guest blog by: Michael J. Ormsbee, Lillie Renteria, and Casey Greenwalt.
Most people believe eating before sleep makes you accumulate fat because you are resting for multiple hours after you eat. However, research suggests this to be untrue with pre-sleep protein consumption.
Why protein presleep?
Protein consumption is important to facilitate protein synthesis, promote lean muscle growth, improve strength, recover from exercise, as well as maintain and improve metabolic and structural health. There is evidence now that the average person should consume at least 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg), while athletes should consume closer to 2g/kg. Adequate protein consumption also promotes increased satiety, leading to a reduction in over-eating tendencies. Additionally, protein consumption before bed has been found to decrease next-morning hunger.
What type of protein should I eat before bed?
Realistically, it comes down to dietary preference. Most of the literature, however, suggests that whey or casein proteins are most effective due to their amino acids profile, including a high leucine content (the amino acid that is thought to “trigger” muscle growth). These proteins are also popular due to their ease of digestion, and bioavailability. Importantly, most plant-based proteins lack adequate amounts of leucine, so a greater volume of plant-based protein is likely required to elicit the same response to a lower volume of animal-based protein. Most presleep protein research uses casein (whey comes in at a close second), however, recent literature suggests no difference in muscle recovery after presleep consumption of dairy- or plant-based proteins (rice/pea combination), so long as enough of each is consumed.
Who is presleep protein helpful for?
The recommended amount of protein, particularly for athletes, can be difficult to achieve throughout the day, which is where presleep protein consumption can become beneficial. The target dosage of presleep protein is 40g, which will certainly help athletes attain their daily protein goals with greater ease. This is also true for the general population to help support healthy muscle and body composition. Presleep protein consumption favors many beneficial processes, such as improved muscle protein synthesis, recovery from exercise, and increased lean muscle mass, especially when exercise is also performed in the evening (as opposed to in the morning).
Presleep protein does not result in fat gain
Data from men and women indicate that protein presleep does not change overnight fat metabolism. When research participants consumed either casein protein or a non-caloric placebo, there was zero difference in the overnight fuel use or energy expenditure, or the amount of fat liberated from the fat cell measured with a technique called microdialysis. This may be a big surprise to you as it is often though that eating before bed will inhibit fat metabolism. It turns out that protein, taken presleep, does not blunt fat metabolism and may even help improve body composition over time.
Take home message
Presleep protein consumption is helpful with assisting individuals in achieving their daily protein intake goals. This additional protein consumption at night achieves the same benefits of protein intake during the day including increased protein synthesis, increased lean mass, and improved muscular recovery, particularly when exercise is also completed in the evening. Contrary to popular belief, these additional calories before sleep do not have a negative effect on fat metabolism while sleeping, nor next morning resting metabolic rate.
Schattinger CM, Leonard JT, Pappas CL, Ormsbee MJ, Panton LB. The effects of pre-sleep consumption of casein protein on next-morning measures of RMR and appetite compared between sedentary pre- and postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 2021 Jan 28;125(2):121-128. doi: 10.1017/S0007114520001506. Epub 2020 May 4. PMID: 32364091.
Saracino PG, Saylor HE, Hanna BR, Hickner RC, Kim JS, Ormsbee MJ. Effects of Pre-Sleep Whey vs. Plant-Based Protein Consumption on Muscle Recovery Following Damaging Morning Exercise. Nutrients. 2020;12(7):2049, 2020.
Allman BR, Morrissey MC, Kim JS, Panton LB, Contreras RJ, Hickner RC, Ormsbee MJ. Lipolysis and Fat Oxidation Are Not Altered with Presleep Compared with Daytime Casein Protein Intake in Resistance-Trained Women. J Nutr. 1;150(1):47-54, 2020.
Ormsbee MJ, Kinsey AW, Eddy WR, Madzima TA, Arciero PJ, Figueroa A, Panton LB. The influence of nighttime feeding of carbohydrate or protein combined with exercise training on appetite and cardiometabolic risk in young obese women. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 40(1):37-45, 2015
Kinsey AW, Ormsbee MJ. The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients. 9;7(4):2648-62, 2015.
Kinsey AW, Cappadona SR, Panton LB, Allman BR, Contreras RJ, Hickner RC, Ormsbee MJ. The Effect of Casein Protein Prior to Sleep on Fat Metabolism in Obese Men. Nutrients. 27;8(8):452, 2016.
Snijders T, Trommelen J, Kouw IWK, Holwerda AM, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJC. The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update. Front Nutr. 6;6:17, 2019.
Snijders T, Res PT, Smeets JS, van Vliet S, van Kranenburg J, Maase K, Kies AK, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. J Nutr. 145(6):1178-84, 2015.