Pictured recipe: Cinnamon-Sugar Roasted Chickpeas
Perhaps you compare the calories and macros from one brand of bread to another. Or maybe you note the calorie-burned tally on the treadmill as you wrap up that final quarter mile. But how often do you consider your basal metabolic rate (BMR)?
BMR, aka the total number of calories your body burns at rest, is a major determinant in overall body composition. A 35-year-old, 5' 5" woman torches about 1,300 calories simply by being alive. (Calculate yours here.)
"Metabolism is largely determined by genetics, but you can impact yours by increasing muscle mass. Muscle mass is metabolically active, so your body needs more baseline calories to function. The best fuel for that growth is slow-burning complex carbohydrates and protein," says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., the owner of Essential Nutrition For You and the author of The One One One Diet.
Related:4 Ways to Boost Metabolism
And speaking of that protein, it scored a lot of attention last fall when a British Journal of Nutrition study discovered that noshing on 30 grams of the muscle-building macro right before calling it a day may lead to a metabolic jump start.
"The jury is out on whether our before-bedtime eating patterns have a significant effect on metabolism. Studies do show that people who eat before bed are more likely to gain weight, but that might be because bedtime snacks tend to be higher in calories, sugar and unhealthy fats, and many bedtime behaviors (watching TV, scrolling through Instagram) lead to mindless munching. However, others believe that nighttime eating might reduce cravings and overeating, resulting in weight loss," Batayneh says.
Further proof of the scientific seesaw about presleep snacks: One study published in the journal Nutrients found that a 150-calorie snack before bed may help your body utilize its protein sources to create muscle, and, in turn, boost metabolism. But new research in the Journal of Obesity reported that those who ate late dinners or bedtime snacks were more likely to skip breakfast (and be overweight). Consuming a healthy, well-balanced breakfast daily is a habit that's been linked to increased nutrient consumption and better luck at weight-loss maintenance.
"Your metabolism slows down when you sleep, so nighttime is the slowest time for your digestion. Generally speaking, metabolism drops 10 to 15 percent during the night and can even reach a 35 percent decrease during your deepest sleep cycles," says Erin Thole-Summers, R.D., a registered dietitian and sports nutrition consultant in West Des Moines, Iowa. "Still, eating a small nutrient-dense snack before bed can give your body the energy it needs to take care of metabolic functions while you are resting," especially if you exercise in the late afternoon or evening.
So while a bedtime snack isn't going to be the magic bullet to boost metabolism, it likely won't hurt your overall health goals—and can actually help you sleep more soundly and feel even better tomorrow. The optimal bedtime snack should fall between 150 to 250 calories, Thole-Summers says, and include a mix of fiber-rich carbs and protein to fill you up.
"Consuming protein stimulates muscle growth and repair post-exercise," Thole-Summers adds.
Try these seven dietitian-approved healthy bedtime snack ideas about two to three hours after dinner and 60 to 90 minutes before bed, and your BMR will say TIA.
1 slice whole-grain toast + 2 tablespoons hummus (such as our homemade Classic Hummus recipe)
145 calories, 6 g protein*
"Toast isn't just for breakfast," Batayneh says. "Hummus is made with chickpeas, which are rich in B vitamins. The main function of the B vitamins is to help your body metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and to use the stored energy in food."
Prepare your hummus-topped treat using a slice of high-fiber whole-wheat bread as the base. Not only will this good grain add satisfying fiber to the mix, it may also help you score more zzz's.
Magnesium, which wheat flour is a good source of, "has been shown to have a positive effect on the quality of sleep in adults with insomnia by extending the time they spent asleep," Thole-Summers says.
6 ounces (¾ cup) 2% cottage cheese + ½ cup pitted tart cherries
170 calories, 22 g protein
As the much-discussed 2018 Florida State University study reported, cottage cheese is a top-notch tuck-in snack.
"Consuming protein before bed can help your muscles repair themselves and may support their growth, too. Eating 30 grams of protein about 60 minutes before bed appears to have a positive effect on muscle quality, metabolism and overall health," Thole-Summers says.
Choose tart cherries as a topping for their sweetness and their sleep-promoting powers.
