If you’re hungry after dinner, what should you eat?

In a recent instagram post (@stephensmithpn) I showed an example of the type of snack I go for when I find myself hungry between dinner and bed. This is a question I get asked a lot so I thought I’d put up a post to cover the what/why/how of snacking before bed.

We’ve all done it, the searching through the cupboards and the fridge in the time between having our evening meal and bed. When working with an athlete I also tend to include a pre-bed snack in their meal plan to promote regular protein feedings throughout the day – more on this in another post. I understand it can be tough to make the right decision but by following a few simple principles you can stay on track with your diet and make evening snacking work for you.

  1. Protein first – eating protein before bed has been shown to promote protein synthesis, that is, it keeps your body in a state of rebuild/repair instead of protein breakdown. Protein breakdown occurs when you do not feed for an extended amount of time and is one of the reasons I recommend regular protein feeds to the athletes I work with. Regarding which sources of protein to go for, I would recommend dairy sources such as milk, yoghurts, cottage cheese or whey protein.
  2. Customise your snack – depending on a few factors such as your goal (muscle repair / recovery, fat loss, carbohydrate loading etc), you could customise your snack in several ways. If fat loss is your goal, the aim should be to keep the overall calorie content of the snack down; simply having a whey shake in milk would be a good option, or low fat yoghurt topped with some mixed berries. If you are trying to maximise recovery, have a big training session or competition on the following day, then I would suggest adding in some carbohydrate and fat sources too. For example, a bowl of yoghurt with a chopped banana, a teaspoon of honey and some chopped nuts would tick all the boxes.

Essentially, that’s it. Like most things in nutrition it’s best to keep it simple and follow a few principles. Of course, fruits and nuts can be eaten on their own without the protein, but as an athlete it’s generally better to try and keep your body in a state of protein building (synthesis), and nuts/fruit aren’t the best foods to promote this process. If you’re really keen, you could prepare some high-protein snacks each week and keep them aside for snacking. Things such as protein balls or bars are quick and simple to make (email me for a recipe), keep for a while and you can customise them to your tastes.

Want to know more? Read on…..

Whilst snacking before bed can be useful, you must bear in mind that a typical snack could be upwards of 200 calories by the time you’ve combined your protein source, fruits, nuts and honey etc. If you are on a diet aimed at fat loss, this surplus of calories could slow your progress. Just because you are snacking ‘healthy’ doesn’t mean you will continue to lose weight, at the end of the day, calories are king when it comes to fat loss. If you find yourself hungry quite often between dinner and bed, consider increasing your serving of dinner instead, particularly the protein (chicken, beef, fish etc), or adding in some good fats (olive oil, quality butter) as well. Protein and fats are digested more slowly, helping you feel fuller for longer and preventing hunger.

If you have trained during the day and have another big session/competition tomorrow, or competing over multiple days, then I would certainly build in an evening snack into your nutrition program. When I’ve worked with busy athletes (motocross or speedway riders) who have to travel frequently and often long distances to training / competition, adequate protein can be overlooked. By simply remembering to factor in a pre-bed protein feeding, this is another tick in the box towards your recovery.


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