11 Ideal Bedtime Snacks For Athletes

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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11 Ideal Bedtime Snacks For Athletes

Sleep is a powerful tool for athletes. It is a time when your mind and body rest, and recovery and adaptations take place. Sleeping plays a vital role in athletic performance by improving reaction times, decision-making, coordination, promoting a lean physique and creating stronger muscles. One way to get more from your sleep is to focus on nutrition before bed. What you eat before getting to sleep cannot only affect the quality of your sleep but also improve your body’s ability to recover for future athletic performance.


If you’re struggling to get the 7–9 hours of recommended sleep per night, consider shifting your focus to improving your quality of the sleep instead. Foods high in tryptophan help calm and prepare the body for sleep by increasing serotonin (a chemical that promotes a feeling of happiness) and melatonin (a hormone involved in circadian rhythms) levels; two compounds known to be sleep-inducing. Consuming carbohydrates before bed has also been associated with better sleep.

Ideal Snack: 

  • Milk with a handful of trail mix
  • Pumpkin seed butter and a small banana
  • Cottage cheese and whole-grain crackers


Deep sleep is the time when human growth hormone (HGH) is released. This hormone is responsible for stimulating muscle and bone-building, repairing tissues damaged in exercise, and promoting a lean body. Bedtime snacks rich in amino acids (protein-rich foods) and choline (a neurotransmitter), found in egg yolks, help stimulate HGH production. Consuming the slow-digesting dairy protein casein has been shown to stimulate overnight muscle growth and limit muscle damage. Antioxidants are also essential in aiding the body in eliminating damaging free radicals. Eating these foods before bed might help stimulate recovery while you slumber.

Ideal Snack: 

  • A smoothie of tart cherries, spinach, casein protein powder and almond milk
  • A snack platter of hard-boiled eggs, kiwis, walnuts and dark chocolate


Sleep is critical for releasing hormones, improving insulin, repairing muscles and rebuilding tissues, and it also controls stress hormones and boosts neurological function. Getting enough sleep is critical for alertness and having a positive performance mindset. When athletes don’t get enough sleep, both in the short and long term, performance declines. Athletes who stay mentally sharp can improve task performances and skill training.

The best foods for boosting mental function are those high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds and some plant oils. Antioxidants and phyto compounds also play a large role in improving mental function.

Ideal Snack: 


Weight and body composition improvements are part of many athlete’s goals. It might seem counterintuitive to add food to your day in this case, but the right bedtime snack can promote leanness and improve metabolic function. When sleep quality is impaired, cortisol and ghrelin secretion increase. Cortisol, the stress hormone, promotes retaining adipose tissue in the abdominal region. Ghrelin is a hormone that signals hunger and promotes overeating.

When you get enough deep sleep, your body is more sensitive to glucose and can utilize energy for performance instead of storage. Having a snack before bed that includes a balance of fiber-rich complex carbohydrates, protein and fats increases satiety before getting under the covers so you aren’t waking up for unhealthy snacks in the middle of the night.

Ideal Snack:

  • Apple slices with tahini
  • Oatmeal and Greek yogurt
  • Half a turkey and hummus sandwich on whole-grain bread

Check out this Essential Guide to Sleep for more information on getting a good night’s rest.

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About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


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