Whey protein is the go-to choice for those trying to supplement their healthy diet, lose weight, build muscle, and get fit. Not only is it easy on the digestive system, but it’s a quick-acting form of protein that will promote immediate muscle repair and recovery.
When is the best time to drink a protein shake? You probably already know whey protein is great after a workout, but is drinking protein before bed a good idea as well? Usually casein is the most common option, but is whey a good alternative as a bed time supplement?
Why Take Whey Protein Before Bed
There are a few reasons to consider a whey protein powder before bed. Here are a few of the benefits of drinking protein before bed:
- Burn Fat – Whey protein speeds up metabolism and alters hormones related to satiety. This means that a high protein diet may help with weight loss. A 2007 study evaluated the use of a whey protein supplement on weight loss. One hundred and fifty eight subjects followed a calorie-restricted diet for 12 weeks. They received either a whey protein supplement or a placebo with similar calorie content 20 minutes before breakfast and 20 minutes before dinner. Weight, lean body mass, body fat, and blood samples were taken. The weight loss between the two groups was approximately the same. But, the group that received the whey protein lost significantly more body fat and less lean muscle when compared to the placebo group. This study suggests that whey protein can help your body burn fat more effectively while maintaining muscle, so that keeping the weight off in the long-run is easier.
- Speeds Recovery — Did you know that MOST of your recovery takes place as you sleep? During the day, you are using your muscles, so your body can’t really make proper repairs until you finally stop moving (at night). Whey protein before bed provides your body with the raw materials it needs to make those repairs more efficiently, leading to enhanced recovery.
- Supports a Healthy Metabolism— Did you know that taking protein at night may speed up your metabolism all the way to the next day? This means you are burning fat and calories all night at a faster rate. In a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, 11 men consumed a supplement containing whey protein, casein protein, carbohydrates, or a placebo before bed. The next day, the metabolism of the men who had either protein was significantly higher than those who had the carbohydrate or the placebo. This study suggests that protein before bed may help you burn more calories all night long. Who doesn’t want to be burning calories while they are sleeping?
- Maintain Muscle Mass — If you give your body the proper amount of amino acids, you ensure that it receives all of the protein needed to build new muscle and repair existing muscle. A diet inadequate in protein will cause your body to use protein for energy, instead of for muscle building. But if you eat enough protein, it