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The Nighttime Snack That Can Help You Build Muscle as You Sleep

Getting enough protein in your diet is key to riding your best: It’s essential for building and maintaining muscle, and it can help boost your immune system, too. And while it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of the nutrient during your major meals, your body might reap some serious benefits from taking some in during a snack-especially a nighttime one, as new research published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests.

In the study, researchers had 10 active women in their early 20s consume either one cup of cottage cheese (with 30 grams of protein and 0 percent fat), casein protein (30 grams), or a non-caloric placebo at night on three separate occasions about 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Then, they measured their resting energy expenditure-or how many calories they burned while they were sleeping-upon waking the next morning.

The participants who had cottage cheese before bed had the same resting energy expenditure as those who had casein protein, showing that a whole food like cottage cheese has the same benefits as a concentrated milk-protein source.

Those benefits include potential improvement in strength, metabolism, and health in general.

“The nighttime sleeping period is typically the longest span of time that most people have without eating,” study author Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., associate director of Florida State University’s Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine, told Bicycling. “This means that it’s possible that muscle protein degradation is also at its highest while you’re sleeping. So you’re taking advantage of a period of time that is normally catabolic [meaning your body is using up energy], and instead, turning it into an opportunity for overnight muscle protein synthesis-or growth.”

In fact, a previous study from the Netherlands found that protein consumption before bed can help improve post-exercise recovery, by boosting protein synthesis and improving your net protein balance.

Ormsbee said that even though his study only looked at fit, active women in their 20s, they’re not the only population who can benefit from consuming protein before bed. His lab and another from the Netherlands (headed by Luc van Loon, Ph.D., a professor of exercise physiology at Maastricht University who authored the study above) has data in both men and women of all ages and fitness levels.

Ormsbee said his lab at the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine are “looking into other food items and longer-term studies” to see if other snacks would have similar benefits. In the meantime, if you want something a little more substantial before bed than a protein shake to prep your muscles for your next-day ride or help you recover from your earlier one, dish yourself out some cottage cheese.

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