If you know a thing or two about exercise science, then you know that recovery is what strengthens your muscles, not exercise itself. Recovery is the process that repairs those tiny, micro-tears in your muscle fibers, making you progressively stronger.
So, if you’re putting the time and energy into training, then you better be serious about your recovery time. In fact, continuous exercise without sufficient recovery time can actually set you back, leaving you feeling frustratingly weaker.
Luckily, your body can repair a ton of damage while you sleep, making quality sleep one of the top priorities for athletes who care about their athletic performance. But you can do more for your body than just getting a good night’s sleep.
Overnight muscle recovery
A study from 2012 published in the American College of Sports Medicine‘s journal found that consuming protein 30 minutes before bed can actually increase your overnight muscle recovery.
In this study, 16 male athletes consumed 20 grams of protein immediately after a single bout of resistance training. Then, 30 minutes before going to sleep, each subject was given either a placebo beverage or protein shake with 40 grams of casein protein.
Sleep was standardized at 7.5 hours, and researchers gathered blood and muscle samples in the evening and the next morning to measure the rates of digestion, absorption, and muscle protein synthesis.
The subjects that consumed this protein “nightcap” showed increased overnight muscle protein synthesis by about 22%, while the subjects without the “nightcap” showed very low protein synthesis. This suggests that a post-workout recovery shake may not have an effect on overnight protein synthesis without a protein “nightcap”.
This study would be more powerful with a larger sample size of men and women, but it’s still an encouraging preliminary finding.
What does this mean?
At the end of the day, protein is crucial for muscle recovery. You can choose to consume your protein before, during, or immediately after a workout, depending on how well you tolerate it, but you shouldn’t stop there.
On the days that you train hard, you should also consume a protein “nightcap” with 20-40 grams of quality protein (of your choosing). If you forget to eat protein before or after a workout, then you can redeem yourself by drinking a protein shake before bed.
This can also help curb those pesky late night sugar cravings and keep you out of the ice cream carton 😉
How to choose a protein powder
When looking for a protein powder to consume at night, try to find one with less than 4 grams of sugar per serving.
Powders with too much sugar can cause a spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels, which will signal your brain to begin storing that sugar as glycogen or fat.
Insulin spikes can also trick your appetite by interfering with leptin, the hormone that tells your brain when you’re full. This can lead to overeating and constant feelings of hunger—not ideal.
So if you have a protein powder with added carbohydrates, then save that for your post-recovery protein shakes. When choosing an overnight recovery protein, you want to find a protein powder with as little sugar and other additives as possible.
Sleep is one of the best times for your body to recover from an intense workout, and you can enhance your muscle recovery with a protein shake before bed. Specific recommendations include:
- Consume 20-25 grams of protein an hour before, during, or immediately after a workout (find what works best for you)
- Consume 20-40 grams of protein 30 minutes before bed (ladies, start with 20 grams)
- Choose a protein powder with little to no added sugars to avoid insulin spikes
- Get some sleep
- Let your body do the rest 🙂