It's a strategy everyone's talked about for years, but no one was sure exactly how well it worked and whether there were any drawbacks.
We all kinda-sorta know that having a protein shake before we go to bed is a good muscle-growing strategy, but it's still satisfying to read a new scientific paper that says we're not just right, but really right. It makes us feel smart. It proves we weren't kicked in the head by no horse.
And it's particularly satisfying when that paper is a big lollapalooza review that looked at 45 papers on the subject and managed to draw some conclusions on how to best use the protein-drink-at-night strategy.
All Muscle, No Fat
Tim Snijders, the lead author of the review, is no stranger to research on the subject of resistance training and beddy-bye protein ingestion. In 2015, he and his team found that lifters who drank 27.5 grams of protein (13.75 grams of casein and 13.75 grams of casein hydrolysate) before bed gained about 4 more pounds of additional muscle than a control group over a 12-week period.
That's damn impressive, and when he recently looked at the bulk of the papers on the subject, most of them agreed that drinking protein before bed increased muscle protein synthesis (MPS) dramatically without leading to any increases in fat.
"All protein that is ingested prior to sleep is used for protein synthesis," explained Snijders. "When exercise is performed earlier that evening, a large part of ingested protein is directed to muscle protein synthesis and is not stored."
It is true, however, that some of the studies he looked at didn't show much or even any additional muscle protein synthesis overnight, but the researchers involved in those studies might have used insufficient amounts of protein, a protein that had rotten biologic value (BV), or a resistance program more suited to sarcopenic poodles than bodybuilders or strength athletes.
Any Red Flags Pop Up in These Studies?
You have to wonder, when looking at the studies, whether there's something special about ingesting protein before bed or it's simply a matter of an increase in total protein intake. Here's what Snijders thought about it:
"...these data suggest that the protein ingested during every meal signifies an distinctive opportunity to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and that subsequent rises in post-prandial muscle protein synthesis to each meal may be additive. This is relevant for the athletic population who usually consume more than 1.2 g protein kg bodyweight-1 day-1, with the majority of protein ingested during the three main meals, and only a small amount of protein ingested as an evening snack.
"Despite the relatively high amount of protein ingested earlier in the day, pre-sleep protein ingestion would presumably still provide an anabolic stimulus on overnight muscle protein synthesis rates, thereby enhancing daily muscle tissue re-conditioning."
Another possible question arises from the timing of the resistance training. In some of the studies where they found a positive association between bedtime protein and additional muscle protein synthesis, the resistance training took place in the evening between 8:00 and 9:00 PM or between 9:00 and 10:00 PM.
That's promising for lifters who hit the gym in the evening, but what about lifters who work out in the morning or late afternoon? While the answers aren't yet clear, my guess is that the late afternoon trainers would still be in their anabolic "window" at bedtime and would still benefit from drinking some additional protein before hitting the sack.
Morning trainees would also benefit from late night protein in general, but whether they'd enjoy the same dramatic increases in MPS is unknown (they might simply benefit from adding to their total protein intake rather than a time-sensitive increase in MPS).
If you do train in the morning, you could try a little experiment. Save some or all of your arm training for the evening for when you're watching videos. Pull out a pair of dumbbells and maybe do a German Volume Training program, or maybe a few sets of Paul Carter's 10-6-10 training.
Then, drink your bedtime protein and observe what, if anything, happens to your arms over the course of several weeks.
How to Use This Info
If you're not already doing so, definitely start drinking a high-quality casein shake before bed. Most of the studies used casein, probably because it's a slower-digesting protein, so it's not known how well other proteins would fare in similar circumstances.
When? Between 10 and 30 minutes before retiring.
How much? Up to 60 grams, but the average sweet spot seems to be around 30 grams.
- Tim Snijders, et al. "Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men," The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 145, Issue 6, 1 June 2015.
- Tim Snijders, et al. "The Impact of Pre-sleep Protein Ingestion on the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise in Humans: An Update," Frontiers in Nutrition, 06 March, 2019.