One of the oldest myths in fitness that seemingly won’t die is that you shouldn’t eat after “X” P.M. If you do, those calories automatically get stored as fat.
Not only is this myth not true (and we’ll explain why in a second), but we’ll also tell you why eating before bed may enhance your results. And, we’ll also give a few options for what you should eat too!
Let’s get started.
Why Eating Before Bed Doesn’t Automatically Make You Gain Fat
As we just mentioned, you’ve likely been told that you shouldn’t eat after 6PM or right before bed or some other arbitrary time before sleep because it’s “bad”, slows your metabolism, or will make you fat.
This is complete hogwash.
There is no considerable amount of scientific evidence documenting that the calories you eat immediately prior to bed are any more harmful than those eaten any other time of day.
The truth is that eating before bed is not bad, and it won’t wreck your metabolism or make your fat...so long as you stay within your calorie needs for the day.
Eating before bed doesn’t make you gain fat...eating too many calories makes you gain fat.
Now, some might argue that there is evidence noting a link between people who eat late at night and weight gain.[1,2]
But the explanation for this is rather simple -- the foods they’re eating before bed cause them to exceed their calorie requirements, thus putting them in a positive energy balance which leads to weight gain.
Think about it for a second. If you’re staying out late, what kind of foods are people typically eating and drinking -- french fries, chicken wings, alcohol, ice cream, etc.
These foods are very dense in calories, and don’t have much to offer in the way of protein, fiber, vitamins, or minerals.
Therefore, it could be said that it’s not that eating before bed is bad, but eating the wrong foods before bed is.
What Should I Eat Before Bed for Better Results?
When we sleep, our bodies do the brunt of the recovery, rebuilding and growth. To fuel these processes it needs calories, namely from protein as protein supplies the building blocks (amino acids) the body needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.
Therefore, if you’re going to eat before bed, make sure it’s protein-based.
Now, depending on how many calories you have left at the end of the day, you can also include some carbs and/or fats with your pre-bed meal, but the focus of the meal should be protein.
The reason for this is that protein helps:
- Support recovery
- Enhances muscle growth
- Boost satiety
- Reduces hunger
- Improves sleep
- Aids fat loss
Plus, having protein right before bed also helps prevent your body from going catabolic, which is where it is breaking down protein (muscle) for energy.
Basically, regardless of your goal (build muscle, gain strength, lose fat, improve body composition), eating protein before bed is a smart move.
The next question is “how much protein should I eat before bed?”
While there is no “ideal” blanket recommendation for all individuals (since we all have different calorie and macronutrient needs), a good starting point is 20-25 grams of high-quality protein, such as whey protein.
This amount of protein is enough to fully stimulate muscle protein synthesis -- the biological process that fuels muscle recovery and growth.
Now, most people aren’t jumping at the chance to shovel down a plate full of eggs, chicken, or steak right before bed.
They want something sweet.
This is yet another instance where having a protein shake makes sense. Not only is it high in protein and indulgent tasting, but it’s also low in calories, which means you can easily fit it into your nutrition plan each day.
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for recovery and muscle building. Protein Shake is a very convenient and a fast way to get your protein in. Drink it immediately post workout to start the recovery process. Also helps with sweet cravings while dieting.
Can I Have Carbs or Fats Before Bed?
As we mentioned before, there is no set time when calories from food have any more meaningful impact on body weight than any other time of day.
As such, you can have carbs and/or fats before bed -- if you have room in your nutrition plan for them without exceeding your calorie/macronutrient needs.
For instance, if you have 300 calories left for the day, a great muscle building snack that’s tasty and will fuel recovery and growth through the night is a bowl of protein oatmeal.
A scoop of protein powder is only 120-140 calories and a serving of oatmeal is 150 calories!
And, if you’re not in the mood for a protein shake or proats meal, you could try making:
- a yogurt parfait with greek yogurt, protein powder, and berries (recipe HERE)
- Protein Ice Cream (recipe HERE)
- Protein Bar
These snacks are low in calories, high in protein, and can be made in a snap.
Regardless of which option you choose, just make sure to include a high-quality source of protein that supplies all the essential amino acids (EAAs) your body needs to support muscle recovery and growth!
The Bottom Line on What to Eat Before Bed
Eating before bed will not slow your metabolism or make you fat. The only way you’ll gain weight from eating before bed is if the calories in that meal put you over your calorie needs for the day.
If you do decide to eat before bed, make sure it’s focused around protein as protein is satiating, slow digesting, and helps support recovery, growth, and fat burning while you sleep.
Two of our favorite ways to have protein before bed is to whip up a quick protein shake or have a bowl of proats.
Also, if you do eat before bed, make sure the meal isn’t too large (i.e over half of your daily calorie needs). The reason for this has nothing to do with slowing your metabolism or fat storage. It has to do with the fact that eating that much food and then laying down immediately may lead to GI upset or reflux in some individuals, thereby disrupting your sleep.
So, if you are going to eat before bed, keep the size of the meal modest.
Finally, if you're looking for a customized nutrition plan or help tracking your food, you can sign up for our transformation challenge!
- Reid KJ, Baron KG, Zee PC. Meal timing influences daily caloric intake in healthy adults. Nutr Res. 2014;34(11):930‐935. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.09.010
- Baron KG, Reid KJ, Horn LV, Zee PC. Contribution of evening macronutrient intake to total caloric intake and body mass index. Appetite. 2013;60(1):246‐251. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.09.026