There is all kinds of advice urging people to avoid the temptation to eat late night snacks, and some of this advice is good. For the most part, however, the general taboo status of late night snacking is out of date. At face value, the logic of limiting caloric intake to the hours when you’re most active appears valid. That’s because it’s based on thinking that the earlier you consume calories, the longer you have to burn them off before reloading. It makes basic sense, especially if you’ve got some radical weight-loss goals in your sights. There is also research that suggests people who eat during their more sedentary hours of the day, like after 8:00 pm, burn fewer calories digesting the meal throughout the night. And, It’s also true that a poorly chosen bedtime snack can spike your insulin, causing you to store more of those calories as fat. But those facts apply mainly to a broad and general population sample. People who follow regular fitness routines and who pay at least some attention to balancing their macronutrients require a different set of dietary guidelines. Regular exercise trains your body to use insulin more efficiently, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology.1 And if you’re exercising to build muscle, then a balanced and well-timed healthy snack before bed will help your body maintain an anabolic state throughout the night. If you’re in the first category, evening snacks are fine as long as you stick to healthy snacks that fit your macros. If you’re in the second category, a healthy late night snack may give your body’s nighttime recovery process an added boost. But whichever category you’re in, here are some details to help you figure out whether (and what) you should eat past 8:00 pm.
Based on scientific evidence, we recommend that people who are looking to build muscle, lose weight, improve endurance, or optimize overall athletic performance should consume healthy protein-based snacks just before bed. If you haven’t worked a healthy bedtime snack into your diet yet, give it a try and see if you start noticing better results than what you got from going to bed hungry.
- John O. Holloszy Journal of Applied Physiology Jul 2005, 99 (1) 338-343; DOI:10.1152/japplphysiol.00123.2005
- Ormsbee, M. J., Kinsey, A. W., Eddy, W. R., Madzima, T. A., Arciero, P. J., Figueroa, A., & Panton, L. B. (2014). The influence of nighttime feeding of carbohydrate or protein combined with exercise training on appetite and cardiometabolic risk in young obese women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 40(1), 37-45.
- Areta, José L et al. “Timing and Distribution of Protein Ingestion during Prolonged Recovery from Resistance Exercise Alters Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis.” The Journal of Physiology 591.Pt 9 (2013): 2319–2331. PMC. Web. 3 May 2016.
- Kinsey, Amber W.; Ormsbee, Michael J. 2015. “The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives.” Nutrients 7, no. 4: 2648-2662.
- Madzima, T. A., Panton, L. B., Fretti, S. K., Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2014). Night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning resting energy expenditure in active college-aged men. British Journal of Nutrition, 111(01), 71-77.
- Snijders, T., Smeets, J. S., van Vliet, S., van Kranenburg, J., Maase, K., Kies, A. K., … & van Loon, L. J. (2015). Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. The Journal of Nutrition, jn208371.