From our college days onward, we’ve been told to avoid midnight snacking, especially when it involves greasy pizza, takeout food, chips, and other junk food (duh!). But if you had a light dinner or worked out in the evening, you might crave a mini-meal or array of healthy bedtime snacks. Not to mention your muscles might also need a protein boost to help them repair as you slumber.
New research published in the Journal of Nutrition (which studied female athletes) found that eating a solid, high-protein snack at bedtime had no negative effect on athletes’ metabolism, as a sugary or salty processed snack might. So skip the bowl of ice cream or a bag of cheese puffs, and reach for a plain Greek yogurt cup, or whip up a scrambled egg. Here are some more protein snacks before bed that'll have you drifting off to sleep — and recovering like a champ — in no time.
Why Protein is a Great Snack to Fill You Up Overnight
In the Journal of Nutrition's study, eating protein-filled snacks before bedtime (in this case, a protein shake) didn’t affect the athletes’ fat metabolism negatively, and likely wouldn’t change their metabolism at any point during the day, especially because the study subjects were weightlifters, explains Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD. Since the athletes (like you, Spartans) already have high muscle mass, they also have a higher metabolism with higher demands, she says.
“Protein helps fuel muscle mass, along with an appropriate amount of calories from other macronutrients, too,” Lemein says. "So as long as you are eating food with enough of those macronutrients, it’s less important to be concerned with exactly what time you’re consuming them."
Kristina LaRue, RD, CSSD, says eating enough protein throughout the day is key to your body's metabolism. “If your goal is maximizing muscle protein synthesis for repair and growth, it’s ideal to space protein out throughout the day, about every four hours or so, from the time you eat your first meal,” LaRue says.
Related: How Much Protein Do You Need?
And if you’re going to eat healthy bedtime snacks after a long day, they might as well be protein-heavy, so your body has more time to process it overnight. “By eating a protein-rich snack at bedtime, this can extend protein's window to maximize absorption so your body is in an anabolic growth state for a longer period of time,” says LaRue. She suggests focusing on casein protein when you can, which can be found in some protein powders and yogurts, as well as cottage cheese. Read on for our all-time favorite, Spartan-approved healthy bedtime snacks.
The Best High-Protein Healthy Bedtime Snacks
1. ½ Cup Roasted Chickpeas
If you crave that savory crunch at nighttime, step away from chips and try roasted chickpeas instead, Lemein advises. They have between six and seven grams of protein in a ½ cup serving. Plus, they’re packed with much more fiber, immune-boosting zinc, and manganese, which is good for bone health, than other salty snacks you might find in your pantry.
2. Cottage Cheese With Berries and Nut Butter
“Cottage cheese is rich in slow-digesting casein protein, and is a good source of calcium too,” says LaRue. “It’s also a quality protein-rich snack because it’s very high in amino acid leucine, which helps with stimulating muscle protein synthesis and aids in muscle tissue repair and growth.” So it’s a perfect post-workout evening snack. You can enjoy it with your choice of fruit and nut butter, or you can add it to your favorite overnight oats recipe.
3. ½ Cup of Edamame
Lemein suggests edamame, a healthy source of whole soy plant-based protein. In just that 1/2 cup serving, there are approximately 11 grams of protein. You can easily steam the legumes and eat them straight from the pods, de-shell them and eat them that way, or you can even make hummus out of the edamame and dip other veggies into it.
4. Scrambled Eggs and Whole-Grain Avocado Toast
The key to a complete snack (this one is more like a mini-meal) is mixing protein with whole grains and healthy fats. “Eggs have long been considered the gold standard for high-quality protein because they contain all the essential amino acids that are easily digestible— with 6 grams of protein at 70 calories for 1 large egg,” says LaRue.
The bread you choose, if it’s whole grain, will likely contain protein as well. “Aim for bread with 5 grams of protein per slice, for a plant-based protein option, and to keep saturated fat down,” says LaRue. And in 1/2 avocado, there’s also one to two grams of protein, she says, making the grand protein total about 12 to 13 grams for your midnight snack.
5. One Ounce of Cheese or 1/4 Cup of Roasted Nuts
Cheese or nuts are a smart and tasty bedtime snack, says Lemein. In just one ounce of cheese, like sharp Parmigiano Reggiano, there are 10 grams of protein; cheddar, swiss, and mozzarella have between seven and eight grams of protein per ounce. When it comes to roasted, unsalted nuts, 1/4 cup of almonds or peanuts has about seven grams of protein. “The key is to be sure to keep snacks in portion-controlled sizes in order to avoid turning a snack into another meal — you just need something to tide you over until the next meal or keep you satiated at night if dinner was light,” says Lemein.