HGH argument.


gbloomer said...

Martin, great article!
Leangains & IF changed my life and liberated me from all the myths & BS that is out there today. I still hear it all daily but now I just smile and stick to what I have learned. It's a simple, easy to follow way of living that makes the job of staying lean a breeze!
Cheers Buddy!

Anonymous said...

Martin, my friend pointed me to your site several months ago. Since then, I have combed through a ton of your posts; many are very in-depth and others more general. I appreciate your desire to debunk crap myths and share your experiences and knowledge - thank you!

I am trying to start adhering to your methodology for body recomposition, but my biggest frustration is that I can't seem to organize your thoughts in a clear, concise manner in order to develop a good IF plan. I know you are working on your book, but am not even going to ask you when it will be done. Rather, I want to ask you if you would be willing to create a post for newbies (or newerbies - maybe with some experience) that details the following:

1) Meal strategies, including timing and macronutrient intake for each of the goals you state:
a) Fat loss
b) Recomposition
c) Maintenance

2) Training - methodologies for each of the above strategies.

I know you cover many of these things (maybe all) in your blog, but I find them difficult to find and organize for myself. I have even purchased Caleb Lee's $50 package, just in the hope that this information is well laid out. It is better laid out in that document you wrote for Caleb, but much of that document is, for lack of a better word, "selling" IF. I and several of my friends and family are already sold on IF and your methodologies - hell, all you have to do is look at your pics and your clients pics/testimonials and you can't help to be sold! - I just want the meat and potatoes of the different strategies.

I know many of us are awaiting your book release, but I and many others would be willing to purchase an interim guide that contains such details without the background "proof" that you always provide. Basically, I just want the direction without the details of why (some theory is good to help in making decisions, but I don't need the analysis of different surveys).

I know this flies in the face of your mindset, which is to actually go through studies and actually extract the science behind them and debunk myths. I am partly ashamed to say that I just want to be a Martin Berkhan disciple. Once I see the results, I'm sure I'll want to dig more into the theory, but for now, I just want to start!

Thank you for all your hard work and passion.

palves said...

What about all the talk about reduction in growth hormone secretion during sleep if eating carbs before sleeping?

Henrik Viberg Forsgren said...

Risto: Because if im not mistaken the body adjusts itself towards your eatingpattern (ghrelin i think is the main factor). So if you jump around with your mealtimes to often you will have problems fighting off hunger because the body doesnt really now when it usually gets fed.

Alter within an hour or so i dont think will be a problem, but more than that and you make it more difficult than it has to be.

Pareto said...

Excellent review of the literature, and why I think this blog is required reading for anyone trying to keep up on the latest nutrition research. One small typo:

"In this study, it was deducted from food logs that late eaters consumed...."

Should be 'deduced', not 'deducted'.

Also, +1 for the rage comic.

b3b0p said...

Martin, another great article. Ironically people at work have been mentioning to me how bad late night eating is. I just laugh.

Also, book? Any updates? Can we pay for a rough draft version?

Are you still taking consultation requests? I have asked, but I have no clue if I'm on your list or not. The guide is good, but more details would be better. Do you do 1 time consultations maybe? I'm just tired of playing with my diet and want outside council.

Sean said...


Great article, I enjoyed the read.

I guess now seeing that there are benefits of fasted training, and large evening meals...Which would you choose?


Roland Homoki said...

As soon as I paid my taxes I will donate a small amount, because you made a big change in my life. I can imagine how much time did it take to make this article... but it worth it ;)
Thank you very much, and let us hear something about the progression of your book.

Fredrik Gyllensten said...

Fantastic article, keep it up Martin! :)

Txomin said...

I will be forwarding this post to friends. Thank you.

I reckon part of the reason why late eating is a real problem is because this is the time of day when most folks are not working. Average Jane and Joe finally get home and have a few hours of their own time. Little wonder inappropriate comfort food is consumed late in the day and in larger amounts. What else to do while becoming a TV zombie...

Steve said...

Hi Martin,

I've read this article a few times now and I think I might be missing something.

It seems that eating late has a positive impact for lower body fat and preserving muscle mass, however in the lean gains guide you suggest breaking the fast with the largest meal (although I know that that's not a strict rule) in light of the studies you've just shown would you now say that a fast should be broken with the smallest meal with the largest being eaten last?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for continuing to share your expertise Martin.

