The modern media loves hyperbole. There are headlines plastered all over the internet and the papers that massively overstate a particular idea in order to lure you into clicking the link and giving it a read. I would know, because I myself have been guilty of using titles for articles I have written that are a wee bit of an exaggeration…
Anyway, there is a big difference between hyperbole and straight-up myth; and one of the latter that I unfortunately see all too often on my social media newsfeeds is the false belief that ‘eating anything, particularly carbs, after 6pm will be stored as fat and cause weight gain’. If you are a regular reader of mine, you will know this is b*llocks; fat gain is solely determined by ENERGY BALANCE. Eating more calories than you burn will cause weight gain, and eating fewer calories than you burn will cause weight loss.
If you’ve eaten, say 500kcal below your maintenance calories, but then have a couple of digestive biscuits (call it 70kcal a piece) with your evening brew, that won’t ruin your diet and efforts throughout the day to maintain a deficit. You will still be in a moderate (~360kcal) calorie deficit, which is the most sustainable method of permanent fat loss.
What you may not realise is that eating particular types of food closer to bedtime may actually encourage weight loss, and serve as a great way to maintain lean muscle mass whilst continuing to lose fat (i.e. body recomposition). I am going to show you exactly how you can up your evening snacking game to support your goals, and thus dispell the irritating myth that nighttime eating inherently causes weight gain…
Why Should I Eat Before Bed?
People often listen to the goons on the internet spreading the idea that food eaten after 6pm goes straight to the thighs, and hence curtail their food intake as soon as the clock strikes 6 (regardless of their calorie intake over the rest of the day). This may, however , cause you to wake up feeling famished & thus make unhealthy choices and portion distortion for breakfast.
Although it is true that you should keep a lid on the calorie content of an evening snack (< 500kcal ) to avoid goint into an energy surplus, making smart choices before bed can be a gamechanger for preserving lean mass & adhering to a calorie deficit in a sustainable way….
Choosing slow-release casein protein, for example, can help give your muscles a continuous supply of the muscle-preserving nutrient without a huge excess of calories (usually). Furthermore, having an evening snack rich in casein protein will ramp up your rate of recovery, meaning that you may be able to train more frequently over the course of the week.
Over the long term, this will help shift your energy balance towards the right, making sustained weight loss more likely!
Furthermore, it is much better to be prepared with healthy options for when the evening muchies come to town; even if you are incredibly good at sticking to a nutrition plan, it is almost inevitable that the munchies will crop up once in a while.
Below are 6 different nighttime snack ideas for better sleep and fat loss…
1. Cottage Cheese w/ Cherries
Cottage cheese is absolutely jam-packed with casein protein, the type of protein we were talking about earlier that is digested much slower than other forms.
This means that consuming cottage cheese before bed can aid muscle growth and recovery, and potentially facilitate the preservation of lean mass while in a calorie deficit.
Pairing with tart cherries can also help with promoting high quality sleep (something which people often struggle to maintain when in a calorie deficit). Their high melatonin content makes them an ideal food to eat 60-120mins before bed. This top-notch combo is as tasty as it is healthy!
2. Peanut Butter w/ Wholewheat Toast
Luckily, the days of all fats being condemned to the nutritional naughty step are beginning to subside. A good ol’ spoonful of PB is one of those healthy, monounsaturated fats that is an absolute weapon when it comes to upping your nutrition game.
Pairing the healthy fats in peanut butter with some wholegrain toast will also help you drift off thanks to the carb content in the bread; carbohydrates release hormones that help you to relax, meaning that a pre-bed snack rich in wholegrain carbs will improve sleep quality.
Furthermore, this dream combo will help stabilise your blood sugar throughout the night, therefore meaning you will not wake up famished and thus not resort to bingeing out at breakfast the following morning.
3. Cheese w/ Wholegrain Crackers
The classic playground snack from your schooldays can be a great choice for what to eat before bed.
Similarly to no. 2, the complex carbs in the crackers will help you to relax and dial down for a decent night’s sleep. The only difference here is that, instead of the healthy dose of monounsaturated fats from the Peanut Butter, you get a big ol’ serving of tryptophan, an amino acid that stimulates the release of seratonin and melonin.
Tryptophan is a game-changer when it comes to nighttime nutrition, and it haslong since been heralded as the ultimate sleep-inducing nutrientson the market!
Cheese is an awesome source of tryptophan as are most dairy sources, eggs, poultry, and red meats; any food that is rich in the nutrient should therefore be an essential for your pre-bed game plan when it comes to snacking.
4. A Small Bowl of Oatmeal w/ Banana
Both oats and bananas are stuffed full of melatonin, one of the main hormones responsible for inducing relaxation. Melatonin is essential for regulating sleep cycles, meaning that including melatonin-rich foods into your diet is a sure-fire way to improve the quality and consistency of your sleep.
Furthermore, studies show that, in some cases, eating hot/warmer foods before bed can increase feelings of relaxation and help one to mentally switch off before hitting the sack.
Given the fact that oatmeal is one of the easiest, most versatile hot foods going, you won’t be able to use the excuse of ‘too much effort’ if you are searching the pantry for a quick meal before bed.
If you are still working within your daily calorie goal, make your oatmeal with low-fat milk for an extra dose of tryptophan for that final, sleep-inducing hit that you need to send you to sleep!
5. Greek Yoghurt Mixed with Whey
For a mere 100kcal per 170g container, a serving or two of Greek Yoghurt will deliver all the nutrients that allow for an awesome night’s sleep.
Casein, seratonin, melatonin; a simple portion of greek yoghurt has all the ingredients needed for optimal sleep, making it one of the best foods to have in the lead-up to bed. As well as making you feel relaxed, the ample supply of casein protein will help feed your muscles with the fuel they need to grow and recover from resistance training.
And, if you are trying to maintain a calorie deficit as a means of losing bodyfat, Greek Yoghurt might be the best option on the list due to its lower energy content than other foods in this article.
Furthermore, if you are regularly failing in reaching your daily protein goal (which is, as we know, an essential aspect of nutrition for effective weight loss), then mix in a tablespoon of vanilla/chocolate whey protein powder to some plain yoghurt. This will also give your creamy evening treat an awesome taste, without the added sugar or excess calories
The Final Word
Nighttime nutrition is a highly debated topic in the modern fitness industry, with lots of evidence to backup the arguements both for and against eating before bed.
The widely percieved myth that ‘food eaten after 6pm will be stored as fat’ is largely rooted in the fact that many people struggle with late-night snacking and bingeing on calorie-dense, nutrient-lacking foods such as chocolate or sweets. What’s more important is the total caloric intake across the entire day when trying to lose fat; it is much more effective to focus on your overall calorie intake throughout the day first before considering meal timing.
I hope that, after reading this article, you have a clear idea as to what you could eat before bed to support your health and fitness goals, without the fear of gaining the excess of bodyfat that influencers like to convey on the internet!
HOWEVER….. ALWAYS BE MINDFUL OF PORTION SIZE; just because a food is full of nutrients and nourishment that can optimise health, does NOT mean that they don’t contain calories. If your goal is to lose bodyfat, be sure to keep your nighttime snack within your daily calorie goals to prevent losing a hard-earned deficit over the rest of the day…
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