Many people believe that cutting out foods after 8pm is a good way to lose weight, but this isn’t always true. There are actually good reasons to eat before going to bed. Helping you recover from a highly physical day, helping you to destress, and helping you to sleep better are all known benefits of eating the right foods before bed.
The idea that eating after a certain time will lead to weight gain is a myth that just won’t go away. But let’s try to break down exactly why the myth exists. One thing that a lot of people do is they look at the result of something and then walk backwards. For example, basketball players tend to be a lot taller than the average person. So, it would be logical to say that playing basketball helps you grow taller, right?
Wrong, obviously. Basketball doesn’t make you taller, but being tall is an advantage in the sport, so taller people are more likely to succeed. Now let’s put that thought process into nutrition. When interviewed, many overweight people say that they eat more food before bed, so therefore food before bed leads to weight gain.
The reality is that weight gain has many causes, but if you strip it back to the bare basics weight gain is caused by eating more food than your body needs to function. If you burn more calories than you consume you will lose weight, and vice versa.
What time you consume that food doesn’t matter in the long term. If you eat a 3,000 calorie breakfast and then eat nothing else for the rest of the day, you will still gain weight (unless you somehow burn over 3,000 calories throughout the day). If you eat a 300 calorie meal at 9pm as part of a 2,000 calorie diet, then you may lose weight (unless you burn fewer than 2,000 calories throughout the day).
Timing is NOT important. That being said, if you eat food late at night you will need to rearrange your daily calories so that you stay within your target. If you have a 300 calorie snack at 11pm, then you need to have found a 300 calorie deficit somewhere else. Make sense?
Eating a healthy snack or small meal before bed does not have to lead to weight gain (unless that is your intention), just spread your calories out throughout the day so that you stay in a deficit.
What you want is food that is easy to digest, not too large in size, has a decent amount of protein, and contains vitamins and minerals that may help aid sleep. The amino acid l-tryptophan, for example, has been shown repeatedly to help improve sleep quality. This is because it increases both melatonin and serotonin.
There are many foods that contain l-tryptophan, and it is unsurprising that they are frequently found on lists of foods that are good for sleep. Eating foods that have a high glycaemic index has also been shown to increase sleep quality. The idea being that they raise blood sugar fast, and then you feel sleepy afterwards.
This is a list of five great pre-bed snacks, it is not going to cover all of the possible snacks out there, but is more just a reference point for good snack ideas you could have.
White rice has been shown to help improve sleep quality, thanks to its high GI score. Fatty fish such as salmon contain omega 3 fatty acids which can help increase serotonin production. Of course, combining white rice with salmon will reduce the GI of the meal, but it’s still a great pre-bed snack. Also, sushi is amazing, high in protein, and nice and easy to eat. A great snack, though it can be quite expensive.
Oats are a great source of melatonin, milk is a great source of tryptophan, and you can add some protein powder if you want to push up that protein content some more. You can either heat the oats up to create porridge or oatmeal, or you can just have it cold. Add a banana (tryptophan) for even more sleep improving food.
Whey protein is a great source of l-tryptophan, it is also obviously a good protein source. Mix the shake with milk for even more sleep inducement. If you can’t have whey then plant protein shakes will still work, but not quite as well (less tryptophan).
Tuna is one of the biggest sources of tryptophan, beating both chicken and turkey (two other more frequently cited sources). Bread also contains tryptophan, so a sandwich is pretty perfect. If you don’t like tuna, then chicken or turkey will do fine.
Okay, chocolate may not be the best source of tryptophan, but it is a source … look we just really want a pre-bed chocolate bar, okay?
Try timing your pre-bed snack for about 60-40 minutes before you plan on going to bed. The snack should be quite small. If you are absolutely starving at this point, then you probably aren’t eating enough satiating foods during the day and should make adjustments for the future. Also, you may notice that we haven’t mentioned cottage cheese on this list, despite it being the most commonly recommended pre-bed snack. You know why? Because cottage cheese sucks.