News / Mar 18, 2019

Eat Carbs for dinner to improve sleep and mental clarity

Food is absolutely fantastic, it fuels our bodies, it feeds our souls, it is a way we express affection, yep it’s pretty damn cool that food. But when we dive in a little deeper things get even cooler….ready to go on a little journey into the world of sneaky nutrition? Good I thought so, let’s go.

So when we look at specific foods and their effects on the body in more detail we can not only highlight certain things that would be beneficial to include within our diets overall, but also tweak the timing of certain foods groups to really optimise on sporting performance, cognitive function and immune restoration in addition to our overall health, wellbeing and longevity.

To start with an example that is perhaps a little more familiar let’s talk about protein post exercise.

We know that when we exercise we cause micro damage to our muscular tissue (and depending on the form we may microfracture bones as well – this is a good thing) which will need repairing. We will also use up the energy that is stored in that muscular tissue as glycogen to fuel our workout. It is for this reason we nutrition folk bang on about getting in good quality, easily broken down protein through something like a protein shake within 30-40 minutes of finishing intense exercise as without it we don’t see that optional regeneration and repair, and in fact we can go the other way and actually use our muscle tissue as fuel. But that is a topic for another time.

What I actually want to talk about today is how we can manipulate our carbohydrate intake, and how actually concentrating these towards the latter part of the day is gathering a lot of attention now for the reasons I mention above.

Eat Carbs for dinner to improve sleep and mental clarity

The basis of this way of eating is due to the fact that our muscle and fat cells have varying sensitivities to insulin throughout the day. As a super quick summary it is insulin that is released when we have raised levels of sugar in our blood and then ferries that energy either into our working cells to be turned into ATP (cellular energy), or to be stored as fat or glycogen depending on where it ends up.

So both muscle and fat cells are naturally more sensitive to insulin in the morning (fine for muscles which will store glycogen, bad for fat cells which will store, well, fat). So what we are attempting to do is deprive both the muscle and fat cells of that readily stored energy in the morning, encouraging a slower burn through a more steady metabolism based on dietary proteins and fats, then we add in a workout later in the day (ideally around 5pm) which will deplete the muscle cells of their energy stores making them more sensitive to glucose (the fat cells won’t be changed though and their natural sensitivity will have fallen). When we then include our carbohydrates afterwards that additional energy will be directed to the our muscles but not into our fat cells.

Now to clarify here we are not just looking to this form of eating as a way to lose weight, what we are attempting to do is make our body more efficient in the way it utilises and stores energy. A comparative increase in lean muscle to fat mass being associated with lower levels of inflammation, lower risk of all cause mortality, more stable moods, better sleep, improved cognition, and of course better sporting performance.

As a secondary benefit to this specific mechanism we also see an overall balancing effect on our blood sugar throughout the day as the first thing we eat in the morning will dictate the way in which this behaves throughout the rest of the day, and actually through the night too. The interaction between blood glucose and insulin that I previously referred to is what you may have heard of as the ‘energy roller coaster ’before, and this is due to the fact that unregulated levels of sugar in the blood can cause all kinds of unpleasant things within the body, so if our blood sugar rises we quickly zip them right back down again with insulin, but if we’re peaking and troughing too quickly we can then experience cravings for further sweet things, stimulants like coffee, and the other bits we know are probably less ‘healthful’ but can’t help gravitating towards. By limiting carbohydrates first thing and instead opting for a colourful, protein and fat rich breakfast you bypass this as the release of energy into the blood is far slower (the breakdown process of these foods takes longer) your energy is more sustained, and hey presto all of a sudden the need for that sweet snack and afternoon cup of coffee has melted away.

And as a final concluding point if you weren’t already sold on the idea there is the further additional gold star for grains like oats or brown rice in the evening as they are rich in tryptophan, the amino acid also found in organic whey protein which we absorb, add magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc to, and turn into serotonin and melatonin, our neurotransmitters that pop a smile on our face and send us off into a lovely deep and restful sleep. Just so you know, Chocolate Spice covers all of that for vegans.

I told you food was cool didn’t I……

Phoebe Liebling

Nutritional Therapist  BSc (Hons)Dip NT

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