Protein is a vital nutrient involved in the muscle-building process. You may have also heard that eating right before bedtime can lead to unwanted weight gain and so should be avoided. However, that’s not always the case. If you’re looking to build and maintain lean muscle mass as part of a consistent resistance training program, drinking the right type of protein before you go to bed is a critical part of the equation.
As you sleep, your body steadily gets closer to a catabolic state. This is the process of your body utilizing vital protein and amino acids – the building blocks of protein – as energy. This process is counterproductive if you’re looking to build muscle. Eating right before bedtime can help to slow down this process by making sure your body is properly fed throughout the seven or more hours you sleep.
Drinking just any type of protein shake before going to bed won’t do the trick. A fast-absorbing protein, such as whey, will promote protein synthesis – the muscle-building process – for only a short period of time. The solution is to choose a slow-absorbing protein, such as casein, that will help to maintain steady levels of amino acids in your bloodstream. According to Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D., R.D., casein can help to boost the protein synthesis process for up to seven or more hours while you sleep if it is consumed just before bedtime.
The exact amount of casein protein that is ideal for your pre-bedtime snack varies depending upon your body weight. Bodybuilding professional John Berardi believes that 30 g of casein protein is usually ideal. He says this amount can keep your blood amino acid levels elevated for more than seven hours. However, it’s important to factor in your pre-bedtime protein shake with your total protein intake for the day. Exceeding your protein needs can lead to unwanted weight gain due to the increased calorie intake. Berardi suggests consuming about 1 g of protein per pound of body weight if you’re actively working out and trying to build lean muscle mass. Divide your total protein intake equally among each of your meals – 20 g to 30 g per meal is usually idea.
When Protein Isn't OK
A protein shake before bedtime isn’t right for everyone. If you’re not lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance training on a regular basis, a nighttime protein shake will only lead to weight gain in the form of fat. A single gram of protein contains about four calories, so a 30 g protein shake will contain at least 120 calories, and these calories can add up fast. Additionally, you should check with your doctor before taking any protein supplement, since they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.