Four Benefits of Drinking a Protein Shake Before Bed

Protein shakes have shown numerous benefits towards helping reach your peak performance and providing a safe way to gain weight. Sports specialists have long argued the best time to drink a protein shake. Several fitness enthusiasts recommend ingesting protein immediately after a workout while others prefer a pre-workout shake.

However, research shows that 30 to 40 grams of protein just before bed is particularly beneficial to muscle growth and athletic performance. In this article, we will run through the science-backed benefits of protein before bed, and discuss how it accelerates muscle gain.

Who Should Take Protein Before Bed?

Protein before bed has been shown to promote effective protein digestion and absorption, increasing the bioavailability of amino acids for greater muscle protein synthesis. It is, however, most beneficial for anyone interested in improving their athletic ability, building muscle, or recovering quickly from regular, strenuous exercise.

However, if you are above the average weight and have a sedentary lifestyle protein supplements are not necessary, nor recommended. Engaging at least three days of moderate physical activity (at least 30 minutes) per week completely supports positive muscle protein synthesis, lean muscle growth, reduced fat mass, and less hunger the following day.

“We should always aim for a food first approach for meeting our protein requirements”, says Sydney based Dietitian Rebeca Gawthorne. “Protein-rich foods include animal products like fish and eggs as well as our plant foods like beans and lentils.” 

However, she also says that “Protein supplementation can be used to ‘fill in any gaps’ to help meet your protein needs, for convenience, and for those struggling to meet their protein requirements with food alone, such as the elderly.” Protein supplementation before bed has also proven effects among the elderly population, showing an increase in preserved muscle mass.

Four Benefits of a Nighttime Protein Shake

1. Increases Muscle Growth

Muscle growth requires a stimulus (i.e. resistance exercise) and raw material (i.e. amino acids). Amino acids are organic compounds that chain together to form protein. They are the building blocks of protein and without them, your muscles cannot grow. 

Muscle Protein Synthesis

Throughout the day, active bodies cycle through two stages: muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown.

Muscle protein synthesis repairs microtears in our muscle tissue after intensive exercise. Once our muscles are reconditioned, they continue developing. This process occurs thanks to our dietary intake of protein.  

Muscle protein breakdown regulates protein synthesis by metabolizing protein for energy during exercise. Muscle gains are only achieved if protein synthesis exceeds protein breakdown, hence the importance of ingesting our muscle-building amino acids. 

So what does this have to do with sleep?

Sleep is our longest fasting period during the day, and thus the longest we go without protein intake.  Postexercise overnight recovery is a significant period of time for your body to use the dietary proteins to help with the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis. Therefore, if you ingest protein before bedtime it will continue providing your muscles with the amino acids they need to grow.

A study led by Dr. Tim Snijders of Maastricht University proved sleep protein ingestion increases muscle size and strength. 44 healthy young men were placed on a strict 12-week exercise and protein supplement regimen. Half of the participants were given 30 grams of casein protein before bed while the other half drank a placebo. After 12 weeks, the men provided protein supplementation displayed more muscle growth and strength than the placebo group.

2. Enhances Energy

During our deep sleep cycle, a pea-sized gland at the base of our brain releases the HGH (human growth hormone) into our bloodstream.  It plays an important role in maintaining, building and repairing healthy muscle tissue. Consuming high-protein foods, such as a protein shake before bed will provide you a source of amino acids necessary for healthy muscle recovery.

3. Promotes a Healthy Weight

In healthy populations, it has been shown (when combined with regular resistance training) to promote lean muscle. Although, a nighttime protein shake will not burn fat on its own, it may be an effective form of nutrition to assist with levels of satiety, metabolism and energy levels, particularly when paired with an effective exercise routine.

4. Prevents Muscle Mass Loss in Older Adults

Sarcopenia is the involuntary loss of muscle mass and can begin as early as age 40. One study has shown the ingestion of protein before bed may attenuate lean tissue loss in older adults.