I have a question. Every time I eat a large meal, for instance over a pound of meat, I get dead tired. Even if I've slept 8 hours, I have to take a nap, especially since I just had a good training session.

How do I deal with this? Sometimes it completely interrupts the flow of my day and affects my job performance.

spaceman spiff said...

Thanks Martin, excellent post, as always. I did enjoy this one especially :)

Kat said...

Bummer. Evening + morning fasting comes easiest to me.

For awhile, I pushed breaking the fast until the PM to see if I could adjust, but then I just feel hungry all day and obsess about when I "get" to eat. And then, sometimes, I end up going overboard on the food in the end. No good.

So, back to breaking the fast a few hours after I wake up... and stopping in the early afternoon. These are just my rhythms I guess.

Anonymous said...


That's why lions take a nap after downing an antilope :)

Steve Craig Seril said...

Thank you so much for helping to clear up the dust on this foolish dieting myth, Martin! Continue to fight the fight! -Steve, SteveCraigFitness.COM

Timmypectorals said...

Thanks for the post Martin, another great read!

Reading another recent article, it's suggested there may be risks of developing diabeties if you eat too large a meal all at once, i.e. fasting until dinner time and then eating a larger than normal meal with lots of calories all at once. Do you have any thoughts on this study?

Please follow the link below to the article:

gball said...

Mike and Palves,

I also wonder about the HGH release and sleep quality related to right-before-bed-feeding. I've had times where eating before bed made me wake up bloated and groggy, but I've also had times where I've woken up feeling great with no appetite.

Depends on a number of factors I think...going to bed HUNGRY sucks, but going to bed STUFFED sucks too. Martin - feel like getting into the science here? Robb Wolf has a bit, but I'm not convinced of much yet.

Anonymous said...

Being a Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS) sufferer. Well, trying to maintain a scheduled sleep/wake cycle is impossible! Even with daylight- lamps, Melatonin/circadin and also stimulants.

One day I can jog without problems, another day a couple of stairs nearly kills me!

Another problem is that you become depressed for no reason.

I hope there will be better treatments in the future!

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how well this diet works for training such as crossfit, p90x, mma training, etc. Anyone have any first hand knowledge? Or Martin have you had any clients doing this type of training? Thanks for the help.

Bob said...


Where have you been all my life? Finally! A health / dietary person that GETS IT.

I've been obese all my adult life, despite trying it all. I read every diet book, I went to trainers, I learned how to box, I ate 6 meals a day.

I think I finally figured out the truth 5 months ago, (And have effortlessly lost 40 pounds since.) Reading your trouncing of the myths verified everything I had deduced on my own, thank you! Having a pro confirm my conclusions when the whole world thinks I'm a crank is awesome!

However, I have learned one singularly critical thing that you have not broached upon, probably because it's simply not in your experience.

That thing is: Hunger is not related to food.

Instead, it's a psychological response to a learned pattern of using food as a comfort mechanic.

What a chronically overweight person thinks of as "Hunger" isn't hunger at all. It's their subconscious responding to an addiction.

Any attempt to fight that with 'diet' will fail. But! It will have short term success, and feelings of 'less hunger' that vindicate the "eat 6 meals a day to boost your metabolism" diet advice people.

I think that virtually everyone has some level of psychological hunger manifesting in their subconscious, with the range going from one extreme: The person who has complete control over their food intake and never feels any discomfort over it, and the opposite extreme: The obese person who can't stop eating because they're ravenously hungry an hour after every meal.

What I did was understand that hunger is an illusion and that humans don't need to eat constantly. Like you said, we would have gone extinct long long ago if that were true.

So, when I got 'hungry', I would meditate and apply a counter programming that my subconscious would accept. (It took me 5 years of studying psycho-cybernetics to figure out the counter programming.)

In a week, I was rarely hungry. In a month, I was almost never hungry.

My counter programming is a short mantra:

"All hunger is psychological. Humans do not need to eat every day to survive. If you have eaten in the last 24 hours, you are not hungry"

Repeating that slowly and deliberately while in a calm mind will drill it directly into the subconscious. Eventually, it will have replaced the previous bad programming that led to food addiction.

Lukas said...

In your guide you mention nothing about cardio? is it possible to reach low level of bodyfat % without doing any cardio?

I have not found anything about this matter.


Amat said...

