Are your nocturnal food choices limiting your fitness gains? Here are 4 common late-night blunders and how to fix them!

Nighttime eating do’s and don’ts bewilder many fitness enthusiasts. It was once thought that eating after dinner would expand your waistline, especially if you were munching on carbohydrates. Thankfully, much of that advice has since been discredited, but confusion still abounds.

Depending on your goals, it might even be beneficial to eat before bed. For example, a little late-night feeding can actually boost your muscle-building power, especially if you eat the right stuff.

If you really want to make the most of your fitness goals, don’t make any one of these four nighttime nutritional mistakes!

Mistake 1: Passing On Protein Before Bed

Problem: To get the most out of protein, consume 25-30 grams every few hours. If your dinner falls around 6 p.m., but you don’t go to sleep until after 10, skimping on a nighttime snack ups your time spent in a catabolic (muscle-breakdown) state. This can negatively affect your quest to maintain muscle mass during a fat-loss phase, or to gain it during a growth phase.

Solution: Make sure you have ample protein in your last meal before bed, which, as we just discussed, may actually be an additional “meal” after dinner. A study published in the “Journal of Nutrition” demonstrated that muscle growth continues following a protein-rich meal even if you’re going to sleep immediately afterward![1]

To truly maximize this meal, consider eating a combination of fast and slow-digesting proteins. Dairy is an excellent source of casein and tastes great when mixed with whey protein, but consider purchasing a casein protein powder, too. This combination will flip on the growth switch quickly, as well as prolonging the delivery of protein to your muscles during the night.

Mistake 2: Avoiding Carbohydrates At Night

Problem: Some people are under the impression that eating carbs at night will lead to weight gain, but this isn’t true if your total daily calories and carbohydrates are considered and aligned with your goals

Weight change is dictated by the relationship between calories in and calories out across a 24-hour period, not necessarily overnight. If you consume most of your calories—or carbs in this case—later in the day, then so be it. A deficit or surplus is what’s truly important. Oh, and good luck trying to train in the evening and expect to recover if you’re skimping on your nighttime carbs!

Solution: Don’t fear carbohydrates in the evening. In fact, multiple studies have observed effective weight loss in subjects consuming a majority of their carbohydrates in the evening.[2,3] Furthermore, there was even improvement in multiple obesity-related health parameters, and reports of feeling more full and satisfied throughout the day. Is this reason to abandon daytime carbs? No. But it goes to show you that your calorie deficit or surplus is more important for weight management than carbohydrate timing.

Your daily schedule should dictate your need for carbohydrates in the evening. If you train in the evening, or prefer carbohydrates with dinner, go ahead and eat them. As long as you’re taking in the appropriate amount of carbohydrates in a 24-hour span to meet your goals, you’ll be okay.

Mistake 3: Consuming Stimulants Too Late In The Day

Problem: Consuming stimulants close to bed inevitably delays sleep, or most certainly interrupts it. Even if you’re able to fall asleep after a cup of coffee, it still negatively affects sleep quality—specifically deep REM sleep.[4]

Sleep is the best time for your body to rest and recover from hard workouts because it’s when the majority of your anabolic hormones are secreted. Taking stimulants right before bed won’t only shortchange your sleep, but also your muscle gains.

Solution: Stop consuming stimulants (coffee, caffeinated tea, energy drinks, and pre-workouts) a minimum of six hours before you plan to go to sleep. This should allow enough time for the caffeine to be metabolized to the point that it won’t affect your sleep.

If you train in the evenings, consider supplementing with TeaCrine, a caffeine complement that enhances the benefit of caffeine without the accompanying jitters. When taken alongside a small dose of caffeine (50-100 mg), TeaCrine has been shown to prolong the increased cognitive benefits associated with caffeine intake for up to six hours, rather than the 1-2-hour rush from caffeine alone.[5] Consuming less caffeine will help you better sleep at night.