A late night meal is something that many people struggle with, often believing that eating before bed will encourage them to become fat. We look at why this is not necessarily true, but can also be of high importance to a training strength athlete.
Most people are aware that you do not build muscle while training. Training induced muscle damage is repaired and subsequent muscle adaptation occurs during recovery periods. Most of your recovery is actually done while you are asleep, particularly muscle development. (1)
Why is Sleep Important?
For the average adult, approximately seven to nine hours of sleep is required per day (2). This amount can increase by about one hour for athletes, particularly for those recovering from an event or strenuous training session. (3) So, this can add up to nearly ten hours of sleep, a period where your body potentially has the greatest requirement for essential muscle building nutrients, but you are in effect fasting.
So, by eating correctly before you sleep, you will provide your body with all the resources it requires to perform effective recovery of damaged tissue during this vital time. But what should you eat?
Sleep Nutrition Considerations
It is important not to consume a meal which can be difficult to digest. This may disrupt your rest which will in turn diminish your recovery. Equally important is to not consume a meal which is digested too quickly, as you need the release of required nutrients to last as long into your sleep session as possible.
During the recovery phase your body requires protein. This is common knowledge to most strength athletes. This can come from whole foods, or in the form of a dietary supplement.
Effective Protein Sources for Sleep Recovery
Whey protein is not really suitable for consuming prior to sleep because it is digested too quickly (hence it’s popular use immediately post workout). A slower release protein will effectively ‘drip’ feed you throughout the night.
Casein protein (a protein abundant in dairy products) has been proven to be absorbed slowly yet effectively digested when consumed prior to sleep, which results in a rapid rise of circulating amino acids sustained throughout the night. (2)
Dairy products are also rich in Calcium which has been proven to be a natural sleep aid. This mineral contains the amino acid Tryptophan, which helps the body produce the natural hormone Melatonin. As reported by the National Sleep Foundation, melatonin helps induce and maintain sleep. The adverse is also true; inadequate levels of calcium can cause you to have a disturbed night of sleep, which greatly disrupts recovery.
Some fish are also popular to use as an overnight recovery food. Fish is a source of slow release high quality protein and some (such as Salmon) contain high levels of calcium. Fish is also rich in essential fatty acids, which are also useful during this time. Some fish are higher in calories due to the fat content. So, be aware of your calorie requirements as this makes oily fish more suited to periods when weight control is not a factor.
You can find a range of suitable training recovery foods and recipes in the sport recovery recipes section over on nuutrii.
Consuming a small meal which is both rich in a slow release protein and calcium will improve your post exercise recovery and also help improve your sleep. But, excess calories should be controlled at this time, unless you have a specific requirement for the fat or carbohydrate (perhaps you’re attempting to gain weight or carbohydrate load for endurance).
About The Author
Dylan Thomas is a long time avid strength trainer, barefoot runner and sports nutrition blogger. He is also the founder of nuutrii (a social tool for analysing and discovering recipes for athletes).
- Medical Science Sports Exercise, Aug 2012 – Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery.
- National Sleep Foundation – How Much Sleep Do We Realy Need?
- National Sleep Foundation – How does sleep affect high performance athletes?