Here's a thought for you:

My family is from Malaysia, and traditionally we eat dinner at around 9-10 pm. When I game to Australia, everyone was so shocked that I ate my biggest meal dinner so late (breakfast is not a big part of Malay culture) and I was shocked that they ate their biggest meal so early, at 6 p.m. and kept on nibbling on things till they slept ("supper"). But despite eating a lot of rice, carbs, I am much leaner than my friends, Asians are generally leaner.

Maybe its the "rice-metabolising" power adaptation, or just meal-timing.

That's my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Bob, a few posts up from me... you're clearly insane but you made me laugh.

Anonymous said...

One week I was watching how my teenage daughter eats....trim and fit teen girls rarely run out of energy - and rarely have any body fat at all. But they also rarely eat a "regular meal schedule". My daughter can't eat before noon - it makes her sick - she tries on school days - but she has to force herself to eat- I was the same way as a kid, until I started working and the muffin cart came by at 9am. She might eat lunch, but she might not. Finally she is starving at 4pm - when she'll consume her biggest meal - but usually still in quite small portions - and she only craves meat once or twice a week preferring to eat bread and/or pasta with cheese or mashed potatoes with just butter and then around 9 or10pm she'll consume a tiny bit more - usually looking for sugar - maybe a snack of a sugary cereal or PB&Fluff or brownies - one small serving - then she goes to bed around 12-1am. Typical teen girl - she has zero body fat and a ton of energy every day. If she could she'd sleep 12 hours a day and usually tries to on weekends.

Stan said...

I don't know about these studies. I have found that I am no "lion" and have trouble falling asleep if I eat close to bedtime. I would then wake up groggy and be sleepy all day until I ate. I thus found my sleeping schedule shifting forward.

This was the reason why for me, leangains and fasting was a major fail.

I didn't realize this at the time but I had a notion that the diet had something to do with it. I later found this

which confirms my theory

Martin, any comments?

Did anyone else have the same experience?

Chipdeutsch said...

Nice explanation, i've lost 24 pounds in 3 months and now i'm staying at my ideal weight by skipping breakfast during week and eating whatever i want during weekends. My total calorie consumption has decreased almost by half, i feel well and i'll keep up my weight without any tracking of calories. Some days i eat only vegetables, some other days i eat meat and one fruit every day when i get hungry between 12:00 and 16:00 hrs. Water and coffee is what keeps me every day but now i only drink one or two cups of coffee...

Jay said...

Martin, are you accepting online clients, and if so I do I contact you?

Janet said...

I have always eaten at night and never had a problem maintaining a healthy weight. I stay up late so I get hungry. I workout, lift weights, and eat pretty clean. I eat about every 4 hours and got down to 11% body fat when I was counting calories and trying to reach my goal weight IE flatten my tummy. I love nutrition and try to get the most from what I eat so I believe it is what you eat not what time of day or night you eat it. I body build so getting protein in to rebuild my muscles is important. I eat breakfast every morning because if I don't there is no way my body can take the workouts I dish it. I have always wondered why everyone is so against eating at night. Thanks for the info! Your posts are like mine there is just no way to convey all the information in a short post. I will be reading more of your post when time permits me to.

Anonymous said...

do you draw all your own art for the comic strips because those are freakin FUNNY !

Anonymous said...

As an quite average 50ish yr old male non-bodybuilder who does modest 3x/wk kettlebells, I was looking for a way to reintroduce some carbs into a <50g VLC paleo diet. Modifying my diet just to have a baked potato in the morning resulted in waist gain in merely a week or so. Ugh.

Upon reading this post, I reversed it so that I eat very VLC morning & lunch, with a large baked potato (or equiv.) and smaller amt of protein at dinner, and remarkably I lost this added weight and am slowly losing more, as well as feeling better overall, and I feel more energetic during workouts (presumably because of better glycogen status?).

A history of nighttime GERD issues prevents me from skewing my diet too much more towards evening calorie load, but I am quite happy with this simple change!

Thanks for your intelligent and thoughtful blogging.

Anonymous said...

This post is really up my ally because I tend to eat a decent size dinner with my family. Thanks for all the information, love the site. For the past month or so I train fasted on BCAA's around noon. I then have a lunch usually a salad with veggies & chicken after my training. I'll have a protein shake somewhere in between that and dinner at 8 o'clock. For dinner I'm usually a salad, a protein source and a side of vegetables. I fast from 8:45 to 1:00 the next day. I've had good weight loss (around 10 lbs, maybe a little less, I'm a 73.5 inches tall and now weigh about 197) basically avoiding carbs as much as possible. I've been eating no pasta or rice, maybe some bread for a lunch sandwich like one day a week. Sometimes I'll have a rice cake (7g carbs) with lunch after my workout but not much more than that. Is it a must that I ramp up carbs after workouts and in general or should I just keep doing what I've been doing?

