Protein Before Bed for Greater Muscle Gains?

protein before bedA recently published study found a protein rich snack before bedtime led to greater gains in muscle mass, strength, and type II muscle fiber size in young men participating in a resistance training program. Yet a closer look at the details of this study suggest the timing (before bed) might not matter at all.

In this study 44 young men were given a supplement containing 27.5 grams of casein and 15 grams of carbohydrate or a placebo that contained no protein, carbs or calories before they went to sleep each night for 12 weeks. They also lifted weights 3 times a week under the direction of a supervised and periodized program. The young men were instructed not to change their diet (other than the supplement). Food logs were taken to access dietary intake. Both groups consumed about 1.3 grams of protein per kg bodyweight before the study started. However, the group given the supplement consumed a total of 1.9 grams per kg bodyweight during the study while the placebo group continued eating the same amount of protein as they did before the study started – 1.3 grams per kg bodyweight. So, was it the timing of protein before bed, the total difference in protein intake or both that led to the results? We don’t know. However, the total protein intake of the placebo group was on the lower end of the recommended range (1.2 – 2.0 though higher values may be beneficial for some, especially those who are cutting calories) anyone should consume if they want to get stronger and bigger.

So what’s the bottom line?

We don’t know if consuming protein right before bed will help young, healthy and active adults make greater gains from their strength training program compared to consuming the same total amount of protein each day without a protein-rich bedtime snack.

My protein recommendation for now:

Meet your daily protein needs based on your goals first and if a pre-bedtime protein-rich snack helps you do this and sleep well at the same time, then great. If eating or drinking before bed interferes with your sleep (running to the bathroom counts as interfering) then this strategy may do more harm than good.

References:
Snijders T, Res PT,Smeets JSJ, van Vliet S, van Kranenburg J, Maase K, Kies AK, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. J Nutr 2015.

Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen, AP, Senden JM, Van Loon LJ. Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012;44:1560–1569.

You Booze, You Lose. How Alcohol Can Wreck Your Athletic Performance

It’s called a beer gut for a reason. But, over drinking will do more than just cover up those abs you’ve been working so hard for. Take a close look at how it will wreck your athletic performance:

Athletic Performance & Recovery

Alcohol has a number of effects on the body that can impair performance and delay recovery by:

  • Impairing muscle growth in the short-term – decreasing gains you’ve worked for in the weight room and on the field
  • Disrupting your sleep cycle, which impairs how you learn and retain/recall information (slowed reaction time on the field several days after consumption)
  • Decreasing blood testosterone levels for up to 24 hours after consumption which decreases aggression, lean muscle mass, recovery and overall athletic performance
  • Causing nausea, vomiting and drowsiness for several days after consumption

Body Fat

  • Alcohol interrupts your sleep cycle, which decreases your body’s production of HGH (human growth hormone). HGH promotes muscle mass while decreasing fat mass, is critical for recovery (by stimulating protein synthesis) and is important for immune system functioning.
  • Alcohol suppresses testosterone production.
  • Alcoholic drinks are high in calories and metabolized first, before food so extra calories from food are stored as body fat. Because your liver is busy processing alcohol, fat metabolism is delayed.
  • Alcohol also inhibits your body’s absorption of vitamins B1, B12, folic acid and zinc.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic that leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. And, dehydration can increase one’s risk of muscle cramps and other muscle injuries.

For all of the younger athletes reading this who feel peer pressure about drinking, think about this, the effects of 3 drinks will last a few days. Drink on Thursday and your reaction time on Saturday will still be impaired (and it may be impaired on Sunday too). Need an out? You just got one. Need another out? Use my all time favorite response when someone asks if you want a drink, “That’s a Clown Question, Bro.”

References:

  • J Clin Endocrin & Metab 1980;51:759-764.
  • Firth G. Manzo LG. For the Athlete: Alcohol and Athletic Performance. University of Notre Dame; 2004.
  • J Am Acad Dermatol 43(1 Pt 1):1-16.

