There have been some impressive studies coming out lately in regards to consuming protein before bed.
When you think about it, this makes sense. During sleep our body releases human growth hormone, it’s a key time for regeneration from the day’s training load.
Giving the body some protein to work with overnight makes sense.
Below are three studies that have looked at pre-bed protein:
This was a study on 23 men with an average age of 71, so older than we typically hear about. Participants engaged in evening physical activity then consumed 40g of casein a half hour before bed. This resulted in increased overnight myofibrillar protein synthesis.
Here we have younger men in their 20’s on a 12-week progressive strength training program. One group received a pre-bed protein+carb supplement while the other consumed a non-nutritive supplement.
This study may be more interesting than the above since the control group from above did not exercise or take the supplement while this control group did still exercise.
Of course, both groups experienced muscle strength increases and muscle size increases. The men taking the pre-bed protein supplement did experience greater gains in both cases. I would have preferred the control group to have still taken the same supplement, but perhaps gradually throughout the day. This study suggests that the extra protein+carbs assisted with greater adaptations, but did the pre-bed timing of it matter? Probably, but I’m not sure.
Here again, we have some young men performing resistance training in the PM. Both groups received a casein pr0+carb supplement immediately after exercise, however, only one group received further supplementation immediately before bed. Mixed muscle protein synthesis was 22% higher in the protein group.
Casein works well in these studies because it is a slow release protein. Whey protein results in a rapid increase in plasma amino acids and a quick increase in protein synthesis. The influence of whey is short lived. While both whey and casein protein are in milk, casein is more abundant. Casein results in prolonged and more gradual increases in blood amino acids and the net protein balance remained more positive with casein over a 7 hour period. This characteristic of casein is attributed to its slower gastric (stomach) emptying and slower absorption rate from the intestine to the blood. Obviously, casein is the better choice to consume before a 6-8 hour overnight fast! If you want a protein supplement to consume during the day immediately post-workout, a mixture of whey and casein is optimal.
So, How Do YOU Use This Information?
Cow milk is 82% casein and 18% whey protein. I’m much more inclined to simply recommend milk after a strenuous workout and before bed. It’s more simple to take since you only need to pour a glass, no scooping and mixing necessary. Depending on the quality of protein supplements you purchase the milk may higher grade. I’m usually one to select local milk and egg choices.
Plant-Based Protein Options?
I’m going on a decade as a plant-based athlete. Most of this time has been as a vegetarian with stints as vegan, raw vegan, and pescatarian. Currently, I eat local or free-range eggs a few times weekly.
I grew up on a dairy farm and choose to not support that type of industry. However, recently I did come across a milk brand that may be a superb choice for those looking for a more ethically sourced milk, and that choice is Fairlife.com. The extra-interesting thing about their milk is that it’s filtered to remove some of the sugar+liquid, which means it has more protein and less sugar in each cup than typical milk. You can read about their more humane and environmentally conscious farming practices here. I’ll drink their chocolate milk after hard workout or drink a few cups of it before going to bed.
For a fully plant-based option that is a slow release protein (the whole point of taking it before bed) you are best to look at a pea+rice protein supplement, I take Vega Sport, which does not contain rice protein. The pea protein is still slow release so can still do the trick or you can simply find some rice protein to mix into some pea protein.