What To Eat After a Late-night Workout

Healthy ways to refuel before bed.

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I'm a total night owl, so hitting the gym at the crack of dawn has never worked for me. I typically get a big burst of energy in the evening and usually work out well after the sun goes down. Many of my clients also enjoy late-night workouts, but they always have one burning question for me: "Should I eat afterward, and what should I eat?"

Why You Should Eat After a Workout

During a workout, your body uses up energy that has been stored in your muscles. That means you will lose that energy during the workout and need to replenish it. Specifically, food with carbohydrates and protein will help rebuild and repair your muscles and provide you with the energy you lost. Try to eat within an hour of working out.

What To Eat After a Night Workout

My standard advice: Don't starve yourself post-workout. You need to eat something to replenish nutrients and help your body recover from physical wear and tear.

But, if you know you're going to bed soon, it's not a good idea to chow down on a massive meal. Instead, here are six fast and simple options rich in nutrients, lean protein, and healthy fat—to support (not undo) your hard work at the gym.

Hummus With Raw Veggies

Reach for traditional hummus or mix things up with a version made from black beans, lentils, or white beans. Whichever variety you choose, scoop it up with sliced bell pepper, cucumber, grape tomatoes, or another in-season vegetable you like.

Salmon and Veggie Salad

Mix just an ounce or two of canned wild salmon with a small handful of baby spinach and a tablespoon of olive tapenade. Spoon it into an outer romaine leaf, or eat the tasty mixture on its own.

Roasted Chickpeas

Toss a handful of chickpeas with a bit of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of sea salt (it's fine to use canned chickpeas; drained, rinsed, and patted dry). Bake on foil in the oven or toaster oven until golden brown.

Egg Salad

Chop a few organic hard-boiled eggs, and toss with chopped veggies (like minced kale or shredded zucchini) and a small dollop of tahini or pesto.

Chilled Shrimp With Guacamole

Thaw five or six frozen, ready-to-eat shrimp and dip them into a quarter cup of guacamole. Just make sure the guac isn't too hot, since spicy foods can cause heartburn which can worsen when you lie down and can interfere with your sleep.

Nuts or Seeds

A perfect post-workout serving of nuts or seeds is a quarter cup, about the size of a golf ball (if they're in the shell, use a half cup). My favorites are almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. Another option: a few level tablespoons of nut or seed butter scooped up with celery.

Eating Before Bed

There are a few things to keep in mind if you eat before bed. Eating at night comes with the risk of binge eating, particularly for people who experience high levels of stress. People who have binge eating disorder typically binge eat in response to stress, which can happen after a day of stressful events.

If you exercise at night and have habits of binge eating in the evening, it's important to eat a small, protein-rich snack that will replenish your energy and help you feel full.

Additionally, if you tend to experience heartburn (acid reflux) after eating, you may want to avoid eating certain foods before falling asleep. This is because heartburn can worsen when you lay down because the acid can come back up into the esophagus. The following foods can cause heartburn:

  • Fried food
  • Fast food
  • Pizza
  • Processed snacks
  • Cheese
  • Tomato sauce
  • Chocolate
  • Carbonated beverages

So, if you're looking for a post-workout snack and you often have symptoms of acid reflux, it might be a good idea to avoid those foods before bed.

A Quick Review

If you are someone who likes to get in your workout in the evening or late at night, you might eat nuts, seeds, egg salad, hummus and veggies, or any other protein-rich food as your post-workout snack.

You may be concerned about eating before bed, but it is important to replenish that energy that you used during your workout. As long as you eat a snack that is a smaller portion, protein-rich, and won't cause any acid reflux symptoms, that snack will help you gain the lost energy and rebuild your muscles.

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Sources
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  1. Mohr CCR. Timing your pre- and post-workout nutrition. EatRight Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

  2. Nisar M, Mohammad RM, Arshad A, Hashmi I, Yousuf SM, Baig S. Influence of dietary intake on sleeping patterns of medical students. Cureus. 11(2):e4106.

  3. Carnell S, Grillot C, Ungredda T, et al. Morning and afternoon appetite and gut hormone responses to meal and stress challenges in obese individuals with and without binge eating disorder. Int J Obes (Lond). 2018;42(4):841-849.

  4. Kinsey AW, Ormsbee MJ. The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients. 2015;7(4):2648-2662.

  5. GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn). Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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