Dietitian Q&A on the best bedtime snacks
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When it comes to bedtime snacking, there are several misconceptions that can cloud someone’s judgement on whether or not it’s determinantal, acceptable or beneficial. To help bring some clarity to the age-old debate, our team of registered dietitians break down the art of snacking at bedtime and what have addressed some of the most common questions when it comes to bedtime snacking:
What are a few of your favorite go-to bedtime snacks and why?
Coach Anika: I usually go for a little carb balanced with a fat or protein. My combinations are often something sweet (because I love that flavor profile) but balanced so they don’t’ spike and crash my blood sugar. I also want to make sure it doesn’t lead to craving more food right before bed. I have an almost 5-year-old so the before bed snack we try to plan and have within 30 minutes before bed time. A few of our go-to options are:
- Frozen berries with a little heavy cream
- 1 oz. dark chocolate with a tsp. of almond butter
- Protein pudding or protein shake
- Scoop of almond butter
- Handful of almonds
Coach Julie: I love a decadent protein shake – think peanut butter, banana and chocolate, but I’ll cut the portions by a half so I’m not going to bed on a full stomach. One of my go-to snacks is a shake that can also be delightfully mistaken for “ice cream” if you make it thick enough:
- ½ scoop Chocolate UCAN
- ½ scoop Chocolate grass-fed Whey Protein
- ½ frozen banana (slice into coins before freezing)
- 1 Tbsp Peanut Butter
- Salt and pepper pistachios – they’re salty, crunchy, include some healthy fat and fiber plus they take a while to eat.
- Blueberry collagen sorbet – I put 1-1.5 cups of frozen blueberries in my blender, add unsweetened almond or cashew milk until it just barely covers the blueberries, toss in a scoop of vanilla collagen peptides and blend until smooth. Occasionally, I’ll add a tablespoon of my favorite organic nut butter.
- Lindt 90% dark chocolate – I’ll sometimes add nut butter here too.
Coach Katharine: When I’m picking my bedtime snack my primary focus is that it’s going to support quality sleep! I like balance protein with carbs as it helps stabilize my blood sugars to help me stay asleep and not wake up at the same time every night. If I’m looking for something sweeter and want more of a carb base, I’ll add a little protein and fat, just to ensure that it won’t disrupt my sleep. As you can tell, I love my sleep! A few of my go-to snacks:
- Protein shake
- Handful of nuts + 2 squares of dark chocolate
- Apple + nut butter
- Handful of nuts + full fat cheese stick
Coach Amy: My favorite bedtime snacks are usually a combination of carbs + protein, so some of my go-to snacks are:
- Apple + nut butter
- Protein balls: oats + protein powder + chia seeds + nut butter
- Oats + protein powder
Coach Mandy: My favorite bedtime snacks always include a source of protein, fiber, and healthy fats plus a small portion of complex carbs to help support more stable blood sugar overnight for better sleep. I think of it as a mini meal! If I’m in the mood for something sweet, I’ll go for chia seeding pudding made with collagen protein. If I’m looking for a savory option, I like wrapping veggie sticks in organic lunch meat and dipping in hummus or guacamole.
What are some common misconceptions when it comes to bedtime snacking?
Coach Anika: That there is a “hard rule” for everyone and that they are not allowed to have a bedtime snack. People tend to believe that since they aren’t moving around much at night (or after dinner) that they don’t need anything, OR they have been told it’s only acceptable during a set time that is supposed to hold true for everyone. A lot of clients believe they can’t eat after 6-7 p.m.
Coach Mandy: A common misconception is that eating after dinner is always a no-no. While many people do benefit from extending their “fasting window,” some people do need more frequent meals. For example, if someone is struggling with getting quality sleeping or having adrenal issues, they might benefit from more frequent meals and a blood sugar-stabilizing snack in the evening.
Coach Amy: That food late in the evening will always be stored as body fat and it can slow your metabolism. Eating after dinner isn’t necessary; it should be avoided for weight loss and fat loss.
What bedtime snacks should people avoid?
Coach Anika: Generally, you don’t want something that’s going to lead you to overconsume (i.e. – never eat directly out of an ice cream container, bag of chips, etc.) People should avoid snacks that aren’t balanced in macronutrients. Often people consume stuff that is primarily carbohydrates that will make blood sugars fluctuate.
