Eating at night has long been associated with weight gain. Evidence suggested that there may be more to nighttime eating than just overeating calories (1). It has been found that eating at night led to twice as much weight gain even when total calories consumed were the same. While this single mouse study should not cause us to toss out the wealth of evidence supporting the calorie-in and calorie-out theory, there are still several good reasons to be cautious about eating at night.
Why You Should Not Eat at Night?
Dietitians recommend not eating after dinner other than a small, calorie-controlled snack because it’s just so easy to overdo it.
People eat at night for a variety of reasons that often have little to do with hunger, from satisfying cravings to coping with boredom or stress. And after-dinner snacks tend not to be controlled. They often consist of large portions of high-calorie foods like chips, cookies, and candies, eaten while sitting in front of the television or computer. In this situation, it’s all too easy to consume the entire bag, carton, or container before you realize it. Besides those unnecessary extra calories, eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and sleeping problems.
When you’re trying to lose weight, eat regular meals and consume 90% of your calories before 8 o’clock in the evening. The benefit of eating meals every three to four hours is it helps regulate your blood sugar, and thus control hunger and cravings.
More research is needed on humans to determine whether calories eaten at night are more likely to cause weight gain than those eaten early in the day.
Foods to Avoid at Night When You Are Trying to Lose Weight
While we will name specific foods that you should avoid in your night diet, generally, you must limit the following:
Alcohol greatly affects your ability to lose and fat and build muscles. It reduces muscle protein synthesis (MPS), thus limiting muscle growth even after exercise (2). Alcoholic beverages also inhibit proper digestive function. Alcohol can delay the movement of food through the tract and decrease digestive secretions, which is responsible for breaking down food into nutrients for fast and easy absorption (3).
Alcohol intake can impair digestion and absorption of nutrients. This can affect the organs that play a role in weight loss and eventually, muscle building.
Several products contain sugar. You’ll find it naturally in vegetables, fruits, and dairy products or in pre-packed foods. The latter, which includes candies, donuts, cakes, ice cream, baked goods sodas, and sports drinks, is what you should watch out for. They contain high calories but few nutrients (4). Eating foods rich in sugar increases your insulin level and causes fat gain.
While soy is often used as a meat replacement in most vegan diets, it is something you might want to avoid when building muscles. New studies show that soy protein is not as effective as whey protein in supporting muscle protein synthesis (MPS), under both rested and post-exercise conditions (5, 6).
While vegetables have a plethora of health benefits, not all will help grow your muscles. One common mistake many people make is not eating enough. Low-calorie vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and celery are healthy and may fill you up, but without providing enough calories. Go for higher-calorie vegetables like broccoli, potato, beans, and avocado.
High Fat Foods
High-fat foods, which include high-fat meats, buttery products, creams, and heavy sauces, can increase your risk of weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. One study revealed that just 5 days of eating a high-fat diet can change the way in which your muscle processes nutrients (7).
As many people’s demand for convenience increased, so have the number of processed foods we consume daily. These contain few nutrients and high sugars, which sabotage your efforts to lose weight.
Lean, natural meats, ground beef, and fish like salmon and tuna are the basics of a weight loss diet because they are rich in protein. Processed meats are different though. One study revealed that every extra daily serving of processed red meat like sausages, bacon, and hot dogs can increase one’s risk of premature death by 20% (8).
Deep-fried foods like French fries and onion rings are not helpful when trying to build muscle mass. They can cause inflammation, and in excessive amounts, diseases (9).
Specific Foods to Avoid at Night for Better Weight Loss Results
1. White Bread
White bread is the culprit that is causing many people to gain excessive weight. Several studies have shown that white bread is not an appropriate food to be included in the diet of a person who wants to reduce their body weight. It is known that white bread contains ingredients that are refined, and there are also added sugars in white bread. This leads to a spike in a person’s blood sugar levels due to the high glycemic index of white bread.
One study determined the effect of white bread, as well as other bread types, on body weight (10). Results showed that people who prefer white bread are at an approximate 40% higher risk of excessive weight gain. The study also linked white bread to an increased risk of obesity.
Fortunately, people who do enjoy bread as a snack or as part of their meals do have alternative options that they can opt for. There are bread options made from less processed ingredients, such as almond flour bread. Cornbread and oopsie bread are two other options. For those who are health-conscious, Ezekiel bread is a good option as well.
