Does Eating Before Bed Lead to More Muscle Gains?
One of the biggest nutrition myths to date is the ever so popular don’t eat past 6 pm or at night time because all of the nutrients consumed will somehow magically convert to fat. We wrote about this HERE and Sofer et al. showed that consuming carbohydrates mostly at dinner for 6 months resulted in greater weight loss, abdominal circumference, body fat mass reduction, more satiety, and less hunger (1).
In this article we won’t be touching on this specific subject of eating carbs at night or dispelling myths, but we will be delving into the topic of nighttime protein ingestion (pre-bed) or protein ingestion during the middle of the night to keep muscle protein synthesis elevated. If you’re looking to increase lean muscle mass then you may be a pre bed meal away from doing so.
Amino Acid Levels and MPS Drop Off Overnight
Sleep is awesome and we all know that there’s plenty of research out there that getting adequate levels of sleep is needed (2). But what you tend to forget is when you sleep for 6-8 hours, your body goes into a fasted state and doesn’t get any nutrients during this time. It would only seem logical that muscle protein synthesis levels and amino acids tend to dwindle down as well.
Norton et al. showed that the duration of protein synthesis in response to a complete meal containing protein, carbs, and fats is approximately 3 hours long. Therefore, it seems that a complete meal might keep MPS elevated up to 3 hours after you fall asleep if you eat before bed. (3).
What was interesting about the above study is that even though protein synthesis levels went back to baseline after 3 hours, plasma amino acids and specifically leucine levels were still elevated.
It makes sense that low muscle protein synthesis rates during overnight sleep could be simply attributed to the limit of plasma amino acid availability throughout the night. Which brings us to our point, why not have a protein meal or shake before bed or during the middle of the night to keep protein synthesis elevated if you are going to sleep for 6-8 hours?
Nutrients Can Be Used at Almost Any Time of the Day
High level athletes, physique athletes, and active people can use nutrients at almost any time of the day for a specific purpose. Recently, data has pointed out that a small protein dose of 150 calories before bed actually increases muscle protein synthesis while you are sleeping in both young and older men (4).
We asked Mike Ormsbee, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Exercise Science and Sports Nutrition at Florida State University to weigh in on this subject of night time eating:
“In 2010, we published a number of studies that look at eating at night — just small portions. If you’re eating small, 150-calorie, protein-dense meals before bed, we’re finding that it improves muscle protein synthesis and you can actually maintain muscle mass in your sleep, which is great for athletes trying to recover or older individuals who are trying to maintain muscle mass as they age.
We did this work in fit men and found an improvement in their metabolisms. The only group that did not find any improvement was the group that did not eat anything before going to sleep. (These findings were published in the British Journal of Nutrition.)
We repeated this design in obese women, and we found that eating protein at night improved some markers such as blood pressure and metabolic function especially when combined with exercise training (5).”
Moreover, Professor Luc J.C van Loon who has done an extensive amount of work on night time eating showed that ingestion of protein prior to sleep represents an effective nutritional intervention to increase plasma amino acid availability, stimulate post exercise muscle protein synthesis, and improve whole body protein balance during overnight sleep (6).
To further support the topic of night time eating we asked Professor Stuart Phillips from McMaster University his thoughts:
“A pre-bed snack or a ‘midnight’ protein shake stimulates protein synthesis, and likely suppresses protein breakdown during the period time when you’re without food the longest. It may be that this is one of the best times to think about protein ingestion as it stimulates muscle protein remodeling and repair during a time when that’s exactly what your body is doing anyway. Proteins higher in the amino acid tryptophan may even aid in sleep latency and quality although this requires some further work (7)”
As you can see, the data from Ormsbee, van Loon, and Phillips is pretty conclusive that having protein before bed or in the middle of the night keeps muscle protein synthesis and metabolism elevated.
Wrap up and Take Home Points
The myth that we can’t or shouldn’t eat past 6 pm or at night time because all of the nutrients consumed will somehow magically convert to fat just simply doesn’t hold up. Especially what the research shows in high level athletes, physique athletes, and active people being able to use nutrients at almost any time of the day for a specific purpose. It also makes sense that low muscle protein synthesis rates during overnight sleep could be simply attributed to the limit of plasma amino acid availability throughout the night. Having protein before bed or in the middle of the night elevates plasma amino acid levels and will keep muscle protein synthesis levels elevated.
Some take home points we suggest are:
- Phillips et al. showed that 20g protein is sufficient to maximally stimulate protein synthesis after resistance training (8). Therefore having 20-40g of high quality protein before bed or during the night in a liquid form should be plenty
- If you usually get up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, then simply have a 20-40g of liquid protein waiting for you to gorge down
- If you have a high carbohydrate and fat allotment for the day, try protein, carbohydrates, and fats in your sleep cycle shake, all three appear to be useful, although protein (casein or whey) before bed might be best according to the current research for muscle protein synthesis and metabolism (9).
- If you are a physique competitor and count your macronutrients, simply deduct 20-40g of protein from your total days protein allotment and place it into a sleep cycle shake during the middle of the night.
- If you are just an active gym goer that follows a balanced diet and just wants to look good naked, then try eating a small 150 calorie liquid shake or ½-1 cup of low fat cottage cheese before bed to improve muscle protein synthesis, overnight metabolism, and cardiovascular hemodynamics.
The bottom line is there is some great new research developing in this area of night time eating and what we do know now is taking in a high quality liquid protein source before or in the middle of the night has its benefits. We have seen this anecdotally with ourselves and during our 26 week contest prep as well as clients.
The future of night time eating and adding in sleep cycle shakes looks promising. If you’re looking to increase lean muscle mass then you might want to start eating a pre bed meal or sleep cycle shake during the night.
(1) Sofer S, et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. J Oby. 2011 Oct: 19(10):2006-14.
(2) Redwine et al. Effects of sleep and sleep deprivation on interleukin-6, GH, cortisol, and melatonin levels in humans. 2013
(3) Norton LE, Layman DK, Garlick PJ, Brana D, Anthony TG, Zhao L, Devkota S, Walker DA.
Translational controls of skeletal muscle protein synthesis are delayed and prolonged
Associated with ingestion of a complete meal. 2007 E
(4) Res PT, Groen B, Pennings Bet al. (2012) Protein Ingestion Prior To Sleep Improves Post-Exercise Overnight Recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 44(8), 1560-1569.
(5) Mike Ormsbee, Assistant Professor of Exercise Science, Florida State University, https://aboutresearchtest.magnet.fsu.edu/extraordinary-thoughts/2014-03-21-Nighttime-Eating
(6) Van Loon, J.C, L. Protein ingestion prior to sleep: Potential for optimizing post exercise recovery. Sports science exchange. 2013
(7) Stuart Phillips, Professor , McMaster University, https://www.science.mcmaster.ca/kinesiology/people/faculty/292-Stuart%20Phillips.html
(8) Phillips, S. Ingested Protein Dose Response of Muscle and Albumin Protein Synthesis After Resistance Exercise in Young Men. J of Clinical Nutr. 2008
(9) Takudzwa A, et al. Night time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning resting energy expenditure in active college aged men. British journal of nutrition. 2013
About The Authors:
Chris and Eric Martinez, CISSN, CSCS, CPT, BA, also known as the “Dynamic Duo” operate a world class online training and nutrition consulting business “Dynamic Duo Training.” They’re also fitness and nutrition writers, Diet Doc permanent weight loss coaches, current ISSN Diploma Post Grad Degree Students, and exclusive Team K Peaking Directors that love helping people reach their goals. Their philosophy is “No excuses, only solutions.”
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