Is It Okay to Eat Right Before Going to Bed? “Yes” and “No”

May 15, 2009

“Is it okay to eat right before going to bed?” This is a question I have been asked quite a bit recently. The problem is that it really depends upon how much you eat before going to bed and what your goals are. The crazy thing about this question is that everyone will give you a slightly different answer. The problem is that there hasn’t been any study (that I know of) that talks about eating right before bed when it comes to getting really lean. I am going to speak purely from my experiences and observations of what I do in regards to eating right before going to bed.

eat right before bed

[I enjoy sleeping in a room with either huge windows or a door out to a deck. It is much easier to sleep with a lot of fresh air circulating around the room. The ultimate situation is being by the ocean in a room like this and going to sleep with the fresh ocean air coming in and hearing the sound of the crashing waves.]

How Much Can You Eat Immediately Before Going to Bed?

The answer to the main question of eating before bed depends upon how much you plan to eat, what you have eaten earlier in the day, what your fitness goals are, and a few other factors. In my experience, I feel you will get better results if you don’t eat a big meal within 1-2 hours of going to bed. If you are doing something like the Warrior Diet where you don’t eat anything during the day, then you can get away with eating right before bed.

Does “Getting Away” With Eating Before Bed Make it Optimal?

I used to follow the Warrior Diet and now I do Intermittent Fasting just twice per week. When I was following the Warrior Diet at first I ended up eating a big meal right before bed. I found that it was fine when I was maintaining my weight, but didn’t work well when I wanted to get really lean. Now I do an ESE-style fast twice per week, which is just eating a normal sized meal at night about 4 hours before bed. The rest of the week I eat 3 meals per day and my last meal is about 4-5 hours before bed.

For Maximum Fat Loss This Has Been My Experience…

In order to get really lean, I think you should eat your last meal no later than 4-5 hours before going to bed. Now…if you get really hungry then it is fine to have a cup of yogurt, an apple, or a cup of cottage cheese. It is okay to eat a little before bed, but not have a full meal right before bed. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you don’t have to worry about this as much. This is more geared towards people who are trying to lose the last 5-10 “stubborn” pounds.

Once You Are in “Maintenance Mode” Then No Need to Worry

The ideal situation is to be in maintenance mode. This is when you are as lean as you would like to be. At this point you don’t have to be as strict. If you are extra lean, you still will want to time your night meals 4-5 hours before bed some of the time. The rest of the time you don’t have to worry as much.

Calories In and Calories Out is What Matters for Most

You can get really close to your ideal weight, by just paying attention to calories in and calories out. That being said, I believe you can make your fat loss much easier by eating a Paleo-style diet combined with intermittent fasting. The Paleo low carb diet will keep your insulin levels steady. Your body can’t burn body fat when insulin levels are high. Steady insulin levels are a key to rapid fat loss. Intermittent fasting, they way I do it, is an easy way to reduce your weekly calorie intake. This is the best 1-2 combo I know for getting as lean as you want and still being able to indulge now and then.

Eating Right Before Going to Bed and Digestion

If you eat a big meal and then lay down your body is in a horizontal position. Some believe that food doesn’t get digested as well when someone is in the horizontal position. I spent an hour researching this and found that really only a small percentage of individuals have an issue with this. The people who need to avoid this are those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you have a healthy digestive system this tends to be less of an issue.

Eating Right Before Going to Bed to Gain Muscle

Actually it probably isn’t a bad idea to have a little protein right before bed if you are trying to gain muscle. No need to make it overly complicated, but a cup of yogurt, cottage cheese, whey protein shake, etc. To be honest, this hasn’t really been proven with a study either way…it is just one of those things that “seem” to make sense. If you add a little protein before bed you muscles will have a steady supply of aminos for at least part of the night. Please don’t wake up in the middle of the night and go protein crazy on me. That is madness!

