Updated: May 27, 2020
"What?!?! Carbs at night?!"...is the usual reaction I get when I first say this. Contrary to what you may have heard in the past, having starchy carbs at night actually helps to decrease stress levels, improve your sleep, and decrease recovery time post-workout. Let's get into all the science-y deets, shall we?
But first... what are starchy carbs?
Starchy carbs are another word for complex carbohydrates. These carb contain foods usually have more branches of carbohydrates and are generally higher in calories (but remember, higher calories isn't necessarily a bad thing). Starchy carbs that are unrefined include roots/tubers (like sweet potato), squash in all varieties (butternut, acorn, spaghetti, delicata, etc), beans, quinoa, and grains. There are also starchy carbs that are refined such as bread, pasta, and other processed carbohydrate items (crackers, pizza, chips, etc). Although the processed carbs are also considered starchy, in this article, I'm referring to the unrefined variety.
Helps you sleep + reduces stress
Your body has a natural circadian rhythm for your cortisol and melatonin hormones. Cortisol is your stress hormone and is supposed to peak in the morning and gradually decline throughout the day. Melatonin is your sleep hormone and is triggered to increase in the evening when your cortisol levels are low. Your body will increase cortisol in response to low blood glucose levels. By having starchy carbohydrates at night, this causes your body to reduce cortisol which allows for melatonin to be produced. Helloooo amazing sleep!
Decreases post-workout recovery time
One of the reasons why your muscles get so sore after a tough workout is because you have depleted your glycogen levels. Glycogen is the stored carbohydrate in your muscles that your body uses during exercise. If you don't properly replenish your glycogen levels within 24 hours of your workout, this could lead to extremely sore muscles. Including starchy carbs at night before your body goes into rest and repair mode (aka sleep) helps to provide the carbohydrates needed to replenish your glycogen stores which then leads to decreased muscle soreness.
So... does this mean pasta every night?!
Every meal you eat is your opportunity to feed your body food that will either make you feel great or not so great. Unrefined carbohydrates provide much needed vitamins, minerals, and fiber that your body uses for literally every single function in your body. Refined carbohydrates contain little to no nutrients, which means by eating pasta or pizza every night, you are displacing nutrient rich starchy carbs for nutrient void ones. Now, I'm not saying a batch of homemade pizza or pasta is a no-go for life! In fact, once every other week or so, I treat myself to some home made pasta or pizza. It's all about looking at your overall habits and what you're taking in on a day-to-day basis.
When it comes to adding starchy carbs at night, usually 1-2 servings (depending on your goals) is perfect. Of course, make sure to pair it with a small portion of healthy protein and fats! You can find amazing recipes that incorporate this strategy HERE and HERE!
Autumn Elle Nutrition