The Ups and Downs of Late-Night Snacking
We’ve all been there. It’s past midnight and you’re slowly working your way through a DVD box set of your favorite TV show … and then the late-night cravings strike.
What do you do? Order a pizza? Some wings? Maybe pick up a few more bags of chips? Or bury yourself in a gallon of ice cream? How about all of the above?
Sure, you could do that, but only if you want to keep those extra few pounds that you’ve been trying so hard to lose … and pack on a few more.
Late-night snacking has always had a bad rap, but there’s some truth to it.
Researchers have found that you’re more likely pack on the pounds if you sleep less than 7 hours a night. One of the reasons for this is that lack of sleep makes people crave fatty and carb-rich junk foods like pepperoni pizza, cheeseburgers, and chocolate cake.
Of course, if you eat junk food like this all the time, you’re going to gain weight.
Four Reasons to Snack Late at Night
But not all late-night snacks are created equal. Done correctly, eating at night can help you build bigger muscles and crank up your metabolism.
Bigger muscles. A 2012 study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that men who ate casein (the main protein in milk) after an evening workout, but 30 minutes before going to sleep, had increased muscle protein synthesis.
Faster metabolism. Another study by researchers from Florida State University showed that eating a small (150-calorie) snack at night—as long as it contained protein or carbohydrates—boosted men’s resting metabolic rate in the morning.
Less hunger. If you eat a snack late a night, you’re less likely to be hungry in the morning, according to more research from Florida State University. In this study, the type of food didn’t matter, but if you want to emphasize muscle building, then stick to protein.
Lose weight. Cereal isn’t just for breakfast. Researchers at Wayne State University found that people who ate a bowl of cereal with low-fat milk 90 minutes after dinner each night lost 2 pounds on average in 4 weeks.
Ten Late-Night Snacks To Quench Hunger Pangs
Sometimes you just can’t avoid getting hungry in the middle of the night. But you are better off passing up pizza and that pint of ice cream.
And avoid overdoing it. A snack should be small—less than 300 calories. More than that is a meal.
Here are ten snacks that will satisfy your late-night cravings while keeping you from storing all those calories as fat.
Dark chocolate. More bitter, than sweet, dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and has less sugar than milk chocolate. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao (the raw stuff that chocolate comes from).
Dried figs. Those supermarket fig-like cookies pale in comparison to real figs. These chewy, candylike snacks will satisfy your hunger, while giving you a good dose of fiber.
Greek yogurt. An excellent source of protein and low in sugar, Greek yogurt is great for stimulating muscle synthesis. If you like flavor, buy plain Greek yogurt and mix in fresh fruit, cinnamon, or vanilla powder.
Popcorn. Your best bet is to air-pop your own popcorn, although in a pinch you can buy 100-calorie microwaveable packs. Avoid the butter, though. Instead, use a light touch of olive oil, plus spices like cayenne pepper for heat or cinnamon for sweetness.
Cheese quesadilla. For a healthier quesadilla, choose whole-grain (high-fiber) tortillas and low-fat cheese (like Jarlesberg light, or soy cheese). The best cheeses have only 3 to 5 grams of fat per ounce.
Crackers. Any low-fat whole grain cracker makes a great late-night snack. For an interesting twist, try crackers made with stone-ground sesame seeds. You can eat them plain, or top them with hummus, a low-fat deli meat slice, or light cheese.
Yogurt smoothies. The sky is the limit with yogurt smoothies. Choose fresh or frozen fruit. Toss in some hemp hearts for extra protein. Add a little cinnamon or vanilla powder for flavor. Even a handful of greens (like lettuce, chard, or kale) … for extra vitamins.
Multigrain pretzels. Stick- or twist-shape makes no difference, because most plain pretzels have only 100 calories for a handful. Swap our that bag of potato chips for these tasty alternatives. And for extra flavor, dunk them in protein-rich Greek yogurt.
Yogurt cubes. You can’t go wrong with this snack … almost like ice cream. Mix up a yogurt smoothie with fresh fruit and pour the mixture into ice cube trays. Freeze until they’re solid enough to remove, but not rock hard.
Frozen fruit. Great for winter months when fresh fruit isn’t readily available at the supermarket. Any fruit will do—they’re all loaded with vitamins and fiber—but blueberries pack an extra punch of antioxidants.