The Truth About Eating Before Bed

Eating before bedtime can actually help you build muscle, but you have to know what to eat.

"Eating before bed makes you gain fat." Sigh. Eating right before bed does not make you gain fat. It's actually quite the opposite. Eating before bed will not only help you build muscle, it will also improve recovery between training sessions, games and practices.

Just be sure to follow these simple rules when you eat before bed.

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Rule 1: Choose Slow-Digesting Protein

This can come from cottage cheese, chicken breast, lean turkey breast or casein supplements. Each of these protein sources contains protein that digests slowly and feeds the muscles throughout the night. They are also high in leucine, the amino acid responsible for stimulating the protein mTOR, which activates muscle protein synthesis. Consume 14-30 grams of slow-digesting protein 30 minutes before bed. Stay away from red meat, whey concentrate and isolate proteins, since these digest more quickly, leaving you without critical nutrients.

Rule 2: Choose Carbohydrates Wisely

Carbohydrates don't deserve their bad rap. The body needs them to replenish glycogen stores post-workout and to limit the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Having carbohydrates at night can diminish the rate at which muscle protein breakdown occurs while you sleep.

The key is to stick with high-fiber vegetables and fruits that are low in sugar and won't elicit too large of an insulin response, especially if your goals are to lose fat and build muscle. Cherries and berries are good selections, because they are low on the glycemic index. Each is high in vitamins C and E, which play important roles in controlling inflammation and soreness.

Stay away from starches high in sugar like candy, chips and bread. These foods generate a large insulin response, which aids in storing fat, and sugar can interfere with the sleep cycle. Consume under 20 grams of carbohydrates 30 to 60 minutes before bed.

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Rule 3: Eat a Small Amount of Fat

Healthy fats from sources like oils and nuts are a great addition to your bedtime protein snack. Fats are resistant to water and, when ingested, slow the emptying of food in your stomach through the release of the hormone cholecystokinin. Therefore, the ingestion of fat helps those slow-digesting proteins feed your muscles even longer through the night. Almonds, nut butters and fish oil are great choices.

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Examples of Easy Bedtime Meals

  • 1 cup 2% low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2-4 oz. chicken breast with 1 cup red peppers and 1/2 cup bing cherries
  • 2-4 oz. turkey with 1 cup almonds and 1 cup broccoli
  • Protein shake with 1 scoop of a low-carb protein blend, 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, and 1 tbsp. of almond or peanut butter.

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