You know that rest is an essential part of any workout routine, helping your muscles recover, grow, and refuel for your next training session. But, when it comes to rest, most people aren’t getting enough of the most important kind: sleep.
“Sleep is one of the most critical times when actual muscle building occurs,” says Steven Hertzler, PhD, RD, chief scientific officer for Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition. After all, the sole function of sleep is to help restore and recharge your body. Without the proper amount (and quality) of sleep, the ability of your body to restore muscle glycogen, the body’s pimary source of stored carbohydrate energy, can diminish, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Having full muscle glycogen stores is like a “gas gauge” that informs that muscles there is enough fuel present to devote energy to the rebuilding of new muscle proteins to replace those damaged by exercise.
What’s more, in response to sleep deprivation, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol spike. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it can break down protein from your hard-earned muscle tissue into fuel such as glucose. This is not what you want to be doing if your goal is to build muscle, Hertzler explains. After a workout, recovery is dependent upon your body’s ability to repair and build new healthy muscle tissues. So a poor night’s sleep can do more than sap your energy levels and stress you out, it can cause you to lose, rather than gain muscle.
Stress is Cumulative
Remember, when it comes to health and fitness, all stress is cumulative. So even good, healthy stress, like going on 10-mile long training runs, when not balanced with the appropriate amount of rest, including sleep, can increase your risk of too-high cortisol levels, depleted glycogen reserves, and overtraining syndrome.
Fortunately for every time-strapped exerciser out there, making sure you snooze seven to nine hours every single night (and you might even need more while training hard!) isn’t the only way to make sure you’re getting the most recovery benefits from your shut-eye. (That’s no excuse to skip out on sleep, though!) Several nutrients can help improve your sleep, enhancing the ability to help your muscles recover, refuel, and get stronger in preparation for your next workout.
Nighttime Nutrition Best Bets
Perhaps the most well-known one is casein, a form of protein that athletes often consume before bed in order to build muscle all night long. Casein protein occurs naturally in milk and dairy products, and makes up 80 percent of dairy protein such as that found in milk, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.
“When casein is in the micellar form, it is slowly digested in the stomach—it is hard for digestive enzymes to get access to it,” Hertzler explains. “Studies show that micellar casein releases into the blood slowly, over a period of about six to seven hours. Thus, it is a great protein to eat right before you go to bed, as it can continue to feed your muscles while you sleep.”
What’s more, the muscle-building effects of casein may be heightened when casein is consumed in combination with other amino acids and nutrients.
Powerful Nutrient Combos
For instance, the nutrient combo of leucine, b-hydroxy-b-methylbutyrate (HMB), and phosphatidylserine (PS) aid in muscle recovery by jumpstarting muscle protein synthesis. They also decrease muscle protein breakdown and cellular damage following exercise, while phosphatidylserine can help reduce your levels of the catabolic hormone cortisol following exercise. After all, it’s not just sleep that can help control cortisol levels to keep your muscle recovery up!
Meanwhile, the amino acids L-theanine and L-tryptophan as well as the casein decapeptide Lactium help promote relaxation. For example, L-tryptophan, which is used in the body to make the relaxation neurotransmitter serotonin, has been shown to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. (Naturally found in turkey meat, it’s even commonly blamed for Thanksgiving Day food comas!)
“Thus, these three ingredients, plus the casein protein which is filling and satisfying before bed, can help to promote restful sleep,” Hertzler says. “We designed a protein powder, Myoplex Micellar Casein, to deliver these benefits for athletes who need the extra nighttime nutrition and sleep support.”
As you can see, sleep—especially in combination with the right bedtime nutrients—is way more than time spent away from the gym. It’s the key to achieving your fitness, exercise, and muscle health goals.
Nighttime Nutrition Best Bets