I recommend that athletes consume protein before bed for a few reasons.
1) Muscle Breakdown: When you’re training, you create big energy and nutrient demands in your body. These demands continue, even after you stop training. In fact, resting metabolic rate remains elevated for up to 24 hours after resistance weight training, and several hours after cardio training. Most endurance athletes constantly do both, resistance and cardio, whenever training for their sport. Unless running, biking, skiing etc on flat level ground in a gear or speed that’s easy for you (recovery ride), you’re engaging in some resistance training. As your body continues to demand more energy, it will break down fat and protein (muscle) once you’re not longer eating, throughout the night. Most of the studies on night-time muscle breakdown have been in body building, but it’s not at all far-fetched to hypothesize many of the same effects with resistance training in endurance athletes (especially those with low body fat). While the fat loss may be great, the muscle loss isn’t. By consuming a somewhat low-calorie high-protein snack before bed, you can reduce muscle wasting. What’s more, as long as you keep it low-ish in carbs, you can still gain the benefit of fat loss by not engaging the carbs = increased blood glucose = increased insulin = increased fat storage cycle.
2) Muscle Recovery/Growth: When you’re training, you go through cycles of straining your muscles and then recovering. This is how muscle adapt and grow – specifically, they do so during the recovery. Without adequate amino acids from which to grow (building blocks of protein), they will not recover and grow to potential. I’m not talking about “bulking up.” That requires specific training – your muscles adapt to your training. But in either case, to adapt and recover well, they need protein, and one of the best times to get it, is while they are recovering and growing, at rest, at night.
3) Replacement for High Carb Dessert: I’m a believer in eating smaller snacks and meals throughout the day. This usually means breakfast, portion-controlled snack, lunch, snack, dinner, optional snack. It’s not a deal-breaker, only eating meals and skipping snacks is okay, too. But, in real everyday life, and with training needs, I find the snacks between the meals helpful (not “snack foods” – these are still healthy whole food options). So, for those who are hungry or would like a snack before bed, proteins and fats are a much better choice than carbohydrates. You see, our bodies live in cycles, or circadian rhythms. These rhythms are influenced by hormone levels and production – it’s what makes us sleepy at the right times, and energized at others. The hormone levels do not support the metabolism of a bunch of carbs at night – they just aren’t ready for it and don’t deal with it well (we’re talking insulin again). Long lasting proteins and fats are much better metabolized, and don’t spur on fat storage at night, like carbs.
Q & A:
1) How will this affect my sleep? A: This is such an important questions b/c sleep is so important to health and performance. I’ve kept the volume small in order to not promote needing to pee. I recommend eating this a full hour before bed. And, I’ve used slow digesting foods, without a lot of bulk/volume, though, to make digestion easy while sleeping – this can help improve sleep. However, if you notice any negative effects, discontinue or go back to the drawing board.
2) Why not just use whey protein? A: Whey protein is a fast-acting protein…we want slower digestion through the night to provide full effects of muscle sparing for 8 hour or so. Casein, eggs, peanut butter protein, etc, are slower.
3) I’ve just eaten a bunch of protein for dinner, do I really need more? A: Not necessarily. You may be just fine without it. But, if you are going to eat something for bed, this is a good choice.
4) Why use Greek yogurt specifically? A: High casein (slow), high in branched chain amino acids (good for muscle growth) probiotics for health/digestion, low carb.
5) You’ve now added l-glutamine, why? A: It’s an amino acid that tends to get low in endurance athletes, as our muscles use it specifically when we training. Adding it during training nutrition, and then again at night after intense training, can help promote further recover and reduced sorenes.
And, here it is:
Before-Bed Muscle-Sparing Chocolate Berry Protein Shake
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp organic coconut oil
- 6 oz. low-fat Greek yogurt (or, 1 scoop any protein powder, especially casein, egg, or PB2 at a total of 80-100 calories)
- ½ cup pitted cherries or berries
- 1-2 Tbsp organic cocoa powder
- optional, 2-3 gm l-glutamine from powder
- Place chia seeds and water in blender or food processor. Allow to set for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from clumping up.
- Add remaining ingredients. Process/blend until smooth.
- Don’t allow to set for long, or you’ll end up with pudding (the chia seeds will continue to “gel”). Drink ~60 minutes before bed.
Nutrition: ~180-200 calories, 8 gm carbs, 6 gm fiber, 16 gm protein.
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