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Protein before bed

Pre bedtime nutrition
Do you need to have protein before you go to bed? This protein before bed article will hopefully answer that question as well as add some useful information to help you understand more about your protein requirements.

No matter what your goals are, whether that be muscle gain, weight gain or weight lose, protein is a major factor for all three.

It is also important however to realise that nutrition isn’t a 24 hour cycle and that much of what you eat at a given time can still be stored and ready for use for many hours or even days. How much protein you need over a 24 hour period will be down to your goals, your body type, activity level and current calorie requirements. You need to know what your goals are, your body type and activity level. All can be read about in my nutrition section. The percentage of your protein intake can then be divided into meal times that best suits you and your schedule, including a pre-bed time meal if necessary.

Why your body needs protein

In order for your body to have the ability to repair and grow you must supply it with the building blocks called amino acids and stay in a positive nitrogen balance. Positive nitrogen balance means you are in a state of being able to repair and grow and recover from a workout or the stresses placed on your body that it has gone through throughout that day or even the previous days. More on protein in general here.

Bedtime protein

When you sleep you are not taking in any nutrients for the period you are sleeping, therefore your body will find it hard to stay in a positive nitrogen balance. To counter this we need to supply the body with protein pre-bed time. The type of protein would also ideally need to be slow digesting to supply a more constant supply of amino acids to the body over the period of time you are asleep.

The benefits of taking protein pre-bed are that you get amino acids to help repair and build your body. It is when you sleep that these processes occur. Digesting protein also has a small thermic effect and will also give a small increase in your metabolic rate. Also if you are consuming more protein in place of carbohydrates and fat, the fact that it does use more energy to consume than the other macros may help some to lose body fat. Not to mention that being able to build more muscle has the added benefit of helping you burn more calories just by having more muscle mass.

Protein powders

The supplement industry is worth billions in any currency and protein powders are possibly the most popular of all the supplements. Whether you are better off using powders or food is up for debate and I won’t be covering that here. I personally do use protein powders, but mostly for convenience, although whole foods is always the better choice if you do enough shopping trips to get your food, I’m just too busy and lazy to go shopping more than once a week. I’m not going to really say more on that part of the subject, following are the two types of protein powders I’ll be mentioning, but I have also covered below some non supplement alternatives. (Always buy your supplements from a reputable company).

Whey vs. Casein

Whey powder

The ever popular whey protein is a by-product of cheese making. It is found in milk and makes up 20% of the protein found in it. It contains high quality protein, which can be easily digested quickly by the body, increase your metabolic rate and is often used by trainers post workout for that reason. However when you are sleeping you do not want a quick acting protein. You want a slow acting protein to slowly release amino acids in to the blood stream over a period of time.

Casein powder

This is another protein that is found in milk. In fact the protein in milk is 80% casein. It digests much slower than whey protein and therefore will release a steady supply of amino acids when asleep and can help counter act muscle protein breakdown later on in the night/early morning. It has become popular as a pre-bed time protein supplement. Casein protein also has a lower insulin response due to its slow release and digestion rate and therefore could encourage more body fat being used during your sleep.

Combining whey and casein before bed

As mentioned whey is a fast digesting protein and not really what you want before bed. However you can combine it with casein which will slow the absorption down a little and even add a fat source to help (see below). However in reality there is no real benefit to taking whey before bed over casein only. Combining at other times of the day however can give you the benefit of a steady amount of protein pretty much from the start of taking it and for a good period of time thereafter.

Adding protein powder to water or milk

Milk already has casein and whey in it, so adding a smaller scoop of a protein powder can work well. If you prefer, like I do, I just add my powders to water. Just remember that some powders and additional milk can add more calories if you are trying to lose weight.

Side effects of some protein powders

Some people can suffer from side effects and have an allergic reaction at various levels, which can include diarrhoea, bloating, stomach upset, gas and being sick. Read all labels and start with a small amount to see if you can tolerate it first.

Alternatives to protein powders

Despite casein powder becoming popular more recently, people have been drinking and eating casein rich foods for a long time. Those foods include milk, cottage cheese, quark, natural and Greek yogurt.

For those not wanting a dairy protein source, then choosing any combination of other protein sources such as lean red meats, poultry, eggs, oily fish, various soy protein sources or nuts and seeds can also provide you with a good supply of amino acids before going to bed.

Adding fat to your bedtime meal

For those looking to slow down your protein digesting even more, you can add some healthy fats with something like natural peanut butter or flaxseed. It is also great for those that are underweight or looking to pack on some serious muscle mass.

My favourite addition to any casein I take at night is, natural peanut butter. There are many benefits of adding natural peanut butter. Firstly no matter what your goals are, your body needs fat for its health. Feeding it healthy fat will provide the nutrients for a healthy heart and lower bad cholesterol. Natural peanut butter is ideal as it has a high monounsaturated content, fibre and protein and taken at night will stop you feeling hungry. It has also been recommend for those looking to lose body fat, due to the way it can make you feel full. Just don’t go overboard with your portion size and watch for the added calories.

Try adding flaxseed to yogurt or natural peanut butter to cottage cheese if you prefer whole foods only.

Protein and sleep

Does the intake of a pre bedtime meal especially a protein based meal help you sleep? Some will benefit from it, as protein contains the amino acid tryptophan, which with the B vitamin niacin will produce serotonin which is a hormone that helps with sleep and your mood. For more about sleep please see here and for hormones here.


I want to finish off by saying that while it may be beneficial to take a slow digesting protein meal/shake before bed, the most important thing is the overall protein intake you are consuming during the day. Supplementation or optimising your nutrition for maximum gains in muscle needs to be carried out once you have your total nutrition plan in place. You also need to watch your total calorie intake if your goal is to lose body fat. So sort your total nutrition plan out and include a pre-bed protein meal in it, to help repair and grow your body while you sleep.