Carbohydrates are probably the most misunderstood of the three macronutrients. Partly because carbohydrates come in all sorts of forms and needs vary greatly from person to person, there is a lot of confusion about what is actually a simple topic. Low carb, paleo, if it fits your macros, counting calories, intermittent fasting... there are many nutritional approaches. Some recommend avoiding carbohydrates altogether, while others propagate only the number of calories has to be right, then the amount and type of carbohydrates would not matter. Both are only partially correct if the goal is not only weight loss but also high mental and physical performance. Because not only the amount, but also the type and timing of carbohydrate intake is crucial for optimal effects on body composition and, above all, on physical and mental energy levels.
A test that anyone can easily follow is to eat a large amount of carbohydrates, such as a bowl of pasta, and see how you feel afterwards. The feeling will be more like "siesta/ digestive sleep" than "let's go/ I'm full of energy". Depending on the time of day, however, this can be the opposite of what you actually want to be in. A midday slump after a carbohydrate-rich meal is a common phenomenon that impairs mental performance in many workplaces or schools.
There are three reasons why consuming carbohydrates in the evening rather than in the morning is beneficial.
1. Neurochemical . Serotonin is the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) of harmony and well-being that is released when we eat carbohydrates. Hence the saying “chocolate makes you happy”. Being relaxed and in a harmonious state before going to bed promotes falling asleep. Serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin, the hormone that puts you to sleep. More on serotonin here .
2. Glycogen Storage. Glycogen is carbohydrate in its stored form in the body, where it serves as fuel for muscle work. Only the muscle that stores the glycogen can use it. This means that if you train your legs and then consume carbohydrates, you fill up the glycogen stores in the leg muscles, where the glycogen stays until the legs are used again. Only the liver can release glycogen back into the bloodstream when needed. Glycogen resynthesis is higher at rest or in the evening, because then the parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. This is therefore an optimal time to replenish the glycogen stores if necessary.
3. Hormonal. In contrast to the morning, the stress hormone cortsiol should be reduced in the evening so that we can fall asleep and sleep through the night. A high cortisol/adrenaline level paired with a low GABA/serotonin/melatonin level are the cause of insomnia from a hormonal point of view. Carbohydrates lower cortisol and therefore make the most sense from a hormonal point of view in the evening.
Carbohydrates are not bad per se. Carbohydrates are necessary. It is crucial to adapt consumption to requirements in order to avoid negative effects such as tiredness at the wrong time or body fat build-up. That means you have to earn your carbs. More about carbohydrates here.
Good luck with carbohydrates in the evening!
Picture: Ice cream, certainly not the first carbohydrate source I recommend, but definitely one of the most popular.