Nighttime Nutrition for Athletes

 

 Posted by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
Cottage cheese or yogurt make great bedtime snacks

The right snacks at bedtime help athletes recover and also perform at their best the next day.

Most highly active people are pretty good about keeping tabs on their nutrient intake during the day. They’ll plan out their meals and snacks, and what they’ll be eating before their workout and afterwards for recovery. But if athletes aren’t snacking at bedtime, they might be missing out on an opportunity to optimize their nutrition.

 When you’re asleep, your body doesn’t generally have any nutrients coming in (unless you’re one of those fanatical athletes who schedules during-the-night feedings). This means that if you can supply your body with the right nutrients before you nod off, it could help your body recover, help reduce muscle soreness and help you get ready to train the next day.

Most athletes can benefit from nighttime snacking

 Protein is the usual target for nighttime snacking, particularly for strength athletes. While the total amount of protein eaten over the course of the day is key, the timing of when that protein is eaten is also important when it comes to maximizing muscle development. Most strength athletes know that protein is important after a workout, but may not realize that a dose of protein at bedtime can help them optimize protein intake and muscle development.

During sleep, muscle tissues are in repair mode and rely on a steady supply of amino acids in the bloodstream to support muscle protein synthesis. One of the best sources of protein to take in at bedtime is casein – one of the two major proteins (along with whey) in milk and milk products.

Whey raises blood levels of amino acids faster and earlier than casein, which is why whey is the go-to protein after a workout to get the recovery process started.  But casein digests more slowly than whey – taking about 6 to 7 hours to digest – which means that it delivers an overnight supply of amino acids that can assist with muscle repair and growth.

For this reason, milk and milk products make great bedtime snacks – cottage cheese or yogurt, for instance – as do specially formulated casein-rich protein powders that can be made into a smoothie.

While nighttime protein snacking is most often associated with strength athletes, endurance athletes may benefit, too. That’s because protein supports many different functions beyond just muscle growth and repair. Dietary protein supplies the body with the amino acid building blocks the body uses to produce important body proteins such as hormones, and enzymes that help your body convert food into energy.

Carbs at night can help athletes, too

Some carbohydrates at nighttime can be beneficial for athletes, too. For an endurance athlete competing in an early morning event, a balanced snack of protein and carbohydrates at bedtime can help to support muscle repair overnight, but it will also bolster carbohydrate stores for the next day. And for athletes of all types who train or have competitions late in the evening, a balanced bedtime snack can serve as a recovery meal.

Some athletes are concerned about eating before bedtime, under the false assumption that this will somehow affect body fat breakdown during sleep and impede their progress towards becoming more lean. But as long as caloric balance is maintained, taking in supplemental protein or carbohydrate in athletes shouldn’t lead to weight gain. And for those athletes who are trying to gain weight, a balanced bedtime snack is a great time to sneak in some extra nutrition and calories.

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