A 2017 study provided older men with 40 grams of casein protein. The participants did not partake in any physical activity near the time of protein ingestion but still demonstrated higher muscle protein synthesis rates the next day.

It is estimated that protein intake before bed will have a similar effect on older hospitalized adults, as well. Protein synthesis may increase with exercise or exercise mimetics, such as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES).

How Many Grams of Protein Should I Take Before Bed?

Daily protein intake is dependent upon many factors including body weight and fitness goals. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest protein accounts for 10 to 35 percent of your caloric intake each day. 

Therefore, the average American needs 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. However, if you frequently partake in vigorous aerobic activity, such as running, swimming, or cycling, you will want to eat 0.5 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This number increases to 0.7 to 0.8 for athletes that participate in strength training.

Best Type of Protein to Take Before Bed

Casein and whey are the most popular proteins because they contain all 9 essential amino acids for protein synthesis and muscle recovery. Although both are effective, they are best used at specific times of the day according to your individual training regime.

After ingesting protein, your body breaks it down into amino acids. Your body absorbs whey protein in a mere 90 minutes, making it best immediately after a workout. However, casein remains in the bloodstream for four to five hours, providing your body with muscle-healing amino acids during prolonged periods without food. Therefore,  slower-digesting protein sources are best before sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I eat protein before bed?

Eating dietary protein is just as effective as drinking a protein shake. If you dislike protein supplements, consider eating 30 to 40 grams of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt before bed. These low-fat dairy products are high in casein and promote muscle recovery and growth.

Will a protein shake before bed keep me up?

Many medical professionals suggest avoiding snacks before bedtime. However, none of the above studies recorded delayed sleep onset latency or compromised sleep quality as a side effect of eating protein before bed.

Since sugar is often the culprit of difficulty sleeping, choose a protein powder low in sugar. Here are a few ingredients to avoid: fructose, sucrose, dextrose, glucose, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane juice, molasses, honey, maple syrup, mannose, and dextrin.

How many protein shakes can I have in a day?

As mentioned above, too much protein is unhealthy. More often than not, people drink protein shakes to facilitate protein synthesis after exercise or during fasting.

However, the majority of our protein intake comes from the food we eat. Still, some people find themselves in a protein deficit. If you have difficulty getting enough protein from food, consider drinking more than one protein shake a day.

Is too much protein bad for you?

Regularly eating more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is considered too much protein and can have adverse effects. For instance, your body will store excess protein as fat and lead to weight gain. Additionally, your kidneys are responsible for metabolizing protein. If you eat too much, they will become overwhelmed and cause dehydration.

Do protein shakes make you gain weight?

Remember, maintaining weight requires a person to burn the same amount of calories they eat in a day. On the other hand, losing weight calls for a calorie deficit, meaning you burn more than you eat. If you plan on having a night time protein drink, prevent weight gain by counting it toward your daily calorie intake. A fitness app or tracker can track calories and ease this process.

Conclusion

Protein is imperative to our health. It maintains muscle strength, diminishes fatigue, and eases physical activity. When taken before bed, these benefits are maximized. Instead of the traditional cup of warm milk before bed, you might want to consider a protein shake.

Drinking a protein shake before bed can accelerate muscle repair, growth, and fat loss because protein synthesis is continued. Perhaps most appealing, protein before bed adequately prepares you for another bout of physical activity. If you are looking to enhance your health or athletic performance, consider a protein shake before bed.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Andrew Russell, Wellness Writer Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell is a part-time writer and full-time sleep enthusiast. At Zoma, Andrew lends his sleep expertise and writes many of our “better sleep” guides. Outside of Zoma, Andrew puts his advice to the test, always trying new ways to get deeper, more restorative sleep. We appreciate Andrew because he doesn’t give advice that he doesn’t follow himself, so you can feel confident his solutions for better sleep really do the trick.

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