"Melatonin, perhaps the most well-known sleep-inducing hormone, regulates sleep-wake cycles. It's found in many fruits and vegetables including tart cherries and pomegranates, as well as grains, nuts and seeds," Batayneh says.
1 banana + 1 tablespoon nut or seed butter (like Justin's Classic Almond Butter)
185 calories, 5 g protein
There are many a-peel-ing aspects to this duo.
"Bananas are mostly made up of fast-digesting carbs, and fast digestion is definitely your goal when you're snacking before bed. They're also a good source of magnesium, which helps calm stress hormones and can promote sleep," Batayneh says.
The carbs also trigger a series of events internally that may help you chill out.
"Carbs lead to the release of the hormone insulin, and when insulin is released it helps tryptophan enter the brain and induces sleep," Thole-Summers says.
Related: Our Complete Banana Health Guide
The butters contain healthy fats that satiate your brain and body, Batayneh continues, just stick to one tablespoon to keep calories in check.
½ cup pomegranate juice (such as Pom Wonderful) + 15 almonds
180 calories, 4 g protein
By now, you've probably determined the time after which coffee will keep you buzzing all night long. If you're sensitive to caffeine, maybe you steer clear of green tea at night as well.
"If you're looking for an alternative, pomegranate juice is a great fit. Compared to the average cup of green tea, 100 percent pomegranate juice has more antioxidant capacity, plus contains no added sugars, fillers, preservatives or caffeine," Batayneh says.
Since cinnamon and other warm baking spices may help boost metabolism ("your body uses more energy to process the spice than it does for other foods," Batayneh says), feel free to make a hot mulled cider of sorts by warming up the pomegranate juice with cinnamon, cloves and citrus slices.
A handful of almonds is a nice salty complement to the sweet sip. Like many of the items on this bedtime snack list, these nuts are sources of tryptophan and magnesium, and also tack on a few grams of bonus protein to your daily tally.
¼ cup crunchy chickpeas (like this homemade Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas recipe)
120 calories, 6 g protein
"If you naturally crave something crunchy after dinner like chips or crackers, which have little to no nutritional value, I recommend roasted chickpeas. I love the varieties from Saffron Road since they come in fun flavors like Salted Caramel and Korean BBQ," Batayneh says.
They're easy to pop as you watch, and one serving boasts 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.
"These beans are easily digestible, packed with B vitamins, and can help to fill you up so you don't wake up starving—which can lead to overeating the next day," she says.
6 ounces (¾ cup) plain Greek yogurt + ½ cup blueberries
130 calories, 19 g protein
Calling all those who've awoken to the internal alarm of "Feed me!"
"Having a healthy, low-calorie snack before bed can help regulate blood sugar levels that, for some, drop through the night and leave you waking up hangry in the morning," Thole-Summers says.
For a creamy, sweet treat that trumps ice cream or fro-yo on the nutrition front (although we do have plenty of good-for-you DIY versions of the latter), turn to Greek yogurt.
"Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, which your body needs to make melatonin from the amino acid tryptophan. I recommend that my clients choose plain Greek yogurt. It's rich in protein, particularly casein, which has been shown to reduce hunger the next morning. Blueberries are high in fiber and antioxidants," Batayneh says.
Those antioxidants soothe your body and brain and lower overall physical stress, allowing you to score more restful sleep.
¾ cup whole-grain bran cereal + ½ cup milk or nondairy substitute (such as Unsweetened Silk Vanilla Almond Milk)
135 calories, 7 g protein
If you ever have a 3 a.m. war with Mr. Charley Horse or suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome, eat a bit of breakfast before bed.
"Calcium (found in dairy, enriched grain products and leafy greens), magnesium (present in nuts and seeds, bananas, avocado and yogurt), and potassium all play various roles in muscle contraction and nerve conduction, so they may help if you suffer from achy legs, cramps or generally have issues feeling relaxed," Batayneh says.
Try bran for the best supply of potassium—a proven cramp-preventer—compared to other cold cereals.
A small snack before bedtime may help you sleep better and wake up the next morning ready to take on your day. And while none of these have magical metabolism powers, they all add a nutrition boost to your day.
*Nutrition information of snacks will vary depending on the brands you use. These numbers are an approximation.
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