Post-Workout Nutrition: Eating After Evening Exercise

Cropped view of fit young guy standing near wholesome protein products at kitchen, closeup. Unrecognizable sporty man offering healthy nutrition for muscle gain or weight loss

Key Points

  • Post-workout nutrition is essential for your body to repair and recover.

  • The difference between morning and evening exercise must be reflected in your diet choices after a workout.

  • The food you choose for post-workout nutrition at night affects your sleep quality.

After a long, hard day at work, your mind and body need a recharge and reset. A workout session at the gym at night is a healthy and helpful way to get the physical and mental relief you crave. Just throw in your earbuds, turn on your favorite audiobook, podcast, or playlist, and embrace your evening exercise. But once you’ve completed your nighttime training, where should you turn for post-workout nutrition?

Because it’s late, you may be tempted to frequent one of the myriad fast-food drive-thru restaurants conveniently located on your route home. Resist that urge. Post-workout nutrition won't come from processed and sugary foods.

Do you even need to eat anything after an evening workout? The short answer is yes.

Why It's Important To Eat After a Workout

While you should wisely avoid unhealthy compensatory eating choices like fast food after exercise, it's important to eat something healthy after your training. Not eating after working out leads to fatigue, low blood sugar, muscle loss, muscle cramping, dehydration, or overuse injuries.

And you don't want any of that.

When you work out, your muscles burn through glycogen — your body’s preferred fuel source. Some of your muscles' proteins can also become damaged and broken down.

After exercising, your body attempts to rebuild its glycogen stores. It also gets to work repairing and regrowing those damaged muscle proteins. Eating the appropriate nutrients after a workout not only rebuilds your glycogen stores and muscle proteins more quickly, it also stimulates new muscle growth. To keep the burn going, a good post-workout snack or meal is important.

Whether you're doing cardio or strength and endurance training, consuming the right foods after exercising provides your body with the nutrition it needs to repair and re-energize itself.

But what exactly are the proper foods to eat? What are the wrong foods to eat after working out? What can you eat after exercising at night that won’t also disturb your sleep quality? Like so many other things in life, the answer is, “It depends.”

Good thing you found this article to learn all the answers!

How Night Workouts Differ from Day Workouts

Understanding the differences in how your body reacts to working out at night compared to during the day is the primary factor in choosing the right or wrong foods post-workout.

During a morning workout, your body uses energy and fat already stored rather than depending on food you recently digested. At night, your body, warmed up by your activity throughout the day, draws from the food you've already consumed, allowing for greater power, energy, and endurance during your workout session.

When your body draws from its reserves in a morning workout, it allows for higher fat-burning potential as well as a longer "afterburn effect." Cortisol, a muscle-devouring hormone, is produced at greater levels after a morning workout session than an evening one.

Glasses of protein shakes and a scooper of protein powder

Your body is better prepared for rigorous activity later in the day. It has a greater uptake of oxygen in tissues throughout your entire body during evening exercise compared to morning workouts. Because these oxygenated muscles are better nourished, they will stay stronger for longer, enhancing your endurance while exercising.

Thus, morning exercise may be more beneficial to fat-burning while nighttime workouts are more conducive to bodybuilding, strength training, and endurance exercises. These differences in how your body reacts and recovers to exercise in the morning versus at night should impact the types of food you eat after working out.

Another determining factor is purpose: the purpose of the exercise and the purpose of the diet. For example, if you're training for a marathon, the food you consume after nighttime training will be very different than the food you eat for pliability training. Identifying the objective of your diet and exercise will give you more clarity on the best choices to select after a workout.

What To Eat After a Workout at Night To Lose Weight

After your workout, your body needs nutrients to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Eating a nutrition-rich meal aids your body in recovery and helps you lose weight at night. However, eating the wrong foods after evening exercise causes your body to store excess fats right before you go to bed, sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

Make sure your post-workout meal is packed with nutrients and low in calories. Choosing lean protein sources, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed foods are essential in achieving your weight loss objectives.

Some post-workout meals to adopt into your workout plan include:

  • Oatmeal with almonds and bananas

  • Greek yogurt with berries

  • Avocado toast

  • Scrambled eggs

  • Pita bread with hummus

All these options are rich in protein and carbohydrates and low in calories and sugar which encourages healthy weight loss.