A single piece of bagel contains approximately 400 calories, all are refined sugars. Top it off with cream and cheese, then you’re totally not getting anything than saturated fat. These ingredients will not help you lose weight. Instead, choose a single slice of whole-grain bread and use natural peanut butter as a filling. This is best served during breakfast and not after dinner.
Pretzels are delicious but aren’t healthy for muscle builders. They are simply old carbs that lack fiber and protein. If you really can’t live without pretzels, buy whole grain and use peanut or almond butter as dips for a boost of healthy fat.
4. Granola Bars
While a combo of oats, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and a small amount of sugar and fat can make a healthy snack, the addition of candies, chocolate, and fudge, which increases sugar, fat, and calorie contents, can sabotage your muscle-building plan. Always buy granola bars with 200 or fewer calories and without sweet mixtures.
5. Breakfast Cereals
While cereals look healthy, they still contain much more sugar than we think. If your cereal list 5 grams sugar as one of its top ingredients, skip it. Choose those with at least 3 grams of fiber and a nice amount of protein for muscle building.
Many people grab on-the-go snacks like muffins. However, a plus-sized muffin may contain more than 500 calories without much nutritional value. They are often made from a batter consisting of eggs, butter, and refined white flour. This is not ideal for people who want to get ripped.
7. All-Purpose Flour
Cakes, cookies, bread, and other scrumptious carb-filled goodies use all-purpose flour, which gives you nothing but empty calories. If you feel the need to indulge, look for recipes that use high fiber or whole wheat pastry flours. You can make a healthier version of baked goods occasionally.
This tasty meat is brimming with sodium, saturated fat, and calories. It also contains nitrates for coloring and preservation. Nitrites can produce nitrosamines, which are known to be carcinogenic. For a healthier option, choose lean cuts of meat or a nitrite-free variety of sausages.
9. Cured Ham
Cured hams are normally paired with sodium-rich sauces. Excessive amounts of sodium can make you feel and look bloated, hiding the muscle mass and body shape you’ve been working so hard to achieve. Go for a lean cut of pork instead of cured ham during daytime meals.
10. Canned Soup
Canned meaning processed. You already know that almost all processed foods are not good for your entire well-being, especially if you want to lose weight. Canned and cream-based soups usually contain high fats and calories. From the fact that canned soup is processed, its sodium content is of the biggest concern.
Our sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg a day (11). Too much of it will not only lead to diabetes, blood pressure, and kidney disease, but it can also result in obesity. Because of the sodium content, our stomach tends to bloat, and our appetite tends to increase as a result of eating a lot of canned soup.
11. Fruit Juices
While fruit is generally considered a healthy food, it is important to note that the majority of fruit juices that are on the market today contain a lot of added sugars. Furthermore, these fruit juices are processed. What this means is that, while there might be some vitamins and minerals in these juices, there are also unhealthy ingredients that are not good for a person’s body weight.
Fruit juices may just be another type of sugary drink (12). Studies have also found that some of the fruit juices on the market may actually contain more sugar than certain sodas that are available. Thus, even though these juices may contain extracts from real fruit, they also contain ingredients that may cause weight gain.
If you think you are being healthy by regularly drinking pre-made smoothies, think again. Most pre-made smoothies are filled with calories and sugar. Even a full scoop of protein powder won’t undo the sugar load that you’ll be putting in your body. Why not create your own smoothie using fresh fruits at home to have better control over the ingredients? These are perfect for breakfast and not dinner though.
Soda is nothing but sugar water. It displaces muscle-building drinks like protein-filled milk. Also, caffeine in soda can weaken bones. Drink low-fat milk or pure water instead before bedtime.
Who doesn’t love donuts? But if you want to build muscles, you have to forgo these fried pastries made from refined flour. Instead, satisfy your sweet cravings with protein-filled non-fat plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruits and some honey.
15. Candy Bars
Another food option that is often picked up as a quick snack when the day is busy, and there is no time to prepare a healthy meal, but these bars will add to a person’s weight, instead of helping them lose excess weight that they might have gained.
The main issue with candy bars is the fact that they contain a significant amount of added sugars. Additionally, candy bars usually also contain refined flours, as well as unhealthy oils. These are all bad ingredients even though many of the brands out there will promote their products as “healthy bars.” Apart from these unhealthy ingredients, these bars usually contain almost no good nutrients for the body. Sure, they might make a person feel a little full for some time, but they will also cause weight gain in the long run.
