If you’re an athlete who has late evening practices or workouts, you might be wondering what to eat after a late night workout.
Is it better to skip the post workout snack and go straight to bed? Or should you refuel your body with some food?
Eating after a late night workout is important for many reasons. It’s especially key if you want to optimize your recovery, performance and sleep quality.
But when it comes to post-workout nutrition, eating too much or too close to bedtime can also have negative effects on your health and sleep.
In this post, I’ll share some practical and healthy suggestions for what to eat after a late night workout.
Benefits of eating after a late night workout
Eating after a workout has multiple benefits to support recovery and future workouts. Generally, after a workout, you should aim to eat a balanced meal that has carbs and protein, following the performance plate method.
If it’s too close to bedtime, you may want to have a snack instead of a big meal.
Replenish muscle energy stores
The key source of energy for your activity is carbohydrates. Carbs are stored in your muscles as glycogen, which is the main source of energy for your muscles. When you exercise, you use most of your muscle glycogen stores.
If you don’t replenish them, you may feel tired, weak or sore the next day.
In order to be ready for your next workout, game or practice, you need to refuel your energy stores and have a post workout nurition plan.
Repair muscle damage
Exercise causes microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which need to be repaired to grow stronger and bigger. Protein is the building block of muscle. So, eating protein after a workout can help your body repair the damage and stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
Prevent muscle breakdown
When you don’t eat enough protein after a workout, your body may break down some of your muscle tissue to get the amino acids it needs. This can lead to muscle loss, which can affect your performance, strength and speed.
Eating protein after a workout can prevent this by providing your body with the amino acids it needs to maintain and build muscles.
Support immune system
Exercise can temporarily lower your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Eating foods with anti inflammatory and antioxidant benefits can ensure that you have vitamins and minerals to support recovery.
Carbs, protein, healthy fats and antioxidants are all important for your immune system health.
Improve sleep quality
Eating after a workout can also improve your sleep quality and metabolism. Sleep quality is influenced by many factors, including your diet and exercise.
Eating after a workout can help you sync your body clock with your natural sleep cycle. It also provides nutrients that can promote relaxation and sleepiness, such as tryptophan, magnesium and melatonin.
Late night meals and snacks ideas
Here are some practical and easy-to-prepare ideas for meals and snacks that you can eat after a late night workout.
Oatmeal with Greek yogurt and banana
Top a bowl of oatmeal with Greek yogurt, a sliced banana and dash of cinnamon. This meal provides a good balance of carbs, protein and fiber, as well as potassium and calcium.
Chicken and veggie wrap
Heat a whole wheat tortilla and fill it with two ounces of grilled chicken, a handful of baby spinach, hummus and some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. Roll it up and enjoy. This wrap is rich in protein, iron and vitamin C, as well as healthy fats from the hummus.
Egg and cheese sandwich
Top toasted slices of whole wheat bread with your favorite spread, such as cream cheese or hummus, tomato and avocado. This sandwich is a great source of protein, calcium, healthy fats and B vitamins, as well as complex carbs.
Peanut butter and jelly smoothie
Blend unsweetened almond milk, a frozen banana, peanut butter or your favorite nut butter, and a jelly. You can also add some ice or protein powder if you like.
This smoothie is delicious and satisfying, and it provides carbs, protein, and healthy fats, as well as potassium and magnesium.
Salmon and sweet potato
Bake a piece of salmon with some lemon juice, garlic and herbs. Serve it with roasted sweet potato and steamed broccoli. This meal is high in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, as well as vitamin A and K.
Fruit and yogurt parfait
Layer low fat Greek yogurt, granola, nuts and fruits to create a balanced snack. This snack provides protein, calcium, probiotics, fiber, and healthy fats.
You can make your own parfait with plain Greek yogurt, granola, and fresh, dried or frozen fruit of your choice.
Cheese and crackers
This is a simple and satisfying snack that provides protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Choose whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese for a healthier option. Cheese is rich in calcium and whole grain ccrackers can provide complex carbs and fiber.
Hummus and pita and veggies
Hummus is a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, healthy fats, and micronutrients like iron, magnesium, and zinc. Pair with whole grain pita bread and veggies can provide vitamins, antioxidants, and crunch.
Some veggies that go well with hummus are carrots, celery, cucumber and bell pepper.
Peanut butter and banana sandwich
Spread peanut butter on two slices of whole-wheat bread and add sliced banana. This snack provides protein, healthy fats, carbs, potassium, and magnesium, which can help your muscles recover and prevent cramps.
Tuna salad and whole-wheat crackers
Mix canned tuna with plain Greek yogurt, mustard, celery, and onion. Serve with whole-wheat crackers. This snack provides protein, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, which can help reduce inflammation and support your heart health.
Cottage cheese and fruit
Cottage cheese is a good source of protein, especially casein, which is a slow-digesting protein that can help your muscles recover overnight.
Fruit provides carbs, vitamins, antioxidants and fiber, which can help replenish your energy and boost your immune system. Some fruits that go well with cottage cheese are berries, melon, pineapple and kiwi, which also has sleep enhancing benefits.
Hard-boiled eggs and apple slices
Peel and slice two hard-boiled eggs and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Serve with apple slices. This snack provides protein, healthy fats, choline, and vitamin B12 from the eggs, and carbs, fiber, and vitamin C from the apple.
Chocolate milk and almonds
Oatmeal and berries
Cook oatmeal with water or high protein milk and add a dash of cinnamon. Top with fresh or frozen berries. This snack provides carbs, protein, and fiber from the oatmeal, and antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber from the berries.
Post-workout smoothie with tart cherry juice
For a nutrient packed post workout smoothie, blend a cup of tart cherry juice, a frozen banana, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, and some ice. This smoothie is rich in carbs, protein and antioxidants, as well as potassium and magnesium.
Tart cherry juice has been shown to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after exercise.
Foods to avoid before bedtime
Spicy, fatty, creamy or fried foods can cause indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, gas or diarrhea, which can interfere with your sleep and recovery. It’s best to avoid these especially close to bedtime.
It’s key to know what to eat after a late night workout to support your recovery, performance and sleep quality.
Eating after a workout is crucial for your health and fitness, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or boring.
You can mix and match different foods and ingredients to create your own delicious and nutritious post-workout meals and snacks. Just remember to choose foods that are balanced, easy to digest and help you sleep better.
For more ideas see our post on late night snack ideas. Or if you are driving home from a late evening practice, see our dinner ideas in the car post for some ideas on how to fuel on your way home from practice.
Join our mailing list and get our FREE Pre-Activity Fueling Guide.
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 22 years of experience in public health and nutrition. As a performance registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.