Summary: So most people will be fine if they simply pay attention to calories in vs calories burned each day (they will still lose weight). Even those people would probably do best if they didn’t eat a large meal within 1 hour of going to bed. For people who want to lose those last 5-10 pounds…try not to eat a big meal within 4 hours of sleep, but eat a small snack if you are starving. For people who want to gain muscle it makes sense to eat a quality protein source before bed, but this is still more of a guess that hasn’t really been scientifically proven.

Note: I found a ton of articles on this subject, but listing them will confuse more than they help. The biggest problem is that weight loss is really basic until you get 5-10 pounds out from your target…then the rules change. I’m convinced that it is pretty hard to get extra-lean for most people if they eat a big meal within 4 hours of going to bed, but a small bit of food is fine every now and then. Would love to hear other people’s take on the subject. Bring on the comments!

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Rusty Moore

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

keith May 18, 2009 at 9:13 pm

thanks jason g

admin May 20, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Keith,

As far as pounds per body fat percentage. That changes depending upon how much you weigh. To be honest, I don’t get too hung up on the number. You will begin to see you abs around the 10-12% range…and will be extremely sharp at 6%…anything in between that is ideal.

leftfield,

Great point and is probably a huge contributor to why this works. I’ve never thought of it like that. A brilliant way of looking at it!

Done,

Eating the lighter meal at night will be the way to go in your case. It sounds like the ideal strategy for you.

John,

If you are starving, then eating a little like you are doing is probably ideal. I’m betting that your body soaks up the nutrients and by bed time you are good.

Jason G,

Thanks for explaining the calculation…my brain is tired. Also, probably good advice for Keith on adding a bit of muscle. My guess is that any type of training is going to put a natural amount of muscle on his frame. He will also probably fill out a bit as he gets older (my guess is that he is a young guy). And yep…calories are a big deal for sure.

Greg,

I would definitely not do a cardio session if you are in this state. If you are this hungry you may need to eat a little something. Quick question…how long have you been on this diet? The only reason I ask is that there seems to be a period of 2-3 weeks where this can happen. As your body becomes more efficient at using stored body fat for energy this won’t be as much of an issue.

katie,

Your strategy seems to work for you well. For me, pretzels and cereal make it hard for me to drop the last little bit of fat. I could just be extra sensitive to these type of carbs…everyone is different. As fa as the phrase “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper”…I don’t think it is necessary to portion the meals like this. I do the exact opposite for the most part. For 5 days a week, I only eat fruit and yogurt or a small omlette for breakfast. For lunch, I’ll have leftovers from dinner the night before. My dinner is about the same size as my lunch. On my fasting days, I don’t eat anything until dinner and it is a medium sized dinner (most of the time…ocassionally I go out to eat at night).

MOL,

I think ellipticals can work, but you have to push yourself hard.

Rusty

Studio Element Personal Training May 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I generally give the advice of not eating anything at least 1 hour prior to bed. I have had the most success personally and professionally with this advice.

Greg May 22, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Rusty,

I’ve been on this diet since January 19th. I started out at 256+ and am now 221.2. The severe hunger issues at night has been more of an issue this last month of dieting as I am making the final push to 215.6 (4% estimated body fat goal).

I am 6’3″ and big boned, I try not to eat more than 1750-2000 calories a day at this stage in the dieting. Thursdays are my weigh in days, and I also treat myself to a Woodgrill buffet for sanity reasons and a mental recharge. I do high intensity cardio every day of the week in the mornings on an empty stomach with caffeine in the system in addition to low rep low volume lifting. This is the gist of what I have been doing to get to this point, giving me an average of 2.06 pounds lost per week for the last 3 weeks.

Is this severe night hunger because of my calorie intake? I don’t want to change the calorie intake because I feel like my body metabolism has already adjusted so much since I began the diet over 4 months ago (hitting the law of diminishing marginal returns).

admin May 22, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Greg,

Yeah…you are hungry because of your calorie intake. I eat less calories, but I’m lighter and probably don’t workout as hard as you. It sounds like you are doing the right thing…the good thing is that once you reach your goal, you will be able to eat higher calories. Keep up the good work. It won’t be long!

