Despite what you may have heard, it is not only "okay," but actually VERY IMPORTANT to eat a bedtime snack! The common response to this is, "But I thought we weren't supposed to eat after (insert time here)?" Let's unravel this myth, by looking at the following three arguments:
1) Bedtime snacks provide unnecessary calories. If it were all about calories, then this argument may be legit, but...it's not. So much more goes into metabolism than just calories; food quality and the type of macronutrients (P, F and C) consumed, timing of when you're eating, hormone regulation, sleep, and the list goes on! The reason it's important to eat a bedtime snack is because, in order to support your metabolism and therefore maintain your weight/promote weight loss, you need stable blood sugar levels. The reasoning for the combination of carbohydrate and fat before bed is because the carbs bring your blood sugar levels back up slightly (they've been falling since dinner or the time you last ate) and the fat slows the assimilation of the carbs into your blood stream, promoting nice stable blood sugar levels all night long. When blood sugar levels are stable, your fat BURNING hormone, glucagon, can do it's awesome job (not to mention, the other sweet benefits of balanced blood sugar levels, including consistent energy levels, focus, stable moods, and no cravings just to name a few). If you take your blood sugar levels for a daily—maybe hourly—rollercoaster ride, you are creating an enviroment that your fat STORING hormone, insulin, THRIVES in! By following the Three-Three Rule that I outline in my article, Back to the Basics, you're setting yourself up for success by promoting stable blood sugar levels all day long. Who wouldn't want to create this same type of environment overnight? In other words, who doesn't want to burn fat while they're sleeping?
2) You don't need energy before you sleep. This would be a fair argument if the only reason we were eating was to give us energy to walk and talk and do activities of daily living. But, we can't overlook the enormous energy it takes for our body to burn fat! The problem with sleeping is that we are essentially "fasting." (Also why it's so important to "Break Your Fast" within 30 minutes to an hour of waking!) When you consume a balanced snack of fat and healthy carbohydrates before bed, you are stabilizing your blood sugar levels by bringing them back up a little bit instead of letting them continue dropping all night. Remember, what we want is a nice rolling hill of blood sugar levels all day long to keep insulin (your fat STORING hormone) at bay and promote the environment that glucagon (your fat BURNING hormone) does its work in! What we DON'T want is three huge spikes in our blood sugar levels (which is what happens when following the SAD (Standard American Diet) and eating 3 meals a day). So, we're not eating for energy before we sleep, we're eating to promote stable blood sugar levels, and in turn, success in several areas of your health.
3) Eating before bed makes it impossible to fall asleep. I would argue the exact opposite, under the conditions that you are eating the right snack in the right proportions. Sure, if you eat a big meal or a bowl of ice cream immediately before bed, I would be surprised if it didn't interfere with your sleep! The bedtime snack I'm recommending is small, balanced and promotes good sleep by keeping those blood sugar levels stable. Furthermore, the reason the bedtime snack doesn't include a protein source (note, this is the ONLY time I don't recommend the usual PFC (Protein, Fat, Carb) is because for a lot of people, protein can interfere with sleep. Therefore, a snack of healthy fat and some carbs is the perfect snack for a good night's rest. I suggest consuming your bedtime snack 15-30 minutes before bed so it has a little time to digest before your head hits the pillow. Now, if you implement the bedtime snack recommendation and you're still having trouble falling or staying asleep, check out the supplement recommendations in this post.
So, what should you eat? Aim to eat a serving of carbohydrates and a serving of fat. This can be as simple as a handful of berries and a handful of nuts. Or, you can have some fun with it; sauté a pear in coconut oil and top with a tablespoon or so of heavy cream and a few walnuts. Serve a half cup of frozen berries with a couple tablespoons of heavy cream or a quarter cup of coconut milk poured over them (who needs sorbet!?). I like a cup of warm broccoli with a couple ounces of melted cheese or butter over the top. Or I'll save half of my sweet potato from dinner and heat it up with a couple tablespoons of butter and a shake of cinnamon. How about half a banana with two tablespoons of almond butter? Or a cup of Simple Pumpkin Soup? Or the avo-banana smoosh pictured below. The options are endless. Just aim for a combination of healthy fat and carbs, 15-30 minutes before bed!
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