15 Foods You Should Eat After a Nighttime Workout

Fuel your body right after nighttime exercise for optimal results with these healthy, protein-packed, delicious snack ideas!

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by
Sarah Zimmer, PT, DPT
— Signos
PT, DPT
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
May 20, 2024
May 9, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

It’s 8:00 p.m., and you just got home from an intense workout at the gym, leaving you exhausted, sweaty, and incredibly ravenous. You immediately head to the pantry where that bag of Doritos is calling your name, yet you know your body needs a more nutritious snack to stay on track toward your fitness and weight loss desires. Doritos have a time and place, but they may not provide the optimal recovery nutrition after a grueling workout nor keep you satiated all night. So, you walk over to the refrigerator, open the door, and stare at the possibilities—bread, deli meat, yogurt, leftover Indian food—what is the best option? Spoiler alert, they all could be considered a great post-workout snack. 

The key is timing your workout nutrition appropriately while pairing foods together for the ideal combinations of macronutrients and low-glycemic foods that will help your body recover, rebuild, and recharge after exercise. This article explores the significance of post-workout nutrition after nighttime exercise, emphasizing its role in muscle recovery, weight management, and blood sugar regulation.1, 2 Don’t miss the comprehensive list of health-friendly foods tailored to optimize post-night workout nutrition and support your fitness and wellness goals!

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Why Is Post-workout Nutrition So Important?

Post-workout nutrition is paramount regardless of when you exercise throughout the day; however, this becomes especially true after nighttime sessions when your body is also preparing for rest. These meals are ultimately responsible for restoring depleted energy levels, helping build new muscle tissue, and reducing excessive blood sugar spikes so you can rest peacefully throughout the evening.3 After a workout, your body is in a prime state to absorb nutrients, making it the perfect window to consume the right foods for recovery and growth. Whether it's your first workout in months or becoming a seasoned athlete at the gym, taking your post-workout nutrition seriously will surely enhance weight loss, facilitate muscle repair and growth, and regulate blood sugar levels before falling asleep.3, 4

For those aiming to shed excess pounds, post-workout nutrition plays a pivotal role. After a night workout, your metabolism remains elevated, making it an opportune time to kickstart fat burning. This is a great time to opt for nutrient-dense foods that provide sustained energy and promote satiety, such as lean proteins, fiber-rich vegetables, and healthy fats. If your primary objective is building muscle mass, what you consume after exercise becomes even more crucial for supporting muscle repair and growth. 

Your nighttime post-workout meals should prioritize protein intake to support muscle protein synthesis while mitigating post-exercise muscle soreness.4, 5 This could include a protein shake, Greek yogurt with fruit, or chicken and steamed vegetables. Regardless of your choice, make sure your protein is paired with a complex carbohydrate (e.g., fruits, vegetables, whole grains) to aid in restoring muscle glycogen and ensure you won’t wake up in the middle of the night still hungry.  

We mustn’t forget that maintaining stable blood sugar levels is equally important as you decide which post-workout snack is right for you. Yes, your blood sugar will spike slightly after eating a meal, but we can keep these spikes low and controlled if we pair our macronutrients appropriately and consume foods with a low glycemic level before bed. A study performed in 2020 by Abbie et al. found a low-carbohydrate, high-protein snack consumed before bedtime “lowered fasting glucose and improved markers of insulin sensitivity when compared to a high-carbohydrate protein-matched bedtime snack”.6 Thus, it is important to remember that the quality of a post-workout snack before bed matters for optimal blood sugar control, exercise recovery, and overall health.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=yoga-101>Yoga 101: Getting Started and Beginner Tips for a Successful Yoga Practice</a>.</p>

15 Healthy Foods You Can Eat After Your Late Workout

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Selecting the best foods can be game-changing for muscle recovery, replenishing energy stores, and promoting overall health when pursuing optimal post-workout nutrition. This comprehensive list offers a diverse array of nutrient-rich options, ranging from lean proteins like grilled chicken breast and salmon to wholesome carbohydrates like quinoa and fruits. Whether you aim to build muscle, manage blood sugar levels, or simply refuel after an evening workout, these health-friendly foods provide the perfect combination of nutrients to help you reach your fitness and weight loss goals. 

