What to Eat After Late Night Workouts? Maximize Muscle & Lose Fat

by | Building Muscle, Nutrition, Weight Loss

When you train late at night dinner becomes the most important meal of the day.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to what exactly you eat. Also, there are times when going to bed hungry is perfectly fine. Learn how to maximize muscle growth and fat loss as a nighttime lifter.

Should You Even Bother Eating After 10 PM?

It really comes down to your goals. For some, it makes zero difference if they go to bed on an empty stomach. Others will benefit greatly from optimizing their post-work dinner.

How important is muscle growth for you? If you simply want to lose weight, meal timing and composition are not a top priority. They’re not completely irrelevant. But ignoring them won’t slow your progress much.

Bottom line: nighttime post-workout meals affect mostly muscle growth and less fat loss.

What Happens if You Don't Eat After a Workout?

Skipping meals can be part of your weight loss strategy. You can reduce your intake by implementing an approach like intermittent fasting.

Eating less generally results in fat loss. More about optimizing fat burning later. For now, it’s safe to say skipping dinner may not be a very bad idea.

However, going to bed hungry can reduce your ability to build muscle. Recovery and energy levels may also be affected. Of course dieting habits during the rest of the day also matter.

But as a nighttime lifter your post-workout meal has about 5-20% impact on your gains. It may not sound like a lot. But it adds up over the course of several months.

Which Foods Will Maximize Your Gains as Nighttime Lifter?

First, let’s see what are the basic hypertrophy (muscle growth) requirements. If you have those covered you’re already getting ~80% of the maximum results

Muscle building priorities (in descending order of importance):

#1 Sufficiently challenging training
#2 Sufficient sleep and rest
#3 Consuming enough protein

The remaining 20% will come from:

#4 Consuming adequate calories
#5 Meal timing

If you fail steps #1 to #3 you won’t be building any muscle. But exactly how much and when you eat also matters. The body builds more muscle during a massing phase. It’s significantly harder to grow muscle if you’re deep into a fat loss phase.

If you don’t have the advantage of bulking, shifting calories to certain meals can also give you an extra edge. Consume most of your calories around your workouts.

  • Eating before the workout gives you energy for productive training.
  • Eating after that provides plenty of nutrients to fuel muscle growth.

Hypertrophy happens in the period of several (or more) hours after training. That’s why you should definitely eat after a workout. This is especially important pre-bed. You’ll be technically fasting for the next 7-8 hrs, and you need those nutrients in the system.

Protein: You’re Wasting Your Time If You Don’t Get This Right

Muscles are made out of protein. Hitting your daily protein target is very important. That’s about 0.8 to 1 g of protein per 1 lb of body weight (e.g. a 200 lb trainee requires 200 g of protein a day).

Important: consuming insufficient amounts may render your gym efforts futile. Even if you get plenty of calories from carbs and fats.

For maximum results, you also need to spread over your intake. The body constantly breaks down (catabolism) and builds (anabolism) muscle tissue. To minimize catabolic processes and maximize anabolism you need to provide a constant stream of protein during the day.

It’s best if you consume protein every 4 to 6 hours. That’s 3-4 feedings a day.

Your needs are greatest around workouts. Adequate intake has a higher priority than adding carbs and fats. Eating only carbohydrates or fats post-workout is better than going hungry. But including protein leads to superior results.

In the case of dinner, you can load on some extra protein. This way you’ll maximize anabolism during sleep when you’re not able to eat.

Post Workout Dinner for Lean Abs: How to Speed Up Fat Loss?

To lose weight you need to be consuming less energy than your daily activities require. This forces the body to tap into its fat reserves to keep you functional. Fat is a form of stored energy.

However, the body decides how much fat to burn based on your weekly consumption. Not your hourly or daily intake. A number of combinations can result in decreased consumption. Most are equally effective. You can skip a meal, fast 1-2x a week, eat a bit less every meal, etc.

Whether you skip dinner or simply have a smaller meal makes little difference. Provided your total weekly intake has decreased. But dinner can have notable effects on your muscles. This also includes your abs.