Woman eats salad after evening workout

What To Eat After a Workout at Night To Gain Weight

Some people want to put on additional weight at various times in their lives and for different reasons. Whether it’s for athletic competition or for obtaining your ideal body image, the safest way to gain weight is to increase your caloric intake gradually over time.

As you've learned, bodybuilding and weight gain are more readily and efficiently achieved through night exercise than morning exercise. Pair your uptick in calorie consumption with regular evening exercise to optimize your weight gain objectives.

Increasing the number of calories you ingest should not be done hastily nor haphazardly; rather, seek foods to safely gain weight. Including a tolerable amount of dietary fats in your eating habits can be a strategic way to add weight after nighttime exercise at the gym.

Dietary fats are vital to your health. They give you energy and help your body absorb vitamins. Unsaturated fats are recommended over saturated fats. Saturated fats, often found in fried foods, baked goods, and red meat, increase low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the blood. An increase in high cholesterol levels makes you more susceptible to heart disease and stroke.

Conversely, unsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels, reduce blood clotting and irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure.

The following foods are good sources of unsaturated fat:

  • Olives

  • Peanut butter

  • Flaxseed

  • Soybeans

  • Walnuts

Try adding a combination of the following healthy beverages, meals, snacks, and treats to gain weight after an evening workout.

Man and woman make meal after evening workout


Avoid soda, diet soda, coffee, and sports drinks which are high in sugar and calories and low in nutritional value. Instead, hydrate with water. Add a splash of lemon for a little flavor. Drinking whole milk, chocolate milk, smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, or protein shakes are healthy liquid options for gaining weight after working out.


When trying to put on the additional weight and maintain it, eating five to six smaller meals throughout the day is preferable to consuming two or three large meals. If one of those small meals comes immediately after a workout session, include nutrient-rich main dishes. Lean proteins like chicken and turkey, cereal, pasta, scrambled eggs, casseroles, oatmeal, and soups or stews help your body gain and keep weight carefully and efficiently.


Sometimes you just don’t feel like having a full meal after a long day of work followed by a long nighttime workout. No worries! Replace a sit-down meal with bitesize snacks such as nuts, sunflower or chia seeds, peanut butter, sliced or string cheese, or fruits and vegetables.


An occasional bite of cake and ice cream isn’t the end of the world. You should, however, be mindful of limiting the excess sugar. If you’re exercising regularly and looking to add weight, pairing a slice of pie with Greek yogurt, or adding some granola and bran flakes to vanilla ice cream after working out is a good way to replenish your body while also rewarding your tastebuds.

Shirtless man eats chicken and veggies after workout

What To Eat After a Workout at Night To Burn Fat

If the goal of your workout and nutrition plan is not just to lose weight, but specifically to burn fat, add some whey protein to your after-gym meal.

Whey protein is a byproduct of the cheese-making process when the liquid portion of the milk is separated from the curds. It's rich in amino acids and accelerates muscle recovery after intense exercise. Whey protein is usually found in powdered form and can be added to water, fitness shakes, smoothies, or soft foods like yogurt and applesauce.

By increasing your whey protein intake, you help your body repair and build new, lean muscle, thereby transforming it into a high-powered calorie incinerator. The more lean muscle your body creates the more fat it will burn — full stop.

As discussed earlier, your body's ability to burn fat is naturally greater in the morning than in the evening. Adding whey protein after a night workout will give your body a needed boost to lower your fat levels.

Besides whey protein, certain fatty fishes like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring contain omega-3 fatty acids which reduce body fat. Foods high in fiber also lower your body fat, because a high-fiber diet improves digestion — especially in the evening.

Though it might seem counterintuitive, eating dark chocolate at night bolsters your metabolism and encourages fat-burning and weight loss. Nutritionist and personal trainer David Weiner explains: "Dark chocolate is packed with monounsaturated fatty acids which help boost your metabolism…and as a result, you will burn calories faster.”

