When I was little and I used to stay with my grandparents during the school holidays, I was sent to bed each evening with warm milk, or sometimes hot chocolate. This was long before I was vegan, and it was a very special part of my night time routine. I would curl up with my child-sized mug, read my book, and be content.
Now, as a grown adult, I still afford myself the luxury of a hot chocolate before bed sometimes - only now with plant milk, of course! It feels just as cosy as it did when I was little, and it’s particularly great after a long, hard day. And then I heard about a trend for having a protein shake before bed - and I was more than a little stunned.
Yes, we know we can heat up protein shakes or have them in coffee, but never, in a million years did I think I’d be contemplating a protein shake at bedtime - they’re a daytime thing, surely? Well, it seems like there’s some science behind why a protein shake just before bedtime might be good for you!
Let’s take a look!
Can protein shakes before bed promote muscle growth?
One of the main things I remember from my biology lessons is the phrase ‘amino acids are the building blocks of protein’, and this is true. Protein is made of amino acids which, when broken down in the body, perform various functions, including building up our muscles through muscle protein synthesis. We may have been led to believe that muscle protein synthesis only occurs during and after exercise - but this simply isn’t true!
Our body uses the time we spend asleep to perform a number of functions; one of these is helping our muscles to repair themselves, and grow. (This might be why babies sleep so much - they have a lot of growing to do!) (Snijders et al., 2015)
Growth hormone is also produced at an elevated level whilst we’re sleeping. This hormone helps to build muscle and decreases fat, and studies have shown that by having a protein-rich shake before bed, you can make the most of your elevated Growth hormone levels and build some muscle! This is because you’re providing your body with the amino acids it needs for growth and repair at the right time. (Res et al., 2012)
Studies on nutrient timing have also shown that ingesting protein before going to sleep can increase both muscle protein synthesis and metabolic rate. (Kerksick et al., 2017)
Now, we’re not saying that you’re going to wake up in the morning looking miraculously like Jean-Claude van Damme, but progress is progress!
Do you have to be athletic to benefit from a protein shake before bed?
The best results have been seen in athletic people, and those who exercise daily, even in moderation. However, they are not the only people to be able to benefit from a high protein drink before bed.
One study of older people in particular has shown that slow-digesting protein before bed still promotes muscle growth, meaning that even older, less active people may well be able to benefit from a shake before bed! (Groen et al., 2012).
This is because as we age, our bodies become less adept at building and maintaining muscle. This process is known as sarcopenia, and can begin as early as your thirties, with some adults losing over 50% of their muscle mass by the time they enter their seventies and eighties. This is why we find ourselves in need of extra protein to replace and repair the muscle we have the older we get. (Walston, 2012)
This isn’t a one size fits all approach to muscle growth, unfortunately. For those of us with more sedentary lifestyles, or who are overweight, a shake before bed might have some unexpected effects. In this case, food or drinks containing protein and carbohydrates can cause a spike in insulin levels overnight and into the morning which may, in fact, be responsible for weight gain (Kinsey and Ormsbee, 2015).
Is muscle growth the only benefit?
Actually, no. Whilst muscle protein synthesis, growth and recovery are all clear benefits of adding protein to your night time regimen, other benefits have been noted.
These include enhancing stamina and improving performance during exercise. One study in particular found that people who had protein before sleeping had extra strength capabilities during resistance training! Further benefits include enhanced recovery from exercise (as you’re giving those amino acids a chance to boost your healing overnight!) and aiding in weight loss. As a protein shake can help to increase the body’s resting metabolic rate, and metabolising protein uses more of your body’s energy than metabolising carbs, you’ll find that you’re burning off more calories overnight and into the next day. (Snijders et al., 2019).
How do I choose the best protein powder for the evening?
Whilst having a protein shake before bed has little to no effect on your sleep, you’ll want to make sure you’re not waking up for other reasons. If the shake you choose has artificial ingredients, sweeteners or added sugars, then you might find yourself awake into the early hours thanks to the sugar rush! Opt for a shake with all natural ingredients so that you can see the benefits without the sugar crashes.
Choosing a high quality plant-based protein powder, specifically one which uses fermented proteins will ensure optimal digestion and not have you waking up in the middle of the night bloated and cramping! It’ll also maximise absorption so that you can get as much out of your sleeping hours as your waking ones. Vivo Life’s VEGAN PROTEIN makes a perfect night time protein shake. It contains 21g of complete plant-based protein from hemp, pea and pumpkin, and a diverse amino acid profile which will help your body to recover and build muscle even when you’re sound asleep and dreaming of those gains!
RES, P.T., GROEN, B., PENNINGS, B., BEELEN, M., WALLIS, G.A., GIJSEN, A.P., SENDEN, J.M.G. and VAN LOON, L.J.C. (2012). Protein Ingestion before Sleep Improves Postexercise Overnight Recovery. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44(8), pp.1560–1569. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e31824cc363.
Snijders, T., Res, P.T., Smeets, J.S., van Vliet, S., van Kranenburg, J., Maase, K., Kies, A.K., Verdijk, L.B. and van Loon, L.J. (2015). Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. The Journal of Nutrition, [online] 145(6), pp.1178–1184. doi:10.3945/jn.114.208371.
Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J., Stout, J.R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C.D., Taylor, L., Kalman, D., Smith-Ryan, A.E., Kreider, R.B., Willoughby, D., Arciero, P.J., VanDusseldorp, T.A., Ormsbee, M.J., Wildman, R., Greenwood, M., Ziegenfuss, T.N., Aragon, A.A. and Antonio, J. (2017). International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, [online] 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4.
Groen, B.B.L., Res, P.T., Pennings, B., Hertle, E., Senden, J.M.G., Saris, W.H.M. and van Loon, L.J.C. (2012). Intragastric protein administration stimulates overnight muscle protein synthesis in elderly men. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, 302(1), pp.E52–E60. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00321.2011.
Snijders, T., Trommelen, J., Kouw, I.W.K., Holwerda, A.M., Verdijk, L.B. and van Loon, L.J.C. (2019). The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Frontiers in Nutrition, [online] 6. doi:10.3389/fnut.2019.00017.