A lot of people think that the best way to lose weight or get leaner is to stop eating altogether after dinner.
But think about what that really means—you probably eat dinner around 7:00 p.m., and maybe go to bed around 11:00 or 12:00. That’s a long time without eating for an active person.
Trying not to eat after dinner probably means you:
- Get “snacky” and go for something sweet (ice cream) or salty (chips, popcorn, etc.), which isn’t always bad, but can often lead to binge eating of unhealthy foods.
- Get so hungry you’re grumpy and feel bitter about not getting to eat more so no one else wants to be around you.
- Wake up completely depleted and starving with no energy to exercise or start your day (or worse, wake up in the middle of the night feeling famished and nauseous).
Personally, I’ve experienced every one of these things—and think it’s pretty much crazy to avoid eating anything at night. After all, I encourage most people to eat every three hours or so during the day time, so why would this change at night?
Choosing the right nighttime snack
Eating at night doesn’t automatically mean your diet has failed for the day or that your body is going to store every one of those calories as fat.
Remember, food is fuel! As long as you eat the right things, it’s absolutely fine to eat at night—and unless you’re really off on your portion sizes, your body will actually be stronger and fitter because of it.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a late night snack (or meal):
- If you’re trying to lose weight, avoid eating carbs at night. Since you won’t be burning off any carbs while you’re sleeping, your body is more likely to store these as fat.
- If you’re working out first thing in the morning, some carbs will help give you energy for your workout. That’s where the idea of carb loading before an endurance race of some sort comes in—carbs give you fuel, but since you’re waking up early you have to give them to your body the night before rather than the morning of.
- Eating healthy fats at night is a great way to feel satisfied and not wake up in the middle of the night starving. This is good news for nut butter and avocado lovers!
- Protein of any sort is always a good late night snack choice. This is especially true if you’re trying to gain muscle or at least retain it while losing body fat, and is the reason why bodybuilders will often have a Casein shake before bedtime.
Below are some easy snack ideas that you can eat pre-bedtime without feeling like you’re overindulging. I’ve included the macro levels so you can get an of what these would look like in my diet, but obviously you can adjust the portion sizes to fit your own goals.
Here are 10 bedtime snack ideas you can enjoy guilt-free:
Peanut butter protein balls
These are one of my all time favorite late night snacks, because they’re so satisfying and taste like a delicious dessert despite being made out of all healthy ingredients (yes, even the chocolate—a little dark chocolate is good for you!).
Make these beforehand for best results, or make them and freeze them to speed up the process. Get the recipe for these here.
Macros (per 2 protein balls):
Greek yogurt, berries + crumbled walnuts
Top this with some cinnamon and it’s almost like eating ice cream! Or, at least a really yummy parfait. Obviously you can substitute walnuts for any other nut you enjoy. Chia seeds or flax seeds would be a good addition as well.
Macros (based on 1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt + 1/2 cup berries + 2 walnuts:
Protein ice cream
The brainchild of Adam Bornstein, this stuff really is pretty good if you have the patience to wait for it (you have to put it in the freezer for at least a half an hour). I like to make mine with chocolate protein powder, peanut butter and almond milk. Mmm.
Macros (based on 1 serving protein powder and 1 Tbsp peanut butter):
Low fat cottage cheese + berries + small handful of almonds
Cottage cheese is a great choice before bed (if you like the stuff), because it’s packed with casein and whey protein to keep you full and repair and build your muscles all night long.
Macros (based on 1 cup cottage cheese + 1/2 cup berries + about 10 almonds):
If you’ve never checked out Anna Sward’s site Protein Pow, do yourself a favor and take a look. She’s got tons and tons of delicious recipes all focused on high protein, mostly low carb goodness. Protein fluff is one of her specialties—I like mine with frozen berries and vanilla whey protein powder.
Late night omelette
I’ll admit that I’m usually one to crave sweets at night, which is why I tend to go for the more treat-like options more often than not. But if you like savory, eggs are a great option at night, since they have both protein and fat to keep you full. You can fix it up however you like, adding extra egg whites for protein if you want.
Macros (based on 2 whole eggs, 2 egg whites and a smidgen of grassfed butter):
A protein shake is always a good snack option any time of the day, and late at night is no exception. You can even dress this up as a faux milkshake if you want, adding cocoa powder and nut butter to make it taste extra delicious.
My favorite late night milkshake includes one serving chocolate whey protein powder, half of a banana, 1/2 Tbsp almond or peanut butter, 1 Tbsp cocoa powder and unsweetened coconut milk to make it extra creamy.
As mentioned before, you may want to consider casein instead of whey powder if muscle building is your main goal.
I adore this stuff since it tastes almost like the real thing and is just as satisfying. Plus, the protein will actually help keep you full through the night. You can follow this protein cheesecake recipe or make your own variation for a healthy bedtime snack. Also, cutting the crust out altogether is a good way to cut down the calories while still getting a delicious cheesecake.
Macros (per slice):
Apple + 1-2 Tbsp peanut butter
I love this as a late night snack especially with a good, chilled, crunchy apple. Crunchy peanut butter is my favorite, but obviously this can be substituted with almond butter or any other nut butter.
Macros (for one medium apple and 1 Tbsp peanut butter):
Toasted Quest bar
I like to take the chocolate chip cookie Quest bar, toast it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-5 minutes, then break it into three chunks. I flatten them with a fork and viola, they’re just like chocolate chip cookies! Ok, well, almost.
Home popped popcorn
Ok, this is probably the least nutritious on the list so far, but I’m a giant fan of popcorn so I just couldn’t leave it out. Popcorn is actually not that bad for you if you pop your own and choose the whole grain kind, and is an incredibly satisfying late night snack (especially when combined with a good movie).
My favorite way to eat it is with a tsp or two of melted coconut oil, a sprinkle of nutritional yeast and a little cayenne pepper. Yum!
Macros (per 3 cups popped + 2 tsp coconut oil):
Also, adding a few squares of dark chocolate as a side to any of the above (I like 85% cocoa level and above) is always a good idea!