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How does protein before bed promote muscle repair during sleep?

 How does protein before bed promotes muscle repair during sleep?

Historically, post-workout protein supplementation – most often in the form of a protein shake or meal – won wide acceptance as the best way to replenish and maximise muscle growth, especially when consumed within the first hour after exercise.

In recent years, however, emerging evidence suggests consuming protein before bed may offer increased health benefits for muscle growth and repair during sleep1.

Here, we explore the relationship between protein and sleep, interrogating the science and research behind the latest claims. We’ll also investigate how best to optimise your protein consumption for muscle repair.


What does protein do to your body?

Composed of long-chain amino acids, protein is an essential macronutrient (a chemical that provides the body with energy), found in every cell of the human anatomy.2

Protein plays an important, multifaceted role in the body. Besides giving us a solid structural framework and facilitating cell repair and renewal, protein oversees essential life functions and aids metabolic reactions3. Protein also helps proper fluid and pH balance, supports immunity and can act as an energy supplier if required4.

Though commonly found in animal-based products, protein is present in a number of plant-based foods, like legumes and nuts. But unlike other macronutrients (fat and carbohydrates), the body can’t store protein, so a plentiful and regular intake is crucial5.

According to official guidelines, an average adult requires 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight each day6. Endurance and strength athletes, meanwhile, need approximately 1.2-1. 7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight every day8. If you exercise regularly, your protein needs will be slightly higher than the general sedentary population.


What is the best time to take protein?

In line with traditional advice, you should consume post-workout protein within the first hour after exercise. Women should try to consume 10-20 grams of protein within 30-minutes; men, on the other hand, should aim for 30-40 grams within 60-minutes.

Everyone needs protein after exercise – not just athletes. Although working out builds muscle (particularly resistance training), but it also wears and tears existing muscles. Eating protein – which is then broken down into amino acids in the body – delivers the essential nutrients needed to heal and repair the damages7. Without adequate protein after exercise, your muscles are unable to successfully and efficiently repair. You run the risk of injury and even derailing your training.

More recently, however, emerging evidence has suggested that eating protein before bed – not immediately after exercise – may, in fact, lead to increased muscle growth and repair.


What are the benefits of consuming protein before bed?

New research suggests if you consume protein before bed, you may capitalise on the spike in Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which the brain releases as the body enters rests. HGH, crucially, increases muscle growth, decreases fat, and supports overall restoration9. Pre-sleep protein – in turn, broken down into amino acids – provides your muscles with the fuel they need for growth and repair at night.

One study examined how protein consumption before sleep may elevate post-workout overnight recovery10. Sixteen healthy young males performed one session of resistance training exercise in the evening, after which the whole group was given appropriate recovery nutrition. Later, half the men ate 40 grams of protein, while the other half were given a placebo before going to bed.

The findings revealed that protein was much better digested and absorbed by the group given the extra protein before bed than the placebo group. The whole-body protein synthesis levels were superior, too. It would seem then – that when pre-sleep protein intake is combined with evening exercise – overnight protein synthesis rates are further increased.

Another study investigated how eating night-time protein may improve muscle growth11. Participants included forty-eight healthy, older men who were given either 40 grams of protein, 20 grams of protein, or the placebo just before sleeping. Those who consumed 40 grams of protein demonstrated the best results, with increased rates synthesis and amino acids. This case highlights that consuming dietary protein before bed may stimulate muscle growth, even in less active and older individuals.

It’s worth noting, however, these studies were somewhat limited. It remains unclear whether muscle gains resulted from protein intake specifically before bed or total daily protein. To date, no research has addressed this issue.

And yet, according to a review in Frontiers Nutrition, the current findings still present overnight sleep as a unique nutritional window for increasing muscle gains when combined with exercise12. The International Society of Sports Nutrition also adopts the view that 30-40g of casein protein can significantly increase muscle protein synthesis throughout the night for healthy, exercising individuals13.


Does consuming protein before bed work for everyone?

However, there’s some evidence to suggest that if you’re sedentary and/or overweight, a snack before bed – regardless of its nutritional composition – may increase insulin levels the following morning, which could contribute to more weight gain14.

Therefore, it could be said that consuming a small amount of night-time protein is better suited to athletes, frequent exercisers, and even the healthy elderly population.


Does protein before bed help you sleep?

Eating a moderate amount of protein before bed may also improve your sleep quality, according to evidence15.

Some protein sources – most notably, chicken, beef, milk, nuts, and seeds – contain the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan can be converted into serotonin, which, in turn, can be made into melatonin. Melatonin is your sleep hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycle.

