You may have had a glass of milk before bed as a kid to build strong bones, but did you ever think that a night-time drink may also be useful for better gym gains? Here, we take a look at the evidence surrounding protein shakes before bed, discuss the potential benefits of consuming protein before bed, and provide some practical guidelines to avoid any potential pitfalls.
- Benefits of protein before bed.
- Which protein to have before bed.
- Recommended bedtime protein shakes.
- Bedtime protein recipe.
Benefits of Protein Before Bed
1. Weight Loss
Protein is the main nutrient that stimulates the growth of new muscle tissue; it also helps to protect your hard-earned muscle mass during weight loss.10 However, the power of protein doesn’t stop there, as research shows that protein intake before you hit the hay can boost metabolism (the process of converting food into energy) and help keep hunger pangs at bay.
Protein intake also keeps us feeling full and may help to reduce those late-night, high-calorie cravings that can be damaging to weight loss success.2
Summary: Protein helps keep us feeling full and satisfied, which can help control calorie intake for weight loss.
2. Muscle Growth
While many people train in the evening and consume protein in the post-workout period, how many of us consider protein shakes before bed? This is especially important given that the stimulation of muscle growth is typically low when you sleep, and so you may be at risk of muscle protein breakdown throughout the night.3,15
Luckily, researchers have shown that your gut is still able to function normally throughout the night while you sleep, which means you can still properly digest and absorb any protein consumed before bed.5
This gives you a clear opportunity to stimulate muscle growth as you sleep — by slurping down protein shakes before bed. So how much do you need? Researchers have shown that 40g casein protein before bed stimulates muscle protein synthesis (the process of building muscle mass) by around 20%.12
Summary: Protein helps support our muscles by supplying amino acids for repair and growth.
Sleep is generally recognised as an important recovery tool and a constant lack of sleep may result in changes to performance, immunity and protein absorption.6 Although more research in this area is required, we currently know that consuming a high-protein diet may improve overall sleep quality.7
On top of this, the intake of protein prior to sleep may increase the availability of the amino acid L-tryptophan. When consumed with carbohydrates, tryptophan uptake into the brain is increased and may improve the time taken to fall asleep, as well as overall sleep quality.6
Summary: Most protein sources contain the amino acid L-tryptophan, which can help improve our sleep.
Which protein to consume before bed
There are three primary types of protein you might use before bed - whey, casein, or plant-based options. Both whey and casein proteins are made from milk, but have different amino acid profiles.
Whey protein digests quickly and is shown to be the most effective at building muscle, which is why it is so commonly used after a workout. It also contains more branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), essential for muscle building and recovery.8
Casein protein is made from milk solids. This means it takes longer for our body to digest and break down, but it releases protein more slowly into our system over time. It is especially high in leucine.
Plant-based protein powders may or may not be complete proteins — meaning they do not contain all of the amino acids. Choosing a plant-based protein blend can help maximise the amino acids that you can benefit from.
Most of the available research to date supports the use of casein protein, although the differences between casein, whey, and soy are very small. The theory behind the use of casein protein is that it provides a more sustained release of amino acids (because it takes the body longer to digest) and so maintains amino acid availability throughout the night.4
If you’ve just finished your workout in the evening, whey might be the best choice for quick recovery; if it’s a rest day or you just want a bedtime protein dose, casein may be a better fit due to its slow digestion.
Despite this, more research is needed to provide clear guidelines on the best form of protein to take before bed. For now, we should keep in mind that most studies listed above commonly use doses between 40-50g protein. It may be that the dosage is a more important consideration than the type of protein being consumed.
Myprotein’s recommended bedtime protein shakes
Overnight Recovery Blend
Protein per serving: 45g
Overnight Recovery Blend is a slow-release protein blend that contains five different proteins: whey, micellar casein, milk isolate and egg white protein. There’s evidence to suggest combining whey and casein can have the best effect on muscle protein synthesis as whey helps to spike levels quickly while casein helps prolong it.17
Protein blends in general are a good option before bed. A further advantage to this blend is the added zinc and magnesium, which have both been shown to have the potential to enhance recovery from exercise and improve sleep quality.18,19
Protein per serving: 23g
Casein is a protein that is digested slowly, meaning the amino acids enter the blood stream in a slow, sustained way. This results in muscle protein synthesis rates being elevated for a longer period, preventing muscle protein breakdown rates from exceeding synthesis rates.5
This slow digestion makes it a good choice before bed as it may help to prevent a net loss of muscle during an overnight fast.16 Another benefit of Slow-Release Casein is that it’s also suitable for vegetarians.
Slow-Release Casein Elite
Protein per serving: 24g
If you’re a professional athlete or competing in sports at any level, Slow-Release Casein Elite is the pre-bed shake option for you as it’s been batch tested for banned substances by Informed-Sport.
If you’re competing professionally, it’s crucial that the supplements you take are tested properly. Looking for options tested by Informed-Sport is the best way to do this.
Total Protein Blend
Protein per serving: 24g
Total Protein Blend contains a mix of seven different protein powders. This means the powder has an excellent amino acid profile allowing you to build and preserve muscle. The combination of proteins makes it a great shake regardless of the time of day, and the mixed digestion rates mean it’s also a good option before bed.
Vegan Protein Blend
Protein per serving: 22g
The Vegan Protein Blend is made up of Pea Protein Isolate and Fava Bean Isolate. Pea protein has a similar digestibility as casein, making it a good alternative pre-bed option for those following a vegan diet.20
Bedtime protein recipe suggestion
Protein plays a role in stimulating the synthesis of new muscle and next-day metabolism, and tryptophan in the production of improved sleep quality and melatonin (the hormone that regulates the sleep–wake cycle).
So it makes sense that our pre-sleep shake should contain both protein and tryptophan.(13) Dairy products such as milk and yoghurt provide a mix of both whey and casein. It also contains tryptophan, which can be found in pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
This pre-sleep shake recipe combines all of the key compounds to cover all bases.
- 150g fat-free strained Greek yoghurt
- 20g protein powder
- 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup mixed berries
- Milk or water for desired thickness
Food protein sources for before bed
If you need to eat a meal before bed, you might prefer to get your protein from whole food sources rather than from a protein shake. Choose from the below list of high protein food sources if you’re choosing whole foods over a shake.
- Low fat dairy (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt)
- Chicken breast
- Lean red meat
Take home message
Having protein shakes before bed provides a key opportunity to stimulate muscle growth, influence daily energy metabolism, and improve overall sleep quality. Furthermore, when consumed regularly, pre-sleep protein promotes gains in both muscle mass and strength. Whilst the optimal type of protein required before bed remains unclear, a dose of between 40-50g may be necessary to achieve the benefits outlined in this article.
Should I have a protein shake before bed?
Taking a protein shake before bed has benefits including stimulating muscle growth and improving sleep quality.
What type of protein should I take before bed?
Most research supports that casein is the best protein to take at night, due to its more sustained release of amino acids, maintaining protein bioavailability throughout the night.
How can protein before bed help weight loss?
Taking protein before bed has been found to increase your metabolism the following day. Protein also takes more energy to breakdown, compared to carbohydrates.
How can protein before bed help muscle growth?
Taking protein before bed takes your muscles from a negative protein balance throughout the night to a positive protein balance, allowing your muscles to recover and build overnight.
Can taking protein before bed improve sleep quality?
Taking protein before bed may increase the availability of the amino acid L-tryptophan, which has been shown to improve sleep quality.
Article edited by Claire Muszalski
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