  1. Hummus: Made from chickpeas, hummus is rich in protein and fiber, aiding in muscle recovery and digestion post-workout. It also provides essential nutrients and helps keep you feeling full and satisfied. Pair this with carrots or whole-grain crackers for a well-rounded snack. 
  2. Salmon and Veggie Salad: For a balanced post-workout meal, incorporate salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, with complex fiber-rich carbohydrates like veggies. Salmon provides high-quality protein, while the veggie salad supplies the necessary carbohydrates and vitamins for muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment.
  3. Roasted Chickpeas: High in protein and fiber, chickpeas support muscle recovery, aid digestion, and provide sustained energy for post-workout replenishment without spiking blood sugar levels. Try tossing chickpeas with olive oil and salt and then roasting them in the oven until golden brown will give them a fun and tasty crunch.
  4. Egg Salad: Made with hard-boiled eggs, egg salad is a protein-rich option that provides essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth. It's versatile and can be paired with whole-grain bread or crackers for added carbohydrates and sustained energy post-workout.
  5. Nuts or Seeds: Rich in protein, healthy fats, vitamins, nuts and seeds promote muscle repair, reduce inflammation, and support overall recovery after nighttime exercise. Some of our favorites are almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds. 
  6. Greek Yogurt: High in protein and probiotics, Greek yogurt promotes muscle recovery, aids in digestion, and helps regulate blood sugar levels post-workout. Be sure to look for a variety that does not contain high amounts of added sugars, as this could negatively affect blood sugar levels. You can also make this a heartier meal by adding in granola or fruit.
  7. Chicken: A 4 oz serving of grilled chicken breast contains about 20 grams of lean protein, aiding in muscle repair and growth while keeping you feeling satisfied and supporting weight loss efforts.
  8. Peanut Butter: A yummy combination of protein, healthy fats, and fiber, peanut butter provides sustained energy and promotes muscle recovery post-workout. It also helps stabilize blood sugar levels and keeps you full and satisfied.
  9. Fruit: Fruits like bananas, apples, berries, and oranges are rich in vitamins, minerals, and natural sugars. They provide a quick source of energy for muscle recovery and replenish glycogen stores post-exercise. Mix them with Greek yogurt or nut butter to give you the extra protein and healthy fat boost for optimal muscle recovery. 
  10. Cottage Cheese: Low in carbohydrates and high in protein, cottage cheese helps stabilize blood sugar levels, promotes muscle recovery, and supports satiety post-workout.
  11. Protein Shakes and Protein Bars: Pre-made protein shakes and bars are a quick and easy post-workout snack. They're typically high in protein and low in sugar, providing essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth. It’s best to find a product or protein powder with minimal additive sweeteners to help keep blood sugar levels stable. 
  12. Casein Protein: Unlike whey protein, casein protein is low-digesting and rich in essential amino acids, which makes it ideal for nighttime recovery. It provides a steady release of protein to support muscle repair and growth while you sleep. You can use casein protein in powder form to add to smoothies or find it naturally in many cow’s milk-based dairy products. 
  13. Turkey: A lean source of protein, turkey aids in muscle repair and growth, promotes satiety, and helps regulate blood sugar levels after late-night workouts. Use turkey deli meat or make yourself a turkey burger from ground turkey meat at the grocery store.
  14. Quinoa: A complete protein source, quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids, supporting muscle repair and glycogen replenishment without spiking blood sugar levels. 
  15. Hard-Boiled Eggs: Eggs are a complete protein source. They provide essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth while helping stabilize blood sugar levels and promote satiety. A single egg contains about 6 grams of protein.

Working out at night can be a great opportunity for relieving stress from the day and helping you sleep better at night. By choosing the right combination of post-exercise foods before bed, you can optimize recovery, enhance performance, and achieve your fitness goals more effectively. Remember, what you eat after your workout is as important as the workout itself! 

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. In addition, choosing the right medication may also help improve overall health, manage diabetes, and control weight loss, as it directly impacts treatment effectiveness and well-being. 

Signos' experts offer invaluable guidance in this process, leveraging their expertise to tailor medication regimens to individual needs, optimize dosages, and minimize potential side effects. By collaborating with Signos' professionals, individuals can make informed decisions, ensuring that their medication supports their health goals effectively and safely, leading to better management of conditions like diabetes and facilitating sustainable weight loss. Lastly, check out the Signos app, as it provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=leg-exercises-at-home>22 Best Leg Exercises You Can Do at Home</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Winter, K. (2023). Maximizing Muscle Recovery: The Role of Post-Workout Nutrition. Nutrition.
  2. Francois, M. E., Durrer, C., Pistawka, K. J., Halperin, F. A., Chang, C., & Little, J. P. (2017). Combined interval training and post-exercise nutrition in type 2 diabetes: a randomized control trial. Frontiers in physiology, 8, 528.
  3. Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients, 7(4), 2648-2662.
  4. Res, P. T., Groen, B., Pennings, B., Beelen, M., Wallis, G. A., Gijsen, A. P., ... & van Loon, L. J. (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise overnight recovery. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44(8), 1560-1569.
  5. Luden, N. D., Saunders, M. J., & Todd, M. K. (2007). Postexercise carbohydrate-protein-antioxidant ingestion decreases plasma creatine kinase and muscle soreness. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 17(1), 109-123.
  6. Abbie, E., Francois, M. E., Chang, C. R., Barry, J. C., & Little, J. P. (2020). A low-carbohydrate protein-rich bedtime snack to control fasting and nocturnal glucose in type 2 diabetes: A randomized trial. Clinical nutrition, 39(12), 3601-3606.

About the author

Sarah is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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