Most people love a late-night snack. The problem is, we often default to something like a bag of Doritos or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s for our nighttime munchies.
If we can upgrade our late-night snack, it will have a profound effect on our nutrition. And if it can help you sleep and recover better, too? Well, that’s killing two birds with one stone. As an avid CrossFitter and a generally large human, I burn a lot of calories. According to my Apple Watch Series 4, I torch about 3,200-3,600 on a given weekday. I have no interest in losing weight and have not for several years, but I often find myself facing a calorie deficit even after I’ve eaten dinner. To help me bridge that gap and maintain muscle mass, I’ve typically turned to a generous portion of ice cream. But as I’ve strived to clean up my nutrition, I’ve found a different late-night snack option that’s helping me build more muscle, recover faster, and sleep more soundly—a mega-sized bowl of oatmeal and/or steel-cut oats.
I really had no idea just how “good” this habit was at first—I just knew it was better for me than a bowl of ice cream stuffed with added sugar, so I gave it a shot. Once I started seeing results like improved body composition, increased energy and better sleep, I began researching my new obsession. I soon realized I’d unknowingly stumbled upon something that’s scientifically backed as an awesome nighttime snack. The way I make my bowl of oats meets the three rules of a quality bedtime snack outlined by Certified Sports Nutritionist Alex Rosencutter—it includes slow-digesting protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, and a smart amount of healthy fat.
Contrary to what you may’ve heard, there’s nothing inherently bad about eating at night. In fact, when done correctly, it can build muscle and help you wake up feeling better. Examine.com recently busted the myth that eating before bed makes you gain fat. The reason these myths are perpetuated are simple—most people gravitate towards junk food at night. Junk food is bad for you, so eating at any time is going to have adverse health effects. But since it’s most often consumed at night, nighttime eating has unfairly gotten demonized.
Part of the problem with relying on ultra-processed foods for a late-night snack is they do a really poor job of filling you up, largely due to their lack of quality fiber and protein. This is how you can eat an entire bag of Doritos or an entire sleeve of Chips Ahoy!, yet still feel hungry. The low-quality carbohydrates in these snacks wreak havoc on your blood sugar and can cause issues getting and staying asleep. With the massive impact sleep has on every facet of your life, that’s not a good thing.
I alter my recipe depending on what’s in my pantry, but it almost always includes oats (either steel-cut or quick oats, or a blend of the two), whole milk, nuts (usually walnuts and/or almonds), natural peanut butter, and fruit (bananas and blueberries are two favorites). Historically, I’ve had trouble falling asleep before midnight. But once I started eating this at about 9:00-9:30 p.m. each night, I found myself getting in bed by 10:00 or 10:30 more often, and falling asleep significantly earlier than I used to.
Once I did some digging on why this might be, I found that milk, bananas, oatmeal, walnuts and almonds were all on Healthline’s list of the best foods to eat before bed. Combining these ingredients creates a snack high in melatonin, magnesium and tryptophan, a cocktail that all but ensures a better night’s sleep when consumed shortly before bed (the complex carbohydrates help, too).
As a klutz in the kitchen, the convenience of the snack also helps me adhere to it. It takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and requires no equipment beyond a bowl, a spoon and a microwave. I strongly recommend using a large bowl. This ensures your milk won’t boil over in the microwave, which is the opposite of convenience.
I pour my desired amount of plain steel-cuts oats and/or quick oats (I may also throw in some muesli if I have any around) into the bowl, then add whole milk until it rises to about the height of the oats. I then stick it in the microwave on high for two minutes, keeping one eye on it to make sure the milk doesn’t boil over. After two minutes, I remove the bowl (careful, as the bottom will be hot) then add in frozen blueberries and a sliced banana. I also add a heaping serving of natural peanut butter at this time. I mix it up a bit, add a little more whole milk, then stick it back inside the microwave for another minute. After that, I remove the bowl, add a bit more whole milk to help cool things down, toss in a handful of walnuts or almonds, add a dash of cinnamon, mix it all up, and voilà.
From start to finish, it takes less than five minutes, and you’ve got yourself a hearty snack that’s high in quality protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, antioxidants and healthy fat. Blueberries and cinnamon are also known to help reduce muscle soreness.
If you’re someone who finds yourself consistently reaching for junk food after dinner, give this snack a shot instead. Tweak the recipe and portion size as you see fit depending on your taste and your own nutrition goals. Stick with it, and you might just find yourself waking up with less soreness, better energy and more muscle.
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