It’s night-time and your relaxing on the couch preparing to hit the sack after a long day at the office and an awesome workout session. You notice your stomach growling from hunger. What do you do? Do you eat or fight the hunger?
If you were to ask me I’d tell you to eat.
Eating a pre-bed time snack is particularly important for optimizing muscle growth and recovery – especially if you’ve exercised earlier in the day. And the evidence suggests likewise.
In previous posts, I’ve emphasized not only on eating healthily, but eating smart too. With a late night snack, you have to make more informed decisions on the types of food you eat, while being healthy of course.
The key to a well thought-out snack is to include a source of protein. I’ve provided several examples shown on the infographic. The underlying theme within all the foods present is that they contain a high quality and quantity of protein. And that’s what you have to make sure of when picking the right protein source.
Studies have demonstrated our body’s ability to continue digesting food, particularly protein, as we are asleep. Knowing this, consuming protein at night deems a great strategy to avoid muscle breakdown that may otherwise occur during an over-night fast (i.e. sleeping). It’s also an excellent way to enhance muscle growth and recovery through stimulating the synthesis of new protein.
The dairy options have an advantage over the others such that they contain a mixture of both whey and casein protein. Casein protein, in particular, should be your preferred source of protein source at night. It’s a slow digesting protein, meaning your muscles will absorb the amino acids at a gradual rate and allow you to sustain the night with a constant flush of protein, thereby creating a positive protein balance (when muscle protein synthesis outweighs muscle protein breakdown). You can buy the actual supplement, or eat cottage cheese, which is an excellent source of casein protein.
Of course, this is not to mention that whey protein doesn’t create a positive protein balance or aid with muscle growth and recovery – it’s just absorbed at a faster rate. This is why whey is preferable to consume pre and post workout rather than at night – but it will still do the job!
In terms of portion sizes, I’d recommend the following quantities for each snack:
Milk: 1 glass
Cottage Cheese: ½ – 1 cup
Yogurt: ½ cup
Peanut Butter: 2 teaspoons
Almonds: 5-8 pieces
Casein Protein: 1 scoop (with water or milk)
Anyway, your stomach growling is a late-night call from your body for some food. Fight the feeling if you’re trying to reduce your daily caloric intake or haven’t worked out during the day. If you did workout though, and are planning to workout the following day, I highly recommend eating a high protein snack prior to sleeping. The protein will not be stored as fat and you’ll only be doing your muscles a favor.