Many questions I get through e-mail and from my clients in person resonate around meal choices at various times. The following e-mail is one I received a couple of weeks back that I thought would make for a great column:
I just watched a video with an Olympian who said that protein before bed can make you put on bodyfat and carbohydrates were the way to go according to his nutritionist. I’ve always thought you shouldn’t eat before bed. Can you give me some advice on what’s proper?
Before I get into my response here, I want to mention I have not seen the video in question and since there was no link included, I’m not sure of the context or even who said it. Therefore, it’s highly likely that the information in the video was misinterpreted. I say that in particular because in addition to my own research and experiences, I have the pleasure of coming into contact with dozens of health and fitness professionals every year and I’ve never met a single one that believes protein before bed is bad, let alone preferring carbohydrates before nighttime rest.
To answer the last part of your question first, you may not want to eat immediately before bed, but you do want to eat within an hour or two before sleep. This is to provide your body with a constant stream of nutrients before the long period of fasting you’ll endure while asleep. Protein before bed is ideal because the amino acids protect muscle tissue and encourage repair and growth. Carbohydrates on the other hand are the least desirable before resting because as the body’s main source of fuel, they spike your insulin levels with the intent of providing energy. When you aren’t going to use this energy, you become more likely to store this left over glucose and end up with excess body fat.
For decades, some of the most respected journals in the world—including the Journal of the American Medical Association and even the Journal of Diabetes—have encouraged people to avoid carbohydrates before bed from both a body composition standpoint and from an athletic recovery perspective. From reading literature such as this as well as my own personal experience, I certainly agree.
Before bed, try something like cottage cheese. If you’d like to further slow down digestion, add some healthy fats (almonds or organic peanut butter, for example) to your last protein-rich meal. Give this a try for awhile and see how much better you feel in the morning.