If you want to try eating protein before bed, choose something small, like a handful of almonds or a boiled egg. But don’t overeat. Having something light will give your digestive system a chance to wind down before bed. Going to bed feeling excessively full may also lead to acid reflux, which can disrupt sleep.


Does eating protein before bed burn fat?

Unfortunately, no food can ever ‘melt’ or ‘burn’ fat. However, as we’ve already outlined, eating protein before bed stimulates the overnight protein synthesis process, which helps repair and grow muscles16. As a result, this may support the building of lean muscle and promote some weight loss.


How best to optimise your protein intake?

Protein sources vary in their ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. That’s why the type of protein you consume before bed is particularly important. In most of the existing studies, researchers have used casein protein. Casein is a complete protein – containing all nine essential amino acids – and allows a slow release of those amino acids throughout the night17. Sources of casein protein include milk, cottage cheese, and Greek yoghurt.

Empirical data also suggests that eating quality animal-based protein may improve overnight muscle protein synthesis rates18. Chicken breast and lean steak are considered good options, while low-fat milk, low-fat yoghurt, cooked eggs are excellent vegetarian alternatives.

The amount of protein you eat can make a difference, too. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, most studies suggest that consuming 30-40 grams of casein protein 30-minutes before bed may help maximise post-exercise muscle repair and growth19.

30 grams of casein protein translates to:

  • One cup of 2% cottage cheese

  • Two single-serve cups of Greek yoghurt

  • One boneless, skinless chicken breast around the size of your hand

Overall, there’s enough evidence to support the idea of using pre-sleep protein as a nutritional strategy to increase muscle repair and growth if you exercise frequently. It may even promote quality sleep, too. So, if you’re looking for a way to gain more from your workouts, you may want to consider having an extra hit of protein around 30-minutes before bed.

Want to learn more about the world of sleep? Please visit the rest of our dedicated Sleep Health Hub.



References:

  1. Snijders, T., Trommelen, J., Kouw, I., Holwerda, A., Verdijk, L. and van Loon, L. (2019). The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6.
  2. livescience.com. (2019). What Is Protein?. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.livescience.com/53044-protein.html
  3. Healthline. (2019). 9 Important Functions of Protein in Your Body. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/functions-of-protein#section9
  4. Healthline. (2019). 9 Important Functions of Protein in Your Body. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/functions-of-protein#section9
  5. WedMD (2019). The Benefits of Protein. [ONLINE] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein
  6. British Nutrition Foundation. (2019). Nutrition for sport and exercise. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/an-active-lifestyle/eating-for-sport-and-exercise.html?start=2
  7. Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., Ivy, J. and Antonio, J. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5(1).
  8. British Nutrition Foundation. (2019). Nutrition for sport and exercise. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/an-active-lifestyle/eating-for-sport-and-exercise.html?start=2
  9. Tuck Sleep. (2019). How Sleep Affects Your Human Growth Hormone (HGH) Levels Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44(8): 1560-9.
  10. Kouw, I., Holwerda, A., Trommelen, J., Kramer, I., Bastiaanse, J., Halson, S., Wodzig, W., Verdijk, L. and van Loon, L. (2017). Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Overnight Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates in Healthy Older Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Nutrition, 147(12), 2252-2261.
  11. Tim Snijders, Jorn Trommelen, Imre W. K. Kouw, Andrew M. Holwerda, Lex B. Verdijk, Luc J. C. van Loon (2019) The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Frontiers in Nutrition, 6.
  12. Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., Kalman, D., Ziegenfuss, T., Lopez, H., Landis, J., Ivy, J. and Antonio, J. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5(1).
  13. Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients, 7(4), 2648–2662.
  14. St-Onge, M. P., Mikic, A., & Pietrolungo, C. E. (2016). Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(5), 938–949.
  15. Trommelen, J., Kouw, I., Holwerda, A., Snijders, T., Halson, S., Rollo, I., Verdijk, L. and van Loon, L., 2018. Presleep dietary protein-derived amino acids are incorporated in myofibrillar protein during postexercise overnight recovery. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 314(5), E457-E467.
  16. Pritchett, K. and Meyer, E. (2018). Nutrition, Health and Athletic Performance. MDPI, 422.
  17. Witard, O., Wardle, S., Macnaughton, L., Hodgson, A. and Tipton, K. (2016). Protein Considerations for Optimising Skeletal Muscle Mass in Healthy Young and Older Adults. Nutrients, 8(4), 181.
  18. RES, P., GROEN, B., PENNINGS, B., BEELEN, M., WALLIS, G., GIJSEN, A., SENDEN, J. and VAN LOON, L. (2012). Protein Ingestion before Sleep Improves Postexercise Overnight Recovery. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44(8), 1560-1569.
     

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