Growing up before the age of the internet meant that you had to get your training and nutrition information from books and magazines or from the veteran lifters and athletes that you’d meet at the gym. Unfortunately when it came to magazines and locker room advice, it was hard to know if the information was credible, and most of us weren’t too familiar with the library. As time has evolved and more research has been done, it’s fun to look back on old training advice and evaluate what was complete training mythology and what was solid information. For example, the meal frequency fad where 6 meals per day was superior to larger, less frequent meals actually turns out to not really make a difference when calories are the same. Another piece of gym advice that I followed for years was to consume slow digesting protein before bed to provide amino acids for my muscle while I slept. Turns out, this wasn’t such a bad idea.
Some new research published in the Journal of Nutrition tested whether protein ingestion before sleep increased muscles growth more than not consuming the pre-bed protein. A total of 44 males (~22 years) were put through a progressive resistance training program that lasted for 12 weeks. Subjects were randomly divided into a supplement group and a control. The supplement group was given a shake containing 27.5 g of protein and 15 g of carbohydrate every night before sleep. The control group received a non-caloric placebo. Before and after the training program, the researchers assessed whole body muscle hypertrophy, muscle fiber changes (via biopsy) and 1RM strength.
The results showed that the protein group experienced a significantly greater increase in 1RM strength compared to the placebo group. Quadriceps thickness increased significantly in both groups from pre to post-training; however the protein group saw significantly higher increases than placebo (8.4 cm2 vs. 4.8 cm2). Similar results were found for muscle type where both groups saw improvements, but the protein group seeing better overall improvements. The authors conclude that protein ingestion before sleep appears to be an effective strategy for increasing muscle mass and strength gains throughout training. I’d like to add that there was a discrepancy in overall protein intake between the groups. The protein group ended up consuming more overall protein than the control group. Future research should match protein intake to see if it was really the timing of the intake that had such a big effect or if it was the net protein intake that had the effect.
Snijders, T. et al. (2015) Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. Journal of Nutrition. Ahead of print.