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,

I would also like to hear your take on the study Timmypectorals mentioned - it does seem a little disconcerting. You've done a lot of writing on carb stuff before but is there any reason to be worried about diabetes on this sort of diet?


Anonymous said...

Ah - this is the Anon who posted before, I've just read so my fears are mostly quelled. I think mainly it was a little nervous as I have begun preferring to eat just one big high protein/carb meal on workout days around 2 in the afternoon. It works in great with my general life and no doubt I enjoy real meals!

Daisy said...

I have been skipping breakfast surprisingly easily for several months now & have managed to lose a couple of kilos. I need to lose 5 in total and am now stalled. Does anyone know if this will ever work, or if there's any point if I drink wine every night with dinner?

Keith said...

Great post,
The main reason I like to eat the majority of my calories at night is because it makes me sleep like a baby. If I eat over 50% of my calories by noon, then I typically have crappy sleep.

vic574m said...

[re:study #2]"The implication of these seemingly paradoxical findings might be related to impulse-control; dysregulated eating habits, such as breakfast skipping, tend to go hand in hand with uninhibited and impulsive eating."

Huge quantum leap of faith in my opinion. I think it's far more reasonable to think that nutrition periodization has benefits over ramming your head into the wall doing the same thing through your whole life. After all, the body is good at adapting to certain stimuli, this is why people who don't push for weight progression never make actual gains in the gym. A given stimulus has a finite extent of adaptation it will elicit.

Dan said...

Martin, how should athletes use this information best. For instance, a Junior Hockey player whose non-game day is typically a work out from 11-12 AM then skate from 2:30 to anywhere from 3 to 4 PM. Then there's game day... morning skate then game usually start at 7 or 7:30 in the evening.

Paul B. said...

fasts for thought:
The effect of acute fasting on sleep and the sleep-growth hormone responseI Karacan, AL Rosenbloom, JH Londono… - …, 1973 - Acad Psychosom Med (would only come up as a PDF)

So, sleeping in a fasted state seems to improve sleep quality and increase GH release. I know that I sleep better when my stomach is empty.

Glucose spikes (and insulin spikes) are higher for the same meal when consumed later in the day. Bad for type II diabetics?

I think the more important factors are that the feeding window is 8 hours or even shorter, that the food quality is high, and that heavy resistance workouts and high intensity glycogen depleting workouts are being done. I think the timing of the feeding window is less important. Do what works for you with regard to meal timing especially as it relates to getting enough quality sleep for you.


Kat said...

Regarding the above: yes, I believe this. Since I started fasting -- which lasts from the afternoon until the next morning -- I now require fewer hours of sleep.

I used to crash at 10 PM and awake to the alarm for 530 AM its bed at midnight and naturally wide awake at 6 at the latest. I _cannot_ turn over and go back to sleep. Its like all that shut-eye is no longer necessary.

(I sort of miss all the sleeping actually.)

Anonymous said...

where u been mate!

Matt said...

Hey Martin I'd REALLY appreciate if you could shed some light on the issue of vitamin C and it's supposed adverse effects on exercise adaptation. I'm taking 1 gram daily and I'd hate to be sabotaging my progress by doing so. Any studies on its effects on STRENGTH training? Most of what I've been able to find was on the topic of endurance training.

John said...

Kat, how long have you been IFing? I had the same experience regarding "needing" less sleep. But after a while I started to feel like it wasn't so much that I needed less but that I just could get enough. Not sure if this was the true cause (there were a lot of things I wasn't properly incorporating, including calorie/carb cycling), but I started to feel very run down after a while and yet I just couldn't sleep more than 5 or 6 hours a night. Now that I've shifted to eating most of my carbs in the evening, I have no trouble sleeping at all, but it's not a very peaceful sleep - lots of tossing and turning and waking up. I'm not sure what to conclude from all this. Does the decreased need for sleep truly come from the fasting, or is it a result of the caloric restriction in general (I believe that CRON adherents exhibit a similar phenomenon). Are the evening carbs helping me stay asleep, or are they just disrupting my sleep and ruing the quality of it so that I need more? I do seem to be experiencing a better mood and more hunger control now that I've shifted my carb consumption to the evening, probably as a result of the leptin shift Martin describes. Does anyone else have any similar experiences?

