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The Easy Bedtime Ritual That Will Help You Build More Muscle While You Sleep

  • Drinking a protein shake before bed can boost muscle mass and strength when paired with resistance training, according to a review in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

  • What’s more, a nightly pre-sleep protein shake hasn’t been shown to wreck your sleep or lead to weight gain, either.

  • A shake with about 30 grams of protein is recommended 10 to 30 minutes prior to going to sleep.

You know that being able to ride faster and longer requires muscle, so you hit the gym a couple of days a week to get some strength training in and make sure to get enough protein in your diet.

But, as the saying goes, “Timing is everything,” and new research backs it up: Consuming protein before you hit the hay each night has been shown to build even more muscle than if you were to down a shake any other time of the day.

The review, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, looked at 45 previous studies to see how to best ensure muscle growth. Would simply boosting your daily protein intake be enough to show benefits—or might you see even greater results if you timed it a certain way? (As a quick refresher, endurance athletes should aim for between 1.3 to 2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day—or 0.6 to 1.1 grams per pound—if their goal is to build or maintain muscle mass.)

Here’s what researchers found: People who drank a casein shake with about 30 grams of protein right before bed on days they lifted and on days they rested for 12 weeks gained more muscle mass—about four pounds—and strength than those who drank a non-protein placebo.

“Dietary protein consists of individual amino acids, which are the building blocks of skeletal muscle tissue,” Tim Snijders, Ph.D., lead study author and assistant professor at Maastricht University, told Bicycling. Plus, resistance exercise increases muscle protein synthesis—or the rebuilding of muscle tissue—he says. So the two together is an important one-two punch for muscle growth.

But why is it so important to consume protein right before going to sleep? According to Snijders, food isn’t usually ingested during the night when you’re asleep, making this period of time the longest your body goes without eating each day. Because of this, no protein goes to your muscles and no protein synthesis occurs. So by consuming casein—which Snijders said is more slowly digested and absorbed compared to whey—your muscles are getting extra fuel to grow.

The sweet spot is drinking a shake about 10 to 30 minutes before bed, according to Snijders. But don’t worry about it making you gain weight or messing with your sleep.

“All protein that is ingested prior to sleep is used for protein synthesis,” Snijders said. “When exercise is performed earlier that evening, a large part of ingested protein is directed to muscle protein synthesis and is not stored.” In fact, he said, they didn’t observe any gains in fat mass when young adults tried the pre-bedtime protein shake.

Not to mention, no studies that Snijders and his colleagues reviewed showed that participants had trouble falling or staying asleep when consuming casein before bed.

It’s important to note, though, that there have only been studies done on casein shakes, so Snijders and his colleagues aren’t sure if other protein sources have the same effect.

The bottom line: Drinking a casein protein shake right before you go to sleep can boost your muscle growth, making you stronger and faster in the saddle.

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