Eating late at night may have been fun in college, but can wreck your metabolism. Skipping meals isn't the answer either! Here, the lowdown on going for the healthiest late-night fuel.
You worked (or worked out) super late and have nothing in the fridge, and your howling stomach is begging for something, anything to refuel you after a long day. We’ve all done it. And while there have been various studies on eating late and its effects on your metabolism, nutritionists say that it's more about the nutrients you put into your body, like loading up on fiber to fill you, than the exact time you chow down. (Check out the rest of our snacking tips to get your through the rest of the day.)
One study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that mice that had access to the same high-fat diet for only eight hours, namely during daylight hours, were healthier and slimmer than those who had access to the food for the whole day—despite consuming the same number of calories.
Other research states that eating late can rev your metablolism, and that protein can give you an energy boost for your morning workout the next day. More studies dispute the potential benefits of late-night eating, and claim that the hormones that control satiation slow down later in the day, but research has stated that a small snack toward bedtime is fine. The key is to nail the combo of protein and a little bit of carbs: like snacking on nuts or Greek yogurt, and pairing that with fruit or veggies.
Ultimately, researchers say, your late-night eating habits come down to self-control in making nutritious choices. “Food restriction in humans is much less controlled, and relies more on keeping a healthy environment and willpower—something many people struggle with,” says Heather Mangieri, R.D., a board-certified specialist in sports nutrition and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The evening hours are when most people will admit to out-of-control eating, since that’s the time when the work is done and it’s time to relax.”
Sometimes eating late at night is our only choice, though. With longer work hours and post-work obligations, some days you don’t even think about dinner until 8 p.m. The good news, according to Mangieri, is it’s less about what time you’re dining, and more about what foods are on your plate. (Take a look at celebrity chefs' best midnight snack ideas before you get cooking).
Here's what to remember if you have to eat late.
Cut the Carbs
“If dinner is at 8 p.m. and bedtime is two hours later, the meal size should be smaller and include a smaller amount of carbohydrates,” she says. “Stick to a serving of lean protein and load up on veggies so you’ll still meet your nutrient needs without all the late-night calories.”
Don't Skip Dinner!
While the drive-thru probably isn’t a viable option, neither is skipping a meal altogether: “Going to bed with a growling stomach can make it difficult to fall asleep, or worse, increase the temptation to eat in the middle of the night if hunger disrupts sleep,” Mangieri concludes.
Curb Middle-of-the-Night Hunger
“To tame a hungry stomach before bed, eat a small serving of protein, such as a hard-boiled egg or a piece of cheese,” she says—just like a mouse might do.