To get a nice ripped physique you need to balance total energy intake, without reducing food (protein in particular) around training too much. You can achieve this by:

  • reducing your intake during rest days, but not gym days
  • reducing portion sizes of meals further away from training, but not those close to training
  • if food around workouts has to be reduced, at least keeping the same protein amount

Can You Have Postworkout Carbs If You Train at Night?

We already discussed the role of calories in general. Also, the importance of protein in particular. Carbs are less important. But unlike fats, carbohydrate timing has a notable effect on muscle growth and recovery.

Carbs are useful since they:

  • provide energy for long workouts
  • reduce fatigue and improve performance
  • stimulate anabolism by antagonizing cortisol (which has catabolic effects)
  • stimulate anabolism by sparing protein from being used as energy
  • aid recovery as they affect insulin and glycogen levels

You probably notice a trend. Most nutrients are better consumed around a workout. But unlike protein which makes the most difference post-workout, carbs have bigger impact pre-workout.

During bulking you get plenty of energy. But when you’re losing weight carbs are low. You may need to move most of them pre-workout. You’ll get enough energy for a productive workout. Also, you minimize any catabolic effects of long training.

Post-workout carbs are still a good idea. Just pay attention to your energy levels when training during a weight loss phase. If you don’t have enough carbs to split evenly before and after the gym, better shift most pre-workout.

Healthy Late Night Meal Choices

Theoretically, you can load up on food pre-workout. Digestion is a slow process. Meal benefits will carry over to several hours after the workout. But filling up your stomach with food can make it hard to train.

The goal of your post-workout dinner is to get plenty of calories, especially protein. Ideally, slow digesting sources that will provide extended nutrient delivery while you sleep.

The only limitations to be aware of are:

  • Don’t make your dinner so huge that you’re starving the rest of the day
  • Don’t limit protein, that’s the last thing to decrease in that meal
  • Don’t shift too many carbs to dinner, you may need them for energy during the day
  • Don’t get so full that it causes you physical discomfort and disrupts your sleep habits

You can check out our grocery list of ripped abs. Or simply follow the general recommendations below.

Big Meal Options (Massing Phase)

Good options when bulking and you have plenty of calories to spare. Eating some junk food occasionally is fine.

Protein sourcesanything that’s not heavily processed (e.g. breaded and deep fried) is okay.

  • fatty meat
  • eggs
  • full-fat dairy
  • vegan meat alternatives

Carb sources:

  • starchy carbs (rice, potatoes, etc)
  • pasta or bread
  • salads (including seasoning)
  • homemade dishes (various kinds)
  • desserts are fine
  • fruits

Fatsno need to stress over the fat content of foods too much

  • sauces
  • seasoning is fine
  • nut butters

Regular Meal Options (Maintenance or the Begining of a Cut)

Good options when you want to avoid unwanted fat gain. Or you want to balance your daily calories evenly throughout the day. Avoid eating out or ordering food online. Prepare and cook most of your meals.

Protein sources

  • lean meat
  • dairy (try to keep the fat content low)
  • vegan meat alternatives

Carb sources go for mostly low-calorie options

  • starchy carbs (rice, potatoes, etc)
  • legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • salads (minimum or no seasoning)
  • fruits for dessert

Fatsbe more conservative with cooking oils and seasoning

  • most of the fat will come from other protein or carb-rich sources

Small Meal Options (Weight Loss)

Good options when you’re actively trying to lose weight and don’t have a lot of calories to spare. Prepare your own food and be careful with portion sizes. Track your calories if needed.

Protein sources

  • lean meat
  • low-fat dairy (cottage cheese, greek yogurt, quark, etc)
  • vegan meat alternatives
  • casein (slow-digesting protein) or vegan supplement alternatives

Carb sources the bulk of the diet will come from plant sources

  • veggies (all kinds)
  • salads (no seasoning)
  • some starchy carbs and legumes are fine
  • fruits and berries for dessert

Fatsno oils (or just enough to cook your meat), no added fats

  • nuts (no more than half a handful)
  • avocado (a nice addition to a salad)

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