For the longest time we’ve been told not to eat at night. But according to research, having a protein-rich snack prior to going to sleep may offer benefits. In this article we uncover ‘why’ you may want to go ahead and have that bedtime snack.

Protein before bed is especially important for active women

According to a study conducted by Florida State University, the benefits of a night-time, high-protein snack far outweigh the costs; particularly in women who lift weights. “There are no differences in overnight local belly fat metabolism or whole-body fat burn, whether you consume protein in the form of a shake during the day, post-workout or at night pre-sleep,” said Allman. “So, essentially, you can eat protein before bed and not disturb fat metabolism.”

Allman hopes this study along with further investigations will help demystify the science of women’s nighttime eating and clear away harmful, unfounded beliefs.

“There are such bad misconceptions about eating at night, that it will ‘make me gain weight’ or ‘slow my metabolism,’ she said. This really only holds true if you’re eating a ton of calories and they are carbohydrate and/or fat-laden. There are so many potential beneficial effects of eating protein at night.”

A scoop of protein before bed builds muscle and increases strength

In other studies, researchers have found that a scoop of protein powder before bed increases muscle protein synthesis.

Snijders’ 2015 study is the most compelling demonstration of this to date. The researchers put 44 healthy, young men on a 12-week lifting program. Half were given a nightly pre-sleep protein shake with 30 g of casein protein and 15 g of carbs. The other group was given an energy-free drink. Both groups ended up with impressive results, but those who consumed protein before bed gained significantly more muscle strength and size. 

With that said, some scientists remain skeptical. They say the results have more to do with an increase in total protein consumption over the course of the day.

Protein shake or protein meal before bed?
Cottage Cheese was used in the study as a bedtime snack

Furthermore, a separate study conducted by Florida State University in 2018 and published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that consuming 30 grams of protein 30 minutes before bed could have a positive effect on muscle quality, metabolism and overall health. The researchers also found there was no increase in body fat when eating protein at night.

The study participants — who were active young women in their early 20s — ate samples of cottage cheese 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Researchers also wanted to know if specific foods would make an impact on metabolic rate and muscle recovery.

They found that the common denominator in achieving such results was simply adding in extra protein before bed. Therefore, it appears as though you can eat a high protein food (such as cottage cheese), or drink a protein-rich shake and reap similar benefits.

Researchers say they hope to do further studies on the ‘best foods’ to consume before bed when it comes to enhancing recovery, repair and regeneration of muscle, along with improving overall health. 

And when it comes to burning fat, ‘pre-bed protein’ could actually give you a leg up. In a separate study, 11 young active men were given a pre-sleep casein shake. The findings showed an increase in the rate of fat-burning the following day. Reason being: casein ingestion has been proven to reduce the insulin response to subsequent meals, encouraging the body to use more fat as fuel.

The benefits of night-time protein go beyond muscle-building

Furthermore, scientists say we should also consider the thermogenic effect of protein as a fat loss strategy. Basically, the body requires energy to breakdown protein, which means we burn more calories just by eating it! As one of the three main macronutrients, protein is a key component when trying to build and/or sustain lean muscle mass. We also know that the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolic rate should be. This means you should be able to tolerate more calories than someone who doesn’t have as much muscle. Lastly, since protein is so satiating, you are less likely to overeat other calorie-laden foods by including it in every meal.

Based on the results of the studies, we know that pre-bed protein definitely won’t make you gain weight (at least not body fat). In fact, it appears to increase overall fat metabolism. And consuming it before bed doesn’t seem to affect quality of sleep, which means you can have it late at night and still reap the many benefits it provides during night-time rest.

Lastly, if you often feel like eating in the evening, a protein snack before bed may help to curb those cravings and suppress your appetite so that you can achieve your health and fitness goals without sabotaging your efforts in the gym.

So go ahead and include a protein night cap as part of your bedtime ritual!

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