Sometimes you just can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning to hit the gym, and afternoon workouts for a lot of us aren’t an option. So sometimes a late-night gym session is the answer. But a nice empty gym and no one hogging the squat rack, sounds great right? Until you get home late, tired and hungry. This article will give you a few ideas for what to eat after a workout at night.
When you’re tired it can be easy to give in to any convenient snack or quick bite, but to really get all the benefits of your workout you need to consider what you’re eating post-workout, even on a late night.
To begin, let’s straighten out some important facts. Eating after a workout is important firstly because your body needs protein to repair the microtears you’ve created by working your muscles. Secondly, you should restore your glycogen reserves – those are the carbohydrates stored within muscles. Research shows that refueling within 4-6 hours of your workout is necessary, which means before bed.1
That time following a workout is when your body needs you to take charge of your diet the most. You need to be giving your body everything it needs to start repairing and growing. Building muscle is about breaking it down with resistance training and then repairing it, and the food you eat after a workout does that re-building work.
Don’t worry – we’ve got a few ideas of the best food to eat after a workout at night for you...
Summary: Properly refueling after a workout is key to results and recovery, helping your muscles rebuild and prepare for your next workout.
Each of the three macros plays a role in metabolism and have unique benefits after a workout.
Protein is the key building block for muscle and necessary to help rebuild the microtears we create during exercise. Protein helps us to heal and recover. Protein contains 4 calories per gram and is digested slowly if whole, and more quickly if in smaller chains of amino acids.
Carbs are the source for our body’s primary source of energy, glucose. Quickly digesting carbs can help give us energy, while slowly digesting carbs can help rebuild our muscle stores of glucose for the next time we need to dip into our reserves - speeding the recovery process. Carbs also contain 4 calories per gram.
Fats are important for overall health but also contribute to our energy stores for when we run out of glucose and have to shift to burning fat in longer workouts. Fat also keeps us feeling satisfied and less likely to overeat, and they contain 9 calories per gram.
Supplementing with protein shakes is the perfect way to get the protein your body needs within 30 minutes of a workout. The same goes for protein bars and snacks – they give you a healthy dose of protein and carbs immediately after exercise.
Try our Layered Bar or Crispy Layered Bar after your late-night workout for a protein-packed treat that'll satisfy your sweet cravings – minus the guilt. With 20g of protein, 19g of carbs and 9g of fat, the Layered Bar will help support muscle protein synthesis and replenish energy stores to speed your recovery overnight.
Casein protein, otherwise known as the bedtime protein, is the best kind of protein shake to have after a workout at night. It's derived from milk and has a much slower absorption rate than whey protein, which means it can provide your muscles with a sustained supply of protein while you sleep.1 After you've had your fast-digesting whey or plant-based protein directly after your workout, drinking a casein shake just before sleep will aid muscle recovery and growth.1
3. Yogurt & Fruit
Natural and Greek yoghurt are full of probiotics – the friendly bacteria that help digestion, perfect for eating before bed.2 They're also brimming with calcium and are a source of protein.
After a muscle-building workout, mix in a scoop of protein powder and fruit for muscle recovery and energy replenishment. It’s one of the best things to eat after a workout before sleep because it'll feed your sweet-tooth cravings without spiking your blood glucose levels.
4. Cottage Cheese
They say cheese gives you dreams when eaten close to bedtime, but cottage cheese is such a good source of protein and so filling, so we’ll take any weird dreams. Plus, it's super low in fat, which is great if you’re looking to cut.
5. Hard-Boiled Eggs
Hard-boiled eggs are on our healthy gains shopping lists for nights and mornings. They're so easy to prepare – just ten minutes to boil and you can take them in a container into work or the gym or have them waiting in the fridge for when you get home.
They're a great source of protein and healthy fats, plus, scientific research has recently shown that whole eggs fuel muscle-protein synthesis directly after a workout, more so than just egg whites.3 This is based on the fact that 40% of the protein in an egg is contained in the yolk, and the study showed that the added nutrients of the yolk (fat, vitamins, and minerals) are likely support increased protein synthesis.3
6. Hummus with Peppers
Still struggling to understand what food to eat after a workout at night? Served with extra-virgin olive oil, roasted chickpeas are a filling and delicious snack, plus, they're full of the protein and carbohydrates that are essential post-workout.
If you’re peckish after a workout at night, dipping chopped peppers into a luscious pot of hummus is the perfect moreish snack for replacing chips and crisps. The combination of protein and carbs will help you refuel and recover for your next gym session.4
7. Salmon & Salad
It doesn’t necessarily have to be fresh salmon if you can’t source or catch any late at night. The idea here is that you may want a light meal, rather than a snack, and fatty fish with its important omega fatty acids and protein is filling and delicious, especially when accompanied by leafy greens. And as this kind of Mediterranean dish is proven to help both physical and cognitive health, you'll sleep easy having served yourself a plate.5 Try pre-cooking some salmon fillets and keeping them in the fridge to have when you get home from a workout.
For more muscle building recipes for after a workout, check out this list.
Take Home Message
Your body needs protein and carbohydrates for muscle development, no matter what time of day it is. Late-night snacking may be billed as a big no-no, but your health and sleep will depend on replenishing your glycogen stores and getting the right nutrition. Knowing what food to eat after a workout at night will keep you recovering right – peaking your performance in and out of the gym.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
Claire is a Registered Dietitian through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a board-certified Health and Wellness Coach through the International Consortium for Health and Wellness Coaching. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master’s degree in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Pittsburgh.
Talking and writing about food and fitness is at the heart of Claire’s ethos as she loves to use her experience to help others meet their health and wellness goals.
Claire is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and loves the mental and physical boost she gets from regular runs and yoga classes. When she’s not keeping fit herself, she’s cheering on her hometown’s sports teams in Pittsburgh, or cooking for her family in the kitchen.
Find out more about Claire’s experience here.