Salad and dressings on table with tap measurer and weights

What To Eat After a Workout at Night To Build Muscle

While there is some debate about the best window to maximize your nutrition post-workout, if your primary aim is to build muscle, consume protein soon after exercise to optimize adaptations and recovery, replenish glycogen stores sooner, and minimize adrenal stress and catabolism. Eating high-quality protein within the first couple of hours after a workout promotes the stimulation for new muscle tissue growth within your body.

In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, nutritional scientists John Carbone and Stefan Pasiakos found that the consumption of macronutrient protein meals and free-form amino acids “[resulted] in the enhanced remodeling and repair of existing muscle proteins and synthesis of new muscle protein, providing the conditions for muscle maintenance and growth.”

Therefore, prepare a meal combining carbohydrates and protein within two hours of your exercise session to help your muscles recover and replace their glycogen stores. This provides a greater foundation for new muscle mass to be formed.

Examples of protein and carb combos that assist in repairing and building muscle after nighttime gym activity include the following:

  • Protein shakes

  • Smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables

  • Pretzels

  • Turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread

  • Peanut butter sandwich

  • Yogurt

What To Eat After a Workout at Night To Improve Sleep

Light aerobic exercise, in contrast to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) causes the body to release endorphins. These chemicals create a level of activity in the brain that keeps some people awake. Exercise at least 90 minutes to two hours before going to bed. Doing so will give your endorphin levels time to wash out and the brain time to unwind or wind down before sleep.

Exercises such as powerlifting or an active Pilates class increase your heart rate, creating the biological processes in the brain and body that contribute to better quality sleep.

After a solid nighttime workout, be mindful of the type of food you eat to properly support your body’s recovery. Equally as important, consider the right kinds of foods that promote your body’s rest.

Having a proper post-workout diet enhances the quality of your sleep. However, the converse is also true. Partaking in the wrong foods after evening exercise adversely affects your ability to have a restful night of sleep.

Foods That Impede Your Sleep Quality

Avoid foods and beverages that have high caffeine content, alcohol, or spiciness. Caffeine has long been known to keep its consumers awake.

Some research shows that healthy people who drink alcohol initially fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply; however, when the alcohol wears off, it wakes you up in the middle of the night, interrupting essential and restorative stages of sleep. Alcohol also worsens sleep apnea symptoms and, if used regularly, increases the frequency of sleepwalking, sleep talking, and memory loss.

Dr. Charlene E. Gamaldo, a sleep expert at Johns Hopkins University, says that eating spicy foods before bedtime can cause heartburn and aggravate acid reflux, which inhibits your ability to fall asleep. Additionally, consuming red pepper increases your body’s core temperature, which is disruptive since your core body temperature naturally drops during sleep.

For better quality sleep, avoid eating spicy and highly acidic foods within three hours of your desired bedtime.

Man and woman drink protein shakes after evening exercise

Foods That Improve Your Sleep Quality

If you're looking to improve your sleep habits, improve your pre-sleep eating habits. Studies on the effects of diet and sleep have shown that milk, fatty fish, tart cherry juice, and kiwifruit promote high-quality sleep.

Incorporate good quality protein-rich foods like fish, poultry, lean meats, beans, and eggs as part of your nighttime nutrition menu. Eat complex carbohydrates like wheat toast or a bowl of oatmeal after a late-night workout to trigger the release of the sleep hormone serotonin.

Add nutrient and antioxidant-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with healthy fats from avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds to your diet to prepare your body for a better night’s sleep after working out.

Last Word

Late-night exercise provides many benefits to both your physical and mental health. The advantages of evening exercise are enhanced when combined with the appropriate nutrition.

Remember, your body reacts differently to nighttime workouts compared to daytime workouts, and your post-workout nutrition must reflect that. Because your muscles are more oxygenated later in the day, you may prefer strength and endurance training at night. But don't neglect recovery. Time your post-workout nutrition to ensure that the food you eat replaces your body's macronutrients to maintain glycogen stores and protein balance.

The purpose of your exercise and the objective of your meal plan should inform what you eat after a nighttime workout. Whether you want to lose weight, gain weight, burn fat, add muscle mass, or improve your sleep patterns, understanding your fitness goals will empower you to prepare your post-workout plate with purpose and conviction.

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