Eating at night gets a bad rap. This is probably due to a few factors, including mindless eating, emotional eating, eating out of boredom, eating due to stress, confusing hunger with tiredness, consuming empty calories, excessive intake of calories above needs, and large portions before bed. However, nutrition at night can be beneficial and necessary, if done mindfully. Let’s take a look at energy, protein and hydration at night.
Energy at Night
The body uses energy day in and day out, even while you sleep. Digestion and metabolism do not stop while you sleep. The body requires energy for the most fundamentals aspects of life like pumping blood, circulating oxygen, digesting and absorbing food. This is known as your body’s basal metabolic rate (BMR), which determines how much energy the body needs to maintain basic life-sustaining biological functions. However, the level of energy your body requires at night changes.
Less energy is required at night while you sleep, because the body is less active, breathing pattern slow, heart rate decreases and body temperature lowers. However, the brain is still highly active at night and still needs to maintain your BMR. In addition, many restorative functions occur in the body during sleep. The body and brain undergo many processes from the day before.
Protein at Night
There are many critical fueling opportunities to help support muscle recovery, but nighttime muscle recovery is often overlooked. Note that muscle recovery extends from morning to night for subsequent days following exercise. Your body is also actively rebuilding tissues during sleep. Casein is a type of milk protein that is considered “slow” digesting and absorbing, when compared to whey, which is a “fast” digesting protein in milk. Casein can take about eight hours to digest, making casein an acceptable nighttime protein, as adults are recommend to sleep about seven to nine hours each night.
For best results, consume a source of casein 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Casein is naturally present in milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, and a variety of cheeses. If protein needs are unmet through food alone, then you may want to consider a casein supplement.
Hydration at Night
Water is a critical nutrient required by nearly every cell in the human body. Dehydration may impair cell function, which can impact performance. The body naturally loses water at night through ventilation and skin. Severe Dehydration can lead to thirst, dry sinus, dry mouth, dry lips, dry eyes, muscle cramping, irregular temperature regulation, and more. Severe dehydration may impact energy and cognitive performance the next day.
So what can you do? Well, don’t overdo it. Consuming too much water before bed can cause you to wake up to use the washroom. Make sure you hydrate properly throughout the day and after exercise.
When and What You Eat Matters
When you eat may matter just as much as what you eat. For most people, the majority of energy is consumed throughout the day to help fuel your body and activities. If an inadequate amount of food is consumed during the day, there is the potential for overeating to occur later at night.
Consuming breakfast and well-balanced meals with a variety of foods throughout the day may aid in satiety (or the feeling of fullness) and may help reduce the urge to get all of your calories at night. For some, eating while it’s still daylight and minimizing large meals at nighttime works best for them, while others may find the opposite to be true. Honor your hunger and satiety and be mindful of your overall nutrition needs and portion sizes.