Fitness & Performance
Night-Time Nutrition for Athletes
Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training 19 October 2023
The right snacks at bedtime help athletes recover* and also perform at their best the next day.1
Most active people are pretty good at keeping tabs on their nutrient intake during the day. They’ll plan out their meals, snacks and what they’ll be eating before and after their workout, for recovery.* But if athletes aren’t snacking at bedtime, they might be missing out on an opportunity to optimise their nutrition.
When you’re asleep, your body doesn’t generally have any nutrients coming in. If you can supply your body with the right nutrients before you nod off, it could help your body recover*, help reduce muscle soreness and help you get ready to train the next day.1
Most Athletes can Benefit from Night-Time Snacking
Protein is the usual target for night-time snacking. While the total amount of protein eaten over the course of the day is key, the timing of when that protein is eaten is also important when it comes to maximising muscle development2 Most strength athletes know that protein is important after a workout, but may not realise that a dose of protein at bedtime can help them optimise protein intake and muscle development.1
During sleep, muscle tissues are in repair mode and rely on a steady supply of amino acids in the bloodstream to support muscle protein synthesis.** One of the best sources of protein to take in at bedtime is casein – one of the two major proteins (along with whey) in milk and milk products.3
Whey raises blood levels of amino acids faster and earlier than casein, which is why whey is the go-to protein after a workout to get the recovery process started. But casein digests more slowly than whey, which means that it delivers an overnight supply of protein that can assist with muscle growth.
While night-time protein snacking is most often associated with strength athletes, endurance athletes may benefit, too. Dietary protein supplies the body with the amino acid building blocks the body uses to produce important body proteins such as hormones, and enzymes that help your body back.5
Carbs at Night can Help Athletes, Too
Some carbohydrates at night-time can be beneficial for athletes, too. For an endurance athlete competing in an early morning event, a balanced snack of protein and carbohydrates at bedtime can help to support muscle repair overnight, but it will also bolster carbohydrate stores for the next day.1
Some athletes are concerned about eating before bedtime, under the false assumption that this will somehow affect body fat breakdown during sleep and impede their progress towards becoming more lean. But as long as caloric balance is maintained, taking in supplemental protein or carbohydrate shouldn’t lead to weight gain. And for those athletes who are trying to gain weight, a balanced bedtime snack is a great time to sneak in some extra nutrition and calories.4