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Why A Late-Night Snack Can Be Healthy

5 options to try next time pre-bed hunger strikes

There’s nothing worse than going to bed hungry—except maybe the feeling of having to turn in after raiding your fridge. The good news is there’s a healthy medium, and eating a smart late-night snack can actually support your post-workout recovery.

“The old thinking was, don’t eat at night because that’s when we tend to be less active and therefore our food energy would go to waste, or ‘turn to fat.’ However, this myth has been busted,” says New York-based registered dietitian Lisa Hayim. “I always urge my clients to listen to their hunger cues, instead of letting time dictate when or what they eat.”

Reading your cues correctly is key, however. “There are different types of hunger. Some people are “mouth hungry” meaning that they just want to mindlessly eat or crave something specific for non-energy needs,” says Hayim. And sometimes those cravings are actually a sign of thirst: “Many of us are not properly hydrated, and thirst pains feel the same as hunger pains,” explains Elizabeth Avery, R.D., a sports nutritionist in Boston. 

But if you’ve ruled out thirst and know it’s not a case of mindless munchies, go for protein. A study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that athletes who consumed protein 30 minutes before bedtime had accelerated muscle growth and recovery compared to those who skipped the late-night snack.

The research doesn’t surprise Ed Gemdjian, Tier X coach at Equinox Century City. “It can be very beneficial to have protein and healthy fat in the evening,” he says. “The protein will be used to repair muscle tissue and fat will help slow the digestion process so you can sleep through the night. I like cashew butter, hemp seeds, sunflower seed butter, raw nuts, avocado, and salmon. And casein protein powder has a combination of fat and protein that will also work.”

When making your preferred snack selection, be sure to eat 30 minutes or more before you turn in for the night to prevent heartburn and pass on picks that might keep you tossing and turning all night. Avoid high-added-sugar and high-fat processed foods because they’re caloric, low in nutrients, and they may inhibit a restful sleep, says Avery. And while she also recommends protein-rich options such as yogurt, she thinks fresh fruit, vegetables with hummus, oatmeal, or unsalted and unbuttered popcorn are smart choices as well.

For more healthy ideas, try these late-night snack staples from Equinox trainers:

1. Veggies + Protein
“Late in the evening, I always prefer veggies and protein, such as celery and hummus. My favorite is tuna packed with virgin olive oil and mixed with raw vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers.” — Verena Stefanie, Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Kensington

2. Fruit + Nut Butter
“My top late-night treat is frozen blueberries topped with nut butter and local honey. It's delicious, filling, and definitely curbs the fiercest sweet tooth.” — Mackenzie Rae Wickliffe, Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Century City

“One of my favorite late snacks is a banana with peanut butter. It's good for my heart and makes me drink water. Voilà, my belly is full again.” — Simone Tchouke, Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Flatiron

3. Nuts + Seeds
“If I am still feeling hungry after drinking a glass of water, I grab a healthy fat option. My go-to is usually a small palm of almonds. Of the three macronutrients (carbs, fats, proteins), fat takes the longest to digest in our bodies. The energy being produced from the almonds will take longer to metabolize, therefore we will feel satiated for longer. The same goes for seeds such as chia, pumpkin, or sunflower seeds.” — Chloé Levray, Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Glendale

4. Homemade "Apple Pie" Filling

“For the base, I mix a serving of fat-free cottage cheese with a tablespoon of peanut butter. For the filling, I microwave three ounces of apple with cinnamon until the fruit caramelizes. I mix the two together for a nighttime snack that not only satisfies my cravings, but keeps me full for the rest of the night. I like this blend due to the casein protein from the cottage cheese and the fiber from the apple: Due to its slow-digesting nature, casein promotes muscle synthesis when consumed before bed; the fiber content of the apple adds to overall satiation by emphasizing food volume over caloric density.” — Sam Rothermel, Equinox group fitness instructor in New York City

5. Protein Bar 
“Many evenings, I have a mini early dinner around 6:30 p.m., then end up eating a snack around 9:00 p.m. For example, the other night I had a Juice Press clean green protein bar with a big glass of water.” — Rachel Mariotti, Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox 50th Street