You are not alone if you've been led to believe that eating late at night can be harmful to your health or weight loss goals. However, recent research may prove otherwise, specifically with the consumption of protein before bed.
Vital note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.
Protein is known to elicit greater thermogenic effects on the body than carbohydrates and fats. In other words, the consumption of protein leads to a greater increase in resting energy expenditure (calories burned), albeit minimal, than other macronutrient groups. This is because it requires more energy to break down proteins.
Proteins are present in every cell and tissue in the body and do more than just build muscle. Proteins also provide structure, act as hormones, help form antibodies to aid in immunity, help with fullness and satiety, and make up enzymes, which are involved in several processes in the body. Body proteins are constantly being turned over, which is why it is important to consume protein regularly in the diet.
Results from a study published in the journal, Appetite, which focused on active women, found that consuming pre-sleep protein is not harmful to metabolism or appetite the next morning. This adds to the growing evidence we have about protein and metabolism. While our resting metabolic rate (RMR) is lower overnight since we aren't actively moving around, several pre-sleep feeding studies have found that RMR the following morning was either unchanged or even increased after consuming a protein-dense snack before bed.
Specifically, the study found the most favorable changes in morning metabolic rate when participants consumed 48g of casein protein before bed. This is beneficial because a faster metabolic rate in the morning may have an impact on the total amount of calories burned per day, which may impact goals for body composition and even metabolic health.
These results haven't just been studied in active women. Similar findings have been published in pre- and post-menopausal women and active college-aged men as well, even showing that any source of protein before bed benefits the metabolism.
Research is continuing to yield insight into the benefits of nutrient timing, in other words, the timing of certain meals and snacks throughout the day. Including protein at regular intervals throughout the day can help with protein utilization in the body as well as fullness and blood sugar stabilization, but the benefits likely extend to overall health and wellness as well.
Will This Benefit Workouts and Athletic Performance?
The evidence is promising. Adding more protein at night could be a reasonable lifestyle change for many people, including athletes and non-athletes alike, especially those looking to alter metabolism and/or body composition. It also offers further opportunities for people to meet their daily protein needs if they haven’t been able to accumulate adequate protein throughout the course of the day.
Protein, both with and without exercise, is associated with enhanced total and regional body composition and improved cardio-metabolic health. Evidence published in the Journal of Applied Physiology has noted that whey protein consumption, alone or combined with exercise training, is associated with a reduced body mass, fat mass, percent body fat and waist circumference.**
Pre-Bed Protein Snack Options
Consuming a protein snack before bed may be a prudent way to prevent mindless snacking later on, as well as balance blood sugar during the night. Research also suggests that it will not alter metabolism (it may even help it) and can improve muscle mass and affect performance the following day. The caveat is that the protein snack before bed should not be large or calorically dense.