The Benefits of Having a Protein Shake Before Bed

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Protein shakes remain one of the most popular health supplements among active adults, athletes, and bodybuilders. Many Americans believe they can help with weight loss, building muscle, and health improvement. Shakes using protein powder have become a convenient breakfast drink and often consumed after a hard workout for muscle repair.

The American diet can easily meet protein requirements without including protein shakes, but we live in a society that believes more is better. Certain medical conditions may require protein supplementation but this represents only a small percentage. Calculating individual protein needs is recommended for optimal health and fitness.

If you’re going to drink protein shakes, it makes sense to consume them when they may provide the greatest potential benefits. Post workout protein supplementation has been considered the most common and best method to refuel and optimize muscle growth. However, current research indicates drinking a protein shake before bed may provide increased health benefits.

Research on Positive Effects

Several studies indicate a positive benefit in consuming protein supplements before bed, especially for increased muscle protein synthesis. Some athletes have adopted a nutritional strategy of consuming a protein shake before sleep to help prevent muscle breakdown.

One study examined how protein consumed before bed is better absorbed in older men who exercise at night. The participants included 23 older, healthy men who exercised at night and later consumed 40 grams of protein before bed. Muscle protein synthesis (growth) was increased and more dietary amino acids were reported in the muscle tissue. It was suggested dietary protein ingestion before sleep could be used as a nutritional strategy to compensate for anabolic resistance.

Other research examined how protein ingestion before sleep may increase muscle growth in healthy older men. Loss of skeletal muscle mass with aging has been attributed to the blunted anabolic response to protein intake. Study participants included 48 healthy, older men who consumed either 40 grams of protein, 20 grams of protein, or a placebo before bed. Those men taking 40 grams of protein showed the best results of increased muscle protein synthesis rates and amino acids. These findings provide the scientific basis for a novel nutritional strategy to support muscle mass preservation in aging and disease.

Another study assessed how protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Participants included 16 healthy young males who performed a single bout of resistance-type exercise in the evening. The men consumed either 40g protein or placebo before going to bed. The protein was shown to be effectively digested, absorbed, and increased whole-body protein synthesis rates compared to placebo. Results also indicated a positive protein balance essential for muscle growth.

Research published in the Journal of Nutrition assessed the impact of dietary protein supplementation before sleep on muscle mass and strength gains during resistance-type exercise training. Participants included 44 young, healthy men who performed resistance training three times per week for a 12-week period. The volunteers consumed a supplement drink containing 27.5 grams of protein and 15 grams of carbohydrate or placebo before bed.

Protein supplementation before bed increased gains in muscle mass and strength better than a placebo.

Other research showed protein consumption before bed may improve skeletal muscle following resistance-type exercise. The study suggested at least 40 grams of dietary protein should be consumed prior to sleep to elicit a robust stimulation of muscle protein synthesis rates throughout the night. Research findings indicated pre-sleep protein supplementation as an effective nutritional strategy to further increase gains in muscle mass and strength.

Effects on Weight Loss

Having a protein shake before bed could promote weight loss, but total caloric intake should be considered. Your body sees food as calories and eating over the amount you require daily can lead to weight gain. This means how you supplement with protein shakes is important.

Protein shakes will add calories to your normal daily total. If you want to supplement with protein as a way to help you lose weight, be sure to adjust your calorie intake for the rest of the day.

If you’re on track with your caloric intake including a protein shake, drinking it at night could have advantages. Protein is shown to boost your metabolism and stimulate muscle growth. Increasing your metabolism speeds up the rate you burn calories and is shown to help with weight loss.

It appears the amount of protein consumed at night can make a difference. Recent studies suggest consuming 40 grams of protein before bed is recommended to best stimulate muscle protein synthesis (growth) rates during sleep. That’s a lot of protein and potentially added calories.

Drinking 40 grams of protein at night equals 160 calories (4 calories per gram of protein) if mixed with water. Protein shakes blended with fruits, nut butter, and milk could easily equate to 300 calories or more.

If you’re consuming 1800 calories daily, for example, subtracting between 160 to 300 calories from that total may be necessary if you plan to drink a protein shake before bed. This would enable you to stay on track with daily caloric intake while promoting weight loss and muscle growth.

According to Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, CPT, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Media Spokesperson, consuming a protein shake at night may have a positive benefit for athletes based on a small study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Unfortunately, this study is very small with 11 participants and results can’t be compared to the general population. Young, healthy men have higher energy needs than the general population and adding a 140-150 calorie protein shake in addition to a meal for the average person could result in weight gain says Majumdar.

Protein shakes are shown to be beneficial for individuals trying to lose weight when used as a meal replacement , but not necessarily at night. They help control the portion of the meal and are convenient and can even help individuals prevent skipping a meal.

Majumdar recommends someone drink a protein shake before bed in the case that they didn't have dinner or find they are hungry after dinner. Using a shake in place of another type of meal or snack in that situation may help prevent grazing or overeating before bed.

Although protein shakes could help with weight loss, the bottom line is to watch your total caloric intake if planning to consume them before bed.

