Q+A: Is eating my main meal after 9pm unhealthy?

Q. If I train after work, I rarely sit down to eat before 9pm. Is it unhealthy to eat so late?

A. This is a common situation for people trying to combine a regular training regime with a busy work schedule. After you've trained it is important to consider your recovery needs, so having something at that time is better than trying not to eat anything.

That said, there are factors that prevent people from eating so late. Some say they are not hungry after exercising; if this is the case, start small and try to build up the quantity over time. If you tolerate liquids better after exercise, try a specially designed recovery drink - with a balance of carbohydrates, protein and essential nutrients - straight after exercise, followed by something like a vegetable and lentil soup later in the evening.

If you take this approach ensure you swap your meals around so that you are having a balanced meal (lean protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrate) earlier in the day.

Weight gain

People also worry about eating late because of the perceived weight gain associated with it. You can eat carbs after 6pm as long as you balance the carbohydrate with a good portion of protein and don't overdo your portion size.

The more important consideration when eating late is the effect it will have on your digestive system and, as a knock-on effect, your sleep pattern. Ideally, you should allow three hours for a meal to digest before you turn in, but you have to work within the time frame available to you; wait 30-60 minutes so you are not going to bed on a full stomach.

Easy options

 If you are eating late don't choose foods that are harder to digest (eg red meat). Fruit and vegetables contain carbohydrates (for recovery needs) so if you are looking for something light in the evening, try a stir-fry, omelette or frittata (including a variety of seasonal vegetables). 

Henrietta Bailey

Henrietta Bailey  is a nutritionist who works as part of the Pure Sports Medicine team (puresportsmed.com). She specialises in sports nutrition and performance, obesity, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes and insulin resistance. She has worked with professional athletes and non-elites. She is a member of the Nutrition Therapy Council (NTC) and the British Association for Nutrition Therapy (BANT).