The next food option on our list is pastries. These food options are filled with a lot of unpleasant and unhealthy ingredients including refined flour and added sugars. Most pastries tend to contain trans fats that are artificially created as well. This type of ingredient is known to contribute to a large number of harmful diseases and medical conditions.
It is also important to note that pastries are exceptionally high in calories, yet they do not contain any important nutrients that will contribute to the health of a person. The high amount of calories will essentially lead to further weight gain. The fact that these foods do not contain adequate nutrients also means that they will not satisfy a person for a significant period of time after eating pastries, a person will find that they feel hungry soon after again.
In addition to pastries, it is crucial to note that the same goes for cakes and cookies. These are also food options that a person would ideally want to eliminate from their diet if their goal is to lose excess body fat.
17. Ice Cream
While nothing beats a hot sunny day than a cup of ice cream, it isn’t healthy, especially when trying to increase muscle mass. A single serving of ice cream, which is approximately ½ cup, contains 137 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat. Many can easily finish 2-3 cups in one sitting, making their saturated fat go far beyond the recommended daily intake. This will certainly not help you lose weight. Indulge on healthy, non-fat Greek yogurt bars instead of late-night snacking.
18. Potato Chips
Potatoes are a good addition to your muscle-building diet plan. However, once processed, they lose much of their nutrients including vitamin C. Eat baked fries instead, but not late at night.
19. French Fries
French fries are some of the most popular snack options on the market and even forms part of important meals for some people. Many are picking up a hamburger and some French fries at a local McDonalds when working late, for example. Unfortunately, eating a bunch of French fries is completely different from eating a potato that was not fried in unhealthy oils.
French fries contain a lot of calories. The fact that they are fried also means they usually contain unhealthy fats. This may, in turn, not only contribute to weight gain but possibly also cause additional health problems. Unhealthy fats may lead to an increase in “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels, raise triglyceride levels, and contribute to cardiovascular disease.
In addition to French fries, we should note here that the same goes for potato chips. While convenient for picking up a quick snack, a packet of potato chips is certainly not a good food option for a person who wants to lose excess pounds that they have gained.
20. Artificial Sweeteners
These are certainly sweeter than sugar! They do not help with weight loss and muscle gain and should be avoided completely. Instead, use 100% honey, agave, or maple syrup.
A single stick of butter contains more than 800 calories, 92 grams of fat, and 58 grams of saturated fat. That’s over 140% of the daily allowable amount of fat and nearly 300% for saturated fat! Skip the butter and use olive or canola oil for dinner cooking.
22. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil isn’t very helpful when trying to lose weight and build muscles, unlike olive or canola oil. It does not contain omega-3 fatty fats that can help reduce muscle inflammation after exercise. Try not to use it when cooking food, especially for dinner.
A single slice of pizza contains approximately 400 calories. Top it with processed meat, then the numbers go up a few hundred more. If you want to lose weight, prepare your own at home using a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese, top it with veggies, and eat it during the daytime.
24. Dried fruits
We know why fruits are good for our health. But of course, fresh fruits are way different from dried fruits. The good thing about dried fruits is that it has a longer shelf life, which allows us to keep them in a long period of time. But since water is removed from dried fruits, it leaves the same with concentrated sugar and calories (12). That is the reason why dried fruits are very high in sugar and calories.
Approximately 22 percent to 51 percent of the sugar found in dried fruits is fructose. A study shows that the consumption of foods rich in fructose can have adverse effects on our health, including heart disease, diabetes, and weight gain (13). Just come to imagine that an ounce of raisins actually contains 84 calories. That’s a lot of sugar, right?
Coffee contains caffeine, and the latter is usually used in most fat-burning supplements nowadays. It is known to increase our metabolism as well as to mobilize fats from our tissues. But, over time, our body becomes tolerant to the effects of caffeine, which loses its fat-burning properties (14).
Another thing is that a 2017 study found out that 70 percent of people who consume coffee include sugar and creamer. Some coffee lovers even add whipped cream on top of their coffees (15). Do you know that a typical coffee from your favorite coffee shop could give you at most 600 calories per drink? Although coffee is said to have various health benefits, it is not good for losing weight in the long term and if added with sugar.
Achieving your desired body and muscle mass requires regular exercise and special attention to your diet. You must always look for nutrient-packed foods, preferably 20-30 grams of protein with every meal or snack, and avoid the above-mentioned food products late at night. Following these tips will help you get all the important nutrients your body needs for losing weight and securing overall health.