Unknown said...

John, I know what you mean about the "needing," en quotes. I've wondered too if something is amiss.

So, I've been If-ing for several months now. My biggest food intake occurs from morning to noon. Anything after that is a small 2 or 3 hundred calorie mini meal, and that's it until 16-18 hours later. I've always thought it was the fact that I go to bed 8-10 hours fasted that my body is just sort of done with its sleeping duties early, since there is less going on in the body during that time. (Oddly, on weekends, the IF sort of turns upside down, and I hold off for several more hours and eat in the PM -- but I also do more active things on weekends and generally eat more food, so lots of confounding factors -- and while I still get up early, sometimes I can get in a couple more hours of sleep on Sunday mornings.)

I agree that the carbs help. I do carbs on refeed days, but for me its early since that's when I'm active, so I don't benefit from the good carb sleep, which I can imagine is true. Actually, on those occasions when social situations require me to eat more liberally, I've slept longer. (Better? I can't say.)

Anyway, ditto on the carbs improving mood. Adding in leptin resets (from VLC) has been great for my mood not to mention getting me to around 18% BF, probably less now (I'm female, I'm pleased with that BF...)

I would love to know the answers behind all this.

Anonymous said...

No more posts Martin?

Martin Berkhan said...


Anonymous said...

Would love to read more posts soon!!!

Rodney_l said...

Hi Martin, Finding your blog outstanding, as struggling with always being overweight, august last year i decided to diet, and i went from 118kgs to 82 in a matter of 6 months, and now i am starting your lean gains approach with sum strength training at the gym with a personal trainer, just wondering can you point me to posts or answer for me, do i need to still maintain a daily calorie defect for the lean gains or am i to try and eat my full recommended daily calorie requirements of about 2300kcal?? than said...

Great Article, Martin. You've been a great inspiration to me and my nutritional theories!

Anonymous said...

Hello Martin,

I have been following the program you outline for the past two weeks and I am wondering if I only do bodyweight exercises, will I still get a change in my fat loss with IF. Also, is using BCAA's before a bodyweight workout still have the same effect as using weights? I am currently eating primally and have my diet in check, just curious about the training aspect.

Thanks again, love you site.


michael plunkett said...

I learned this from following the Warrior Diet, it has worked for me- people keep telling me I'm wrong, then ask me how I lost so much weight.

Rasmus said...

Martin, Excellent article(again). Just found your bastard website four hours ago and have been reading several of these heavy but good and long bloggings. Now I didn't get todo my cleanup of workout sheets tonight! XD

Btw, I am kinda happy for this article as I have had a Spring and Summer dedicated to doing an Ironman and did so in August as part of a couchpotato to athlete transition I wanted to make. Tired of sweating going up 3 floors, even if I am an office worker. Many workdays I would commute+"quick-errend" for 2hrs and thus train after that, often just making the swim hall closing times and then go for a run after that and I often had to eat a large portion of oats, milk and yoghurt(fastest 700cal meal I can make, 4min) for dinner at 21-22 at night and go to bed at 23-01. A single dreary night I had todo extra hard work at work and skipped swimming, but stuck to the long run and had dinner 2245 and went to sleep right after.

This blogging gave me so much bad conscience back, thx.

On a side note I would say still take that fasting in the mornings with a grain of salt. Note that my workouts are almost entirely aerobic and I only do strength for swimming and core. On non-workout mornings I agree and get a banana for breakfast or nothing but water. My cardios in the morning though, leave me so starved at 10am that I can't properly work without then eating, so I actually do the recovery shake(mine is 380cal and double as breakfast), but I can then also gurantee you that I do alot more burn than average treadmillers. Usually its a spinning class designed for hardcore cyclists with an average HR of 82% VO2Max, measured over 50mins, for me, including warmup, so I guess it falls outside your morning workout point, which I understand, as my shake isn't for losing weight as I am now at 5% bodyfat but more carb replacement.

lovetotrain said...

I just discovered your blog today and have spent the entire morning going through it! luckily (well not really but i am trying to find a silver lining..) i am at home sick so i can keep going! do you post regularly? i see the latest post is from june... hope to see new posts soon! in the meantime i'm going to keep reading through the archives. really informative! amy

F&P said...