Coach Paul: Candy, processed carbohydrates, multiple alcoholic drinks.
Coach Amy: Large quantities of fat and fiber (or large quantities of any type of food) as these things can take longer to digest and can prevent restful sleep.
Coach Katharine: Avoid snacks that are full of sugar. If you’re hungry after dinner, this could indicate you had an eating schedule throughout the day that wasn’t balanced enough. If you’re having strong cravings at night, it could also be a habit you’ve developed overtime and your body has come to expect a nighttime treat to satisfy such as popcorn, ice cream, chips or candy. When it comes to drinking and having a “night cap” to help you relax, it’s important to understand it actually disrupts sleep immensely – not to mention it can add up in the sugar and carb content.
Are there reasons why some people are more prone to snack at bedtime? If so, why?
Coach Anika: I always have clients look at “when” they consumed dinner. If it was close to bedtime (<2 hours), they might need to balance out their dinner more by adding protein and fat. If they ate dinner >2+ hours before bedtime, they may need to add a snack in there. Blood sugar imbalances often cause a sweet tooth at night and an increase of snack cravings. Other things like high stress and can often lead to cravings at night, as well boredom. Behaviors like sitting on the couch or watching TV for too long can lead to unnecessary snacking.
Coach Paul: There is some research into “genetic” tendencies related to snacking, but more rigorous science needs to be done. In my experience, un-managed/mis-managed stress and blood sugar imbalances lead to the unhealthiest snacking patterns. Poor micronutrient status probably has something to do with the desire to eat too – i.e. if someone has insufficient B6 they will almost assuredly struggle to produce enough serotonin, dopamine, and other feel good neurotransmitters. To make up for serotonin deficiencies, eating carbs may help.
Coach Amy: People may snack at bedtime due to boredom, stress, not eating enough during the day or not eating enough carbohydrates throughout the day. When people don’t get enough carbs in their day, it can lead people to crave those carbs they missed out on later in the night.
When comparing daytime snacking vs. nighttime snacking, what are the main differences?
Coach Anika: Snacks should really give you energy in between your main meals. I often suggest daytime snacks to those that often overeat at meal time because they show up ravenous or starving that can lead to overeating. Snacks during the day are also a great way to provide the body with optimal macronutrients – most of us get enough protein, but not often enough during the day (>benefits when body receives protein in small lump sums several times per day). If I’m looking for ways to get some protein in during the daytime, I usually do a shake or grab a protein bar for when I’m on the go – the organic trim bars from Mauer are great options because they’re high in protein and I can grab one at the club.
Nighttime snacking for most isn’t a great habit because it’s when people lose control of their nutrition habits due to cravings and tend to consume the least healthy foods. Overall, nighttime snacking is an opportunity to provide body ideal nutrition, and with the right tools, it can be something people look forward to without derailing their nutrition plan.
Coach Julie: During the day we are moving and more likely to burn through snacks that have a stronger carbohydrate component (think fruit or crackers), but while neither may be an ideal snack by themselves during the day, they can be a major foe at night.
Look to avoid high-sugar, traditional deserts before bed. They will take you out of a fat-burning state (which is innate while sleeping) and may cause restless sleeping. It could even contribute to you waking up in the middle of the night due to a sudden drop in your blood sugar. No Bueno. Knowing this, I love a protein-rich snack that doubles as “something sweet,” that will help meet your metabolic needs before bed and also appease your cravings for a post-dinner sweet treat.
Coach Amy: The reason behind the snack can differ for nighttime vs. daytime – daytime snacking is usually to keep energy levels up between meals, whereas at night it may be motivated by an urge to make up for an insufficient carb intake earlier in the day.
If you have any specific questions about bedtime snacking or anything else mentioned above, feel free to ask our team of registered dietitians by emailing email@example.com.
– Your Life Time Team of Registered Dietitians
- Anika Christ, RD, CPT – Life Time Director of Digital Programs and Events
- Paul Kriegler, RD – Life Time Nutrition Program Development Manager
- Julie Brown, RD – Life Time National Nutrition Program Manager
- Katharine Knafla, RD, LD – Life Time Assistant Program Manager, Lab Testing
- Mandy Rother RD, LD, IFMNT Nutritionist, NASM-CPT – Life Time Assistant Program Manager, Lab Testing
- Amy Crees, RD, LD – Life Time, Lab Testing & Virtual Coaching
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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