Rusty

Sam May 26, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Rusty,
Just wanted to know do you believe that counting calories is neccesary to get very lean (like around 5-6%). I am an 18 year old guy and I have always been lean. Even if I eat complete garbage my bodyfat is usually around 8% but now I’m trying to get it down to 5. Recently I have started to eat almost entirely paleo like you reccomend. For breakfast I have 3 scrambled eggs almonds and some type of fruit, for lunch I have tuna salad on whole grain bread (not exactly paleo) almonds fruit and vegetables, and for dinner chicken with vegetables and an occassional serving of extra fruit, then about an hour or two before bed I’ll have some cottage cheese. Is this an effective diet plan to reach my goal of 5% body fat (I am running and working out fairly often). Or do I need to start actually monitoring my calorie intake to reach my goal.

Emily August 3, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Eating right before bed is never good. Especially if you are trying to loose weight. If you eat right before bed, your body tends to want to turn the energy into fat right away instead of burning the calories. In short terms, you are more likely to gain weight if you eat right before bed.

Nancy D September 8, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Probably the most important things is what you feel comfortable with and this probably also depends on what it is your going to eat as well. I would have to say that I would not eat at least 2 hours before sleeping and this seems to work out well for me. No indigestion or discomfort of any kind. Great to hear all your breakdown on the question though. Thanks.

HGH Talk October 3, 2009 at 6:00 am

I don’t eat for at least 4 hours before sleep. The liver and the body needs to rest, and this is also the time to take a HGH supplement.

HGH supplements should only be taken on an empty stomach in order for them to work!

ruthie October 1, 2010 at 10:00 am

hey, i just came across this website and your comment. and i am curious…you said working your muscles to failure is a no no. i have also read tons of times that this is what is recommended. so what have you found that we should do instead? thanks, ruthie

John February 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm

HGH Talk,

I hope you’re taking HGH supplements under a physician’s supervision.

On a second note, your liver is hardly resting when you don’t eat. Post-meal, what organ do you think stores extra glucose as glycogen? During fasting (like while sleeping), which organ do you think is actively breaking down glycogen to release the glucose back into the blood? When said glycogen runs out (around 3-4am for most people), which organ do you think converts amino acids into glucose?

andy March 28, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Rusty,
i was wondering what you would recommend for someone like myself who doesn’t finish with the gym till say 10pm. ive just started your workout program including the HIIT and not eating 3-4 hrs before my workout. but after im done im kind of confused on what i should do. should i have a shake and eat? or just eat? i go to bed no later than midnight so that gives me only 2 hrs in between. my average weight is 150 with app. 10% BF. and looking to get around 6 or 7.
Thanks, i wish i would have discovered you earlier. what you do here is top notch, thank you for your time. Andy.

Darren@MorePrimeTime.com July 2, 2011 at 12:15 am

I agree that getting lean requires a short fast before bed. If I eat later than I should, I find that running a couple of miles takes care of the blood sugar/insulin issue and I am still able to burn fat as I sleep.

David C September 21, 2012 at 8:47 am

I’m 50 now, and cannot eat before going to bed unless its around 5-6pm that will give me 4 hours to settle before getting the head down. I found that eating 20 minutes before bed was asking for trouble,( party food choccies etc) sore stomach and severe abdominal pain followed around 2-3 am waking with the feeling of someone pressing down on my stomach and could not pass stools for the pain in my stomach a visit to the hospital followed with the Doc advising me stop the midnight feasts, I now do not eat any more at bed time and I sleep better!

Beauty Tip Blog October 2, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I don’t think it matters what time of day you eat, since calories consumed vs. calories expended still determines weight loss. Having said that, most of us who eat right before bed haven’t been fasting throughout the rest of the day.

a October 14, 2012 at 6:48 am

Good replies in return of this query with firm arguments and explaining the whole thing concerning that.

Nitric Power Muscle August 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm

What’s up, I log on to your blog regularly. Your humoristic style is witty, keep doing what you’re doing!

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