Late-night calories can boost recovery and set you up for an active day. Here, a nutritionist weighs in on athletes' favorite snacks.
Whoever spread the notion that bedtime snacks are bad for you must not have been an endurance athlete. If you’ve ever been roused prematurely by a grumbling stomach or woken up feeling depleted from the previous night’s workout, you know that a bite before bed has its merits. But research has only recently started to show exactly how a late-night snack can benefit active bodies, with various studies establishing the correlation between evening calories and muscle recovery and growth. Those calories also help replenish glycogen stores in preparation for the next day’s workout. Catherine Kruppa, a registered dietician and certified sports nutritionist with 14 Boston qualifiers and three ultras to her name, explains that a 200-to-400-calorie snack should do the trick. Look for foods with a three-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein ratio, and opt for complex carbs instead of simple sugars. She also recommends you sneak in some antioxidants and omega-3’s, which will help boost your recovery while you sleep.
If you need some inspiration, here are some nighttime snack ideas straight from the pros.
Cherry-Almond Recovery Smoothie
A big week for long-distance triathlete Chelsea Sodaro entails 30 or more hours of training. “I have a hard time getting in enough protein and calories during a six- or seven-hour training day,” she says, “so having a shake before bed helps keep me full during the night and aids muscle repair while I’m sleeping.”
This easy-to-digest smoothie is a perfect bedtime snack for recovery, with protein and carbohydrates, fluid to help rehydrate, and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Sodaro’s protein needs are sky-high due to her heavy training load, so Kruppa recommends you tweak the recipe according to your own needs, adding that the three-to-one carb-to-protein ratio is a good rule of thumb for everyday athletes.
- 1 cup almond milk
- 3 scoops (1 serving) Vifit Sport Recovery Shake
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup frozen berries
- 1 tablespoon tart cherry-juice concentrate
- 3 ice cubes
- 1/3 cup light coconut milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 scoop 100 percent whey, collagen, or vegan protein powder
- 2 teaspoons almond butter
- 1 cup frozen tart cherries
Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth.
Antioxidant Granola Bars
Three-time distance-running Olympian Jen Rhines created these granola bars specifically for nighttime snacking after a hard training day. “When I eat late at night, I try to avoid foods that will cause a spike in blood sugar,” Rhines says. The ample protein and fat in her bars slows digestion and keeps her satiated. She also adds goji berries, which contain a whopping 18 amino acids, and antioxidant-rich raw honey.
Kruppa approves of Rhines’s ingredient list, which includes ample complex carbs and important nutrients. If you’re low on protein for the day, Kruppa suggests adding whey-protein or collagen-protein powder to the mix. Flax seeds would also contribute healthy omega-3’s to this nourishing bedtime bite.
- 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup dates, pitted
- 1 cup almonds, chopped
- 1/4 cup almond butter
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- 1/4 cup goji berries
- 1/4 cup cacao nibs (optional)
Optional: Toast oats at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes. Chop dates into small bits with a food processor or by hand. Combine the oats, dates, and almonds in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Warm almond butter and honey in a small saucepan over low heat, then combine to the oat mixture. Add the goji berries and cacao nibs. Line an eight-by-eight-inch baking pan with parchment paper, spread the mixture inside, and flatten. Cover and place in a fridge or freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and chop into squares.
Coconut-Milk Yogurt Bowl
Matt Llano, the runner-up at last year’s USA Track and Field Marathon Championship, only snacks in the evenings before a particularly long run or hard workout. “My favorite lately has been a coconut-milk yogurt bowl,” he says. He typically uses So Delicious yogurt, sweetens it naturally with maple syrup or honey, and tops it with fresh fruit and granola.
Kruppa called Llano’s yogurt bowl “a great whole-food snack,” thanks to the nine grams of both fiber and protein it provides. To increase the protein, she suggests opting for Greek yogurt. As a topping, Kruppa also recommends Kind Cinnamon Oat Clusters with Flax Seeds, which contains omega-3-rich flax seeds and only five grams of sugar per serving.
- 3/4 to 1 cup coconut-milk yogurt
- 1 to 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1/4 cup fresh raspberries
- 1/4 cup granola
Chocolate-Chip Flax-Seed Cookies
Olympic steeplechaser Shalaya Kipp, who is working toward her Ph.D. in kinesiology at the University of British Columbia, keeps it simple with a glass of milk. “It’s somewhat filling, and I get a little extra hydration with some carbohydrates and protein,” she says. “Though I’d be lying if I didn’t say I normally look for a cookie or two to dunk in it.”
Kipp’s glass of milk in the evening is spot-on, according to Kruppa. It contains a nice balance of protein, carbohydrates, fluid, and potassium, and it pairs well with the occasional treat. When homemade cookies aren’t an option, Kruppa’s favorite alternatives are Kashi Oatmeal Raisin Flax Cookies and Simple Mills Chocolate Chip Cookies.
- 1 stick butter (at room temperature)
- 1 cup light-brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1/3 cup ground flax seed
- 1 1/2 cups milk-chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together in a medium-size bowl. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add baking soda and salt. Add flour and flax seed, and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Place golf-ball-size dough balls on a cookie sheet and chill in the freezer for five to ten minutes. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Shakes, Toast, Cereal, and Bars
With three young daughters and a full-time job, Canadian ultrarunner Cal Neff prefers to train in the evening, after eating with his family and putting his girls to bed. Postrun, Neff snacks on a wide variety of protein- and iron-heavy foods, like shakes, chocolate milk, peanut butter on whole-wheat toast, meat-based protein bars, and cereal—including his kids’ Reese’s Puffs.
While bedtime snacks can benefit all athletes, Kruppa underscores their importance for those who train in the evening and have a short window to replenish their glycogen stores. Kruppa calls chocolate milk the cheapest and most effective recovery beverage due to its rehydrating powers and perfect carb-to-protein ratio. An Epic bar combined with an orange is also a solid choice, as the vitamin C in the orange helps the body absorb the iron in the bar. And finally, breakfast cereal—yes, even the sugary ones with cartoon-covered boxes—can be a healthy grab. While many types contain 25 percent of the daily recommendation for iron, Kruppa recommends Total, which is fortified with 100 percent of your daily iron needs.