Many people still believe that every calorie after supper will go straight to the waistline. How many times have you gone to bed starving, afraid to eat because of the myth that “anything after 7:00 pm leads to weight gain”? Well, this is not entirely true. In fact, provided you do it smartly, a late night snack is actually good for both weight loss and muscle growth. If you eat the right nutrients at the right time you can actually lose fat while you sleep!
Over the course of a day, it’s about how much, not when.
When it comes to losing body fat, it’s about whether you are taking in more calories than your body needs for its day-to-day functions. If you take in fewer calories, you lose fat. Conversely, if you eat more than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Therefore, it really doesn’t matter what you consume as long as the calories are lower than the daily energy expenditure.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can switch to an a junk food diet. Junk food won’t provide your body with the nutrients needed for proper health and recovery from exercise. But as long as the food — and more importantly the calories it contains — fits in with your total daily calorie budget, you can certainly have a late night snack. The most important thing to remember is portion size and nutrient selection.
What not to do
Many late-night munchers do it more so out of habit than hunger. Other factors like boredom, tiredness, and stress often play a role. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are just conditioned to eating before bed. Remember that stress can lead to an increased appetite, so be extra cautious during stressful times.
Another major problem is that people often select unhealthy late-night snacks. It doesn’t take long for the calories from chips, chocolate bars, and ice cream to add up. It’s worse if washed down with copious amounts of alcohol! Besides its own calories, alcohol slows down your metabolism, which could lead to increased fat storage. The key is to not so much to drop late night snacking, but rather to change what the late night snack consists of.
A few words of caution: those who experience regular insomnia may want to skip late night snacking as it could make the situation worse. Even a small amount of the food in the stomach will increase a person’s metabolism and perhaps prevent their body from shutting down for the night.
Then there are those with diabetes. Given that diabetes sufferers need to be precise in regulating their blood sugar, a late night snack may interfere with this delicate balancing act. Finally, we have those with heart problems. The increased demands placed on the heart to increase blood flow to the stomach may be a concern. If you have any health concerns or doubts about late night snacking, consult your physician.
Late but healthy
So what should your late night snack consist off? For starters you can’t go wrong with lean protein like chicken or turkey breast, low-fat cottage chesses, and fish. If you’re the liquid type, try a protein drink. A high protein snack can actually boost recovery and prevent the body from using muscle tissue as an energy source during sleep.
While whey is probably the best source at any other time of the day, casein (also derrived from milk) makes an excellent late night drink since it absorbs more slowly and will carry you through your six to eight hours of sleep.
Other good choices are low-glycemic carbohydrates such as vegetables and some fruits. Try to avoid high-glycemic index carbs. They are absorbed rapidly and have a greater chance of being stored as fat when eaten late. If you really have a carb craving, try the high-fiber, low-glycemic kind like berries, peaches, and plums.
Recommended late-night snacks:
- Low fat yogurt
- Whole-wheat tuna fish sandwich
- Bowl of shredded wheat cereal
- Fruit such as melon or pineapple
- Low-fat granola bar
- Low-fat cottage cheese
- Popcorn (watch the butter!)
- Protein shake
- Whole wheat crackers with natural peanut butter
- Diced chicken breast on whole wheat sandwich (easy on the mayo)
Oh and on the topic of late nights, you might want to check out this article on getting a good night’s sleep and reducing anxiety!