Sleep – a Critical Component to Sports Performance

Years ago hitting the gym and throwing around some steel was considered the most critical aspect of sports performance training. However, in more recent years a more comprehensive model of performance has developed based on decades of research on nutrition, sleep, psychology and several other critical components of an athlete’s training regimen. As a sports dietitian with an Exercise Science degree and CSCS, I focus mainly on food & supplements though I sometimes discuss training. But lately I’ve found that I’m also talking about the importance of sleep with my athletes. This topic comes up once I realize they are too tired to plan and prepare their food. Days of sleep deprivation also leads to poor food choices. If an athlete is tired and hungry, caring about good nutrition will be thrown on the back burner while finding food fast becomes the main priority. Quick and cheap turns into a double cheeseburger with fries. And, aside from failing to implement all aspects of their nutrition plan, skimping on sleep also interferes with an athlete’s training and performance. Studies show chronic sleep deprivation leads to:

  • decreased sub max and maximal lifts in the weight room
  • delayed visual and auditory reaction time
  • slowed decision making
  • impaired motor functioning
  • reduced endurance
  • increased fatigue, decreased energy
  • exercise feels harder than it normally is (increased rating of perceived exertion)
  • less efficient glucose metabolism
  • reduced leptin and increased ghrelin
  • decreased growth hormone secretion
  • increased risk of injury
  • elevated cortisol levels which may interfere with tissue repair and growth
  • impaired insulin sensitivity in fat cells = more fat in your bloodstream (over time this may contribute to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease).
  • decreased production of leptin, a protein produced in fat cells that tells your brain you have enough energy (fat) stored away so there’s no need to gorge yourself on food. Low leptin = you get hungry and eat.

According to research presented by Cheri Mah,a Stanford University sleep expert:

  • one night without sleep is the equivalent of being legally intoxicated
  • 4-5 hours of sleep for 4 days = 24 hours awake = legally intoxicated
  • 4-5 hours for 10 days = 48 hours awake

Mah’s 8 Strategies to Improve Sleep and Recovery:

  1. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. Athletes need 8-10 hours of sleep (and getting in bed at 10 and waking up at 6 doesn’t mean you are getting a full 8 hours since it takes a while to actually fall asleep).
  2. Establish a consistent sleep schedule.
  3. Sleep like a caveman. It should be dark, quiet and cool. All electronics should be off and silent (or program in numbers for emergency calls only and set your phone for these emergency calls). All small lights on electronics should be covered up as these can interfere with sound sleep.
  4. Adults should only sleep when tired. If unable to sleep after 45 minutes, it is wise to get up and do a non-stimulating activity for 15 minutes (reading) then return to bed.
  5. Establish a 20-30 min routine before bed that includes non-stimulating activity. No computers, TVs or video games.
  6. Refrain from alcohol which impairs your sleep quality and fragments sleep preventing the deep sleep that is so critical for recovery (this is why people complain of being exhausted the day after they drink).
  7. Avoid heavy food, any foods that could cause heartburn, spicy foods etc.
  8. Take 20-30 minute power naps and pre-game naps (unless these interfere with the ability to sleep at night). Mah has found this improved alertness by 54%, improved performance by 34%

Matthew Edlund, M.D. takes it even further with the notion of morning people performing better during the day, night owls performing better at night, and both having to combat jet lag (each 1 hour time zone change takes a person 1 day to adjust; this is why West Coast teams beat East Coast NFL teams on Monday Nights). Check out Edlund’s article here. Sleep affects several aspects of training and performance (as well as body weight). Any athlete who wants to feel their best and reach peak performance should take a comprehensive approach to training which includes sound sleep habits.

Is Stress Making You Fat?

Short-term stress is good and prepares our bodies to respond to physical, emotional and psychological stress. However, long-term chronic stress has many negative effects on our bodies.

You may have heard that stress interrupts our sleep patterns, which is true. In addition to needing sleep so we feel refreshed and can think clearly, we need 7-9 hours of sound sleep a night to maintain a healthy weight. How? Sleep influences our body’s production of hormones, which influence our appetite (leptin and ghrelin).

Ghrelin is produced in the GI tract and stimulates appetite whereas leptin is produced in fat cells and tells our brain we’ve had enough to eat. Sleep less and leptin levels go down so we keep eating and eating but don’t feel satiated (full). And, like a double edged wammy, ghrelin levels rise so your appetite really kicks into full gear.  And at least one study found that men who slept less than 8 hours a night had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin and higher body fat than those men who slept 8 hours or more per night. And, the men who slept the least weighed the most.

Aside from it’s affects on sleep, chronic stress hurts our waistline in other ways as well:

  • Triggers the constant release of cortisol, which keeps our blood sugar levels high so we have fuel to fight against stress.
  • Stimulates appetite
  • Stimulates the production of fat
  • Stimulates the enzyme lipoprotein lipase which inhibits the breakdown of fat in our body
  • Contributes to apathy, anxiety and depression. And, when we are more apathetic we don’t care what we eat. Call it soothing the soul, comfort foods or just increasing your levels of the feel good hormone serotonin through a high carb diet, this type of eating can pack on the pounds.

So, how can you de-stress? Find the root cause of your stress first and see what you can do about it. Meditate, try yoga or Tai chi. And, whatever you do, find something else to do to calm your nerves besides eating.