Man, you should collect all these articles in a book.

ethan said...

hey martin, looking forward to the book! im just wondering if, in your oppinion, intermitant fasting with fasted training would yeild more lbm gain than a traditional bodybuilding diet (6 meals a day, 2-3 hours apart)for someone in their late teens/early twenties? assuming that they could get all the needed calories in the postworkout window

Matt said...

I think Martin was killed by some shadowy organization and they've programmed a bot to write his tweets XD

Anonymous said...

After this long an absence that book better be damn near finished...just two more weeks;)

Anonymous said...

Do a book already, getting too far between the posts now.. I' ve been if' ing since april, kind of Need some more advanced tips, just reducing calories wont probably be the best step.....hope you are finishing up details for a book......

Anonymous said...

Jeez an ungrateful lot you are - not only is the info on this blog free but Martin does tweet great stuff nearly twice a day.

Oh and to the anon above, if you ask me the best thing about leangains is you don't need advanced tips, it already works.

Lefteris said...

Hey Martin, I know most evidence shows eating carbs later in the day is superior, but I've got a theorie. Say you break the fast from 1 to 9pm, If you would eat your carbs on the first meal together with a lean protein source with as less fat possible in that meal, to minimize fat gain due insulin, you would be able to eat allot of fat in the last meal and have the most calories without an insulin spike prior to sleep wich would make it possible to slowly burn al the fat without storing it and without blunting growth hormone release during sleep. What do you think about this approach?

Anonymous said...

there's way too many dumb people commenting here. This article isn't about restricting calories nor is an article for fat people to lose weight.

It's talking about the effect on body mass when the caloric load is distributed at different times throughout the day.

Some of you don't seem to get the ****ing point. It sounds like the only reason some of you are losing weight is because you are eating less, because you are forcing yourself to wait until late in the day to eat. Well, gee derp. That's what happens when you eat fewer calories than your body needs.

What we want to do is find the best way to eat that makes our body preserve muscle, while using fat and stored glycogen for fuel.

Jesus, get a ****ing clue. The comments here are almost as bad as yahoo. How'd so many dumb people end up on this site?

David - Australia said...

Hey Martin;

I know you get hammerred on all your posts, and this one seems to be the same.

Any chance for a quick update for shiftworkers, how to implement the Lean Gains method into a varying shift regime. My training can be early morning, mid morning, mid afternoon depending on shift worked, so how to implement the fasting state and refeed is a little confusing.

Currently I'm trialling just not eating before training, and smashing the food straight afterwards as per the protocols. Hence the fast can be 16hrs, or sometimes as short as 8hrs or as long as 20hrs.

Your thoughts/input would be truly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Hi martin,

Bought eat-stop-eat, great info!

Anyways i had a quick question, due to my hectic schedule I have to workout around 8 or 9pm, i tend to eat my dinner around 7pm and start the day at 6.
What can i do? I would love to workout in the afternoons but simply do not have the time for it. I figured i could fast til 2 pm and start eating, but there is no way i could have my largest meal around 9:30, which is when i usually have my pwo and off to bed.

Any advice on this?


Anonymous said...

what about this one:

Anonymous said...

recently i came across this research that was done concerning how different amounts of fat in a diet and the existence of fasting can affect adiponectin in different ways :"Obesity"; High-fat Diet Followed by Fasting Disrupts Circadian Expression of Adiponectin Signaling Pathway in Muscle and Adipose Tissue; Maayan Barnea, Zecharia Madar, Oren Froy; February 2010

Read more:

the research conducted that different amounts of fat in a diet +fasting can be very influential to adiponectin secretion.the reason i posted this is that our rest day constitutes mostly about fat and protein followed by fasting and so -according to this research-i wanted to ask if there will be a problem to the adiponectin secretion.i know that u have posted a lot towards this subject but i found this study quite confusing and so i wanted to ask ur opinion.ty!

phiroc said...

Look no further than countries like France and Italy where the largest meal of the day is dinner and eating quite late as a matter of fact and there are much less obese people there than in the USA. I know I lived in those countries for twenty years!

Cody Groth said...

Great debunking my friend. I've been telling people this for years, yet the mainstream magazines and shows still brainwash us with crap dieting.


does fat loss factor work said...

that's nonsense. Only if you were to reduce your calorie intake in the day so that you still remain in a calorie deficit, otherwise you will surely become fat if you pig out constantly late at night.

My name is Martin Berkhan and I work as a nutritional consultant, magazine writer and personal trainer.

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