Effects on Muscle Growth

Protein intake is essential for stimulating muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and growth. Performing hard workouts may require even more protein in your diet. Drinking protein shakes remains a popular way for active adults and athletes to get their protein and refuel muscles after exercise.

Consuming protein helps keep your body in muscle protein balance. Protein contains essential amino acids important for this process. When your body is lacking amino acids from periods of not eating or oxidative stress caused by exercise, it causes a negative shift. Drinking a protein shake can help bring your body back into a positive balance necessary for optimal muscle growth.

The body is in a constant cycle of amino acid depletion and feeding and depends on nutrient availability to remain in balance. This means it’s up to you to consume the right amount of protein to maintain a balanced environment for building muscle.

If an athlete doesn’t consume enough energy for the day, muscle growth and repair will not occur and the body will break down muscle tissue as fuel.

Nutrition expert Melissa Majumdar indicates taking protein supplements is one way active individuals can meet energy and protein requirements. Consuming an additional 30 grams of protein or carbohydrate is shown to be helpful to avoid that catabolic state.

Post workout shakes are commonplace to maintain positive muscle protein balance and shown to be helpful. Majumdar suggests protein sources can also come from food instead of supplementation. For example, 30 grams of protein could also be a four-ounce piece of chicken or fish , 1.5 cups of cottage cheese, or a 10-ounce serving of Greek yogurt.

Effects on Performance

Consuming a protein shake at night may improve athletic performance. Research is discovering ways to regulate muscle protein metabolism during sleep by consuming protein before bed. According to studies, protein supplementation before sleep further enhances muscle growth and strength. Results also indicated an improved skeletal muscle adaptive response to exercise training. The following clinical findings have been reported:

  • Enhanced overnight muscle reconditioning
  • Improved strength during workouts
  • Increased lean mass
  • Ability to exercise longer
  • Improved muscle adaption to exercise training

Types to Drink

Protein sources differ in how they stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This means the type of protein consumed before bed is important for best results. Most of the research has used casein protein for participants. Casein is a slowly digested protein source allowing for a slow release and increase of amino acids throughout the night.

Effects on Sleep

Drinking a protein shake before bed may disturb your sleep, depending on the protein type. The simple sugars in a liquid protein supplement could cause a surge of energy (as well as weight gain and increased fat stores). Most of the research cited above used a slowly digested protein. Consuming the right protein source stimulated muscle protein synthesis without impairing sleep cycles.

Whey protein is a more rapidly digested protein. It has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis rates better, but for a shorter period of time compared to casein. This is why whey protein is used most often post workout vs. pre-sleep.

Research also indicates a variety of high-quality animal-based protein sources can also increase overnight muscle protein synthesis rates. Some people prefer to eat their protein and it’s nice to have the option of both. The following are considered quality animal protein sources:

  • Cooked eggs
  • Low-fat milk
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Chicken breast
  • Lean steak

Recommended Composition

According to Majumdar, athletes who find it difficult to eat solid foods after a workout may benefit from a liquid supplement, especially if that falls at night. If a long or difficult workout changes the athlete's appetite, drinking a liquid supplement would help with recovery, especially compared to not eating.

Majumdar recommends a balanced supplement in a 4:1 ratio of carbs and protein. Protein shakes differ a lot in macronutrient composition and should be chosen based on an individual's needs.

  • If you're trying to gain weight, look for a higher calorie shake.
  • If you're an athlete, look for a mid-calorie shake with a balance of carbohydrates and protein.
  • If you're trying to lose weight, you may want a lower-calorie, lower-sugar protein shake.

It's often beneficial for athletes to use a combination of protein and carbohydrates for recovery, glycogen repletion, and repair. The protein is used for muscle repair and the carbohydrate is used to restore glycogen, so they work together. This combination of macronutrients is usually more satisfying as well.

Majumdar suggests solid foods can often be more satiating than a liquid supplement because they digest slower. Also, adding additional fiber sources such as fruits, vegetables, and/or beans can be satisfying and slow digestion even more.

A Word From Verywell

There is enough evidence to support the importance of protein intake for muscle growth. Honestly, most of us satisfy our daily requirement through diet. Drinking a protein supplement at night can be helpful to promote weight loss if total calories are taken into consideration. Using protein shakes as a nutritional strategy to increase muscle growth and strength could be beneficial with the right type of protein source. There is also the option to eat your protein before bed with quality animal-based protein sources. Whatever you decide about protein shakes remains a personal choice but it’s important to supplement smart if using them before bed.

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Article Sources

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Additional Reading

  • Holwerda AM et al., Physical Activity Performed in the Evening Increases the Overnight Muscle Protein Synthetic Response to Presleep Protein Ingestion in Older Men, The Journal of Nutrition, 2016

  • Kouw IW et al., Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Overnight Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates in Healthy Older Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial, The Journal of Nutrition, 2017

  • Res PT et al., Protein ingestion before sleep improves post exercise overnight recovery, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 2012

  • Snijders T, 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, 2015

  • Trommelen J, van Loon LJC, Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training, Nutrients, 2016

  • Takudzwa A. Madzima et al., Night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate results in increased morning resting energy expenditure in active college-aged men, British Journal of Nutrition, 2014