Should You Drink A Protein Shake Before Bed? The Evidence-Based Answer
Protein before bed isn't the most important aspect of nutrition, far from it. But research shows it could help you build more muscle.
In this article, you'll discover how optimising your protein intake can make a small, yet significant impact on your progress. And, as a natural weightlifter, those small benefits are sometimes well-worth the effort, right?
When it comes to nutrition, there's two distinct areas of focus;
- The Basics - The fundamental building blocks of progress. If these aren't in place, the rest is largely irrelevant.
- Optimisation - The aspects of nutrition worth considering once the solid foundations are in place.
As you'll see in this article, having protein before bed IS beneficial for you. But, it sits firmly in the category of 'Optimisation'.
So make sure you've spent time getting those fundamentals in place;
- Accurate calculation of your calorie and protein targets.
- Choosing an approach to dieting that works for you.
- Maximising sleep and recovery.
- Getting to the gym and lifting some heavy-ass weight.
These are just a few of the fundamentals you should have in place, before looking into protein before bed. And even then, protein frequency, and other optimisation strategies still outweigh whether or not you have protein before bed.
But for now, let's assume those basics are in place, and you're ready to delve into some of the minutia.
And if you want to listen to the audio version, click the play button below:
Protein Before Bed And Muscle Loss
You might have the impression that the time you're asleep is the 'Danger Zone' for muscle loss.
Potentially 7-9 hours without those precious Amino Acids is going to cause your body to turn on you. In the absence of essential nutrients, your body will start to utilise muscle protein for fuel. And that means a loss of precious muscle tissue.
This sounds catastrophic.
Could you really be grinding hard in the gym and being perfect with your nutrition during the day, only for it all to be undone while you're tucked up in bed?
You might have even heard stories of bodybuilders setting alarms throughout the night, so they can sip on protein shakes.
But hold on. Let's not get crazy here.
Your body isn't a self-mutilating, muscle-thirsty zombie when darkness descends.
After all, we know from studies into Intermittent Fasting, where periods of fasting are often more than double that of the average sleep time, protein oxidation is unaffected. In fact, when it comes to preventing muscle loss, maintaining resistance training and consuming adequate protein during the day is all you really need to focus on.
Essentially, converting protein to fuel is an inefficient process. And your body doesn't want to do anything inefficient, unless it has to. So, the timing of protein intake doesn't make a whole lot of difference for preventing muscle loss.
However, when it comes to building muscle, it's a whole different ball game.
If you're concerned about preventing muscle loss, total protein intake, protein frequency, and resistance training are more important than consuming protein before bed.
Here's How Protein Before Bed Could Help You Build Muscle
Building more muscle is about maintaining positive protein balance as much as possible.
Essentially, this involves frequent protein feedings (ideally 4-6) during a 24 hour period. This approach helps to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, aka MPS (the process of building muscle).
So implementing nutritional strategies that favour positive protein balance (often referred to as nitrogen balance) could provide a more optimal environment for building muscle.
Therefore, in the context of having protein before bed, the right approach could help you achieve this.
One study looked at the effects of consumption of whey and casein protein, 7 hours after a meal.
Interestingly, whole body protein breakdown was inhibited by 34% in the casein group, where it wasn't in the whey group. Also, leucine oxidation (a key amino acid in the muscle building process) was less in the casein group.
"But what does this mean in practical terms, Simon?"
A good question.
The outcome of this study indicates a casein-based protein is slower release than whey. This means that during a period of extended fasting (for example, when sleeping) a casein protein might help in maintaining positive protein balance.
"Hmmmm. This is interesting Simon. But I still don't get it?"
Ok. Simple terms. Protein before bed (especially casein-based) can help you build more muscle.
What's Casein-Based Protein?
Casein is found in a number of foods, although mainly derived from milk (as is whey). In fact, both whey and casein are byproducts of the cheesemaking process.
During cheesemaking, enzymes or acids are added to heated milk. This causes the casein to change into a solid, separating from the whey (which stays as a liquid).
The whey then gets washed and dried into a powder, which is what you likely purchase from your favourite supplement shop on a regular basis.
The remaining casein can also be processed to create a protein powder, or it can be used to make a variety of dairy products, such as cottage cheese and Greek yoghurt.
Foods rich in casein protein include; cheese, low-fat milk, kefir, and yoghurt.
Consuming a casein-based protein before bed can help maintain positive protein balance during the time you are asleep. This can have a small, but significant benefit to building muscle.
What About Protein Before Bed For Weight Loss?
When it comes to weight loss, having some protein before bed isn't really going to have any added benefit.
A high protein diet can help with the weight loss process in a number of ways. For example, protein has a higher thermic effect, compared to other macronutrients. This means your body expends more energy digesting and absorbing protein, than other macros. This will have a small, positive impact on the number of calories you burn.
However, you don't need to have protein before bed to benefit from this.
So, if weight loss is the goal, then concentrate more on your total protein intake per day. Remember, it's about nailing those basics first.
Protein timing and protein before bed has no significant impact on weight loss. Focus on optimising your total protein consumption per day.
The Bottom Line On Protein Before Bed
Once you have the basics of nutrition in place and have established an optimal protein feeding strategy, consuming a casein-based protein before bed could help you build more muscle.
With the 'big rocks of nutrition', such as calories in place, optimisation of your nutrition can be advantageous for building as much muscle as possible.
After all, if you're doing this drug-free, small but significant benefits are not to be dismissed.
Protein before bed might not be top of the list, but is a relatively simple adjustment to your nutrition. And you don't need to invest in specific protein powders or supplements to reap the rewards. You can get what you need from 'regular' foods. It doesn't have to be a protein shake.
A relatively large serving of protein (around 0.5-0.6g/kg) will ensure you optimise this aspect of your nutrition. Or, you could have slightly less if opting for a casein-based protein. My personal favourite is 250g of 0% Fat Greek Yoghurt, mixed with 1/2 scoop of whey protein powder. It's packed with protein and tastes like heaven on Earth, especially if you add some fruit, nuts, and maybe a dollop of honey or sugar-free syrup.
Try it and let me know what you think.
And if you want to know the optimal way to set up your protein feedings, including your pre-bed routine, take a look at this infographic.
Need Help Getting The Basics Right? Here's A Free Online Calculator To Help You Discover How Many Calories You Need To Achieve Your Fitness Goals
If you want to get on the fast track to a leaner, healthier, stronger body, I've got something for you. Simply click the link below and you'll get access to my free online calorie and macro calculator. Designed to take the headache out of knowing how many calories you need to achieve your goals. Plus, you can grab my Lean Life Kickstarter Pack. In it you’ll find a free 4 week beginner’s training programme (complete with exercise videos and a workout tracker), free recipe packs, plus so much more.
So if you want all that, go here.
But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.