The Benefits of Having a Protein Shake Before Bed

chocolate protein shake in a glass

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

In This Article

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 overall health improvement. Shakes using protein powder have become a convenient breakfast drink and are often consumed after a hard workout for muscle repair.

Most Americans 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 of the population. Calculating individual protein needs is recommended for optimal health and fitness.

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.

Nighttime Protein for Muscle Growth and Recovery

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 best method to refuel and optimize muscle growth. However, current research indicates drinking a protein shake before bed may provide additional health benefits.

Better Muscle Growth and Preservation

One study examined how protein consumed before bed is better absorbed in people who exercise at night. When participants exercised at night and consumed 40 grams of protein before bed, muscle protein synthesis (growth) was increased and more dietary amino acids were reported in the muscle tissue.

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. These findings provide the scientific basis for a novel nutritional strategy to support muscle mass preservation in aging and disease.

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 exercised three times per week for 12 weeks. 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 that consuming at least 40 grams of dietary protein prior to sleep could stimulate muscle protein synthesis, making pre-sleep protein supplementation an effective nutritional strategy to increase muscle mass and strength.

Improved Recovery

Another study assessed how protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise recovery. Participants included 16 healthy young males who performed a single bout of resistance-type exercise in the evening. The men consumed either 40 grams protein or placebo before going to bed. The protein was effectively digested and absorbed and increased whole-body protein synthesis rates compared to placebo.

Improved Performance

Consuming a protein shake at night may improve athletic performance, since it may help regulate muscle protein metabolism along with strength and muscle growth gains. 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

Protein for Weight Loss

Having a protein shake before bed could promote weight loss, since protein boosts your metabolism and stimulate muscle growth. Increasing your metabolism speeds up the rate you burn calories.

But don't overlook total caloric intake. Eating more calories than you require can lead to weight gain. This means how you supplement with protein shakes is important.

Protein shakes add calories to your 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 to accommodate the shake.

If you mix 40 grams of pure protein powder with water, you can count on getting 160 calories (4 calories per gram of protein). Protein shakes blended with fruits, nut butter, and milk, on the other hand, can easily add up to 300 calories or more per shake.

If you’re consuming 1800 calories daily, 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.

Protein shakes may be beneficial for people trying to lose weight when used as a meal replacement, but not necessarily at night. You may want to drink a protein shake before bed if you didn't have dinner or find you are hungry after dinner. Using a shake in place of another type of meal or snack may help prevent overeating before bed.

Best Protein Sources

Protein sources differ in how they stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This means the type of protein consumed before bed is important can affect 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.

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 rather than pre-sleep.

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. These protein sources include:

Carb to Protein Ratios

Athletes who find it difficult to eat solid foods after a workout may benefit from a liquid supplement to aid in recovery. This is especially true when compared to not eating at all post-workout.

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

Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, CPT, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 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.

Tips for Supplementing With Protein Shakes

  • If you're trying to gain weight, look for a higher-calorie shake.
  • If you're an athlete trying to build muscle, 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.

Solid foods can often be more satiating than a liquid supplement because they take longer to digest. 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, and while most people can satisfy their daily requirements through diet alone, some might benefit from protein supplements like protein shakes. If total daily calories and activity levels are taken into consideration, drinking a high-quality protein supplement at night may be helpful to build or preserve muscle, aid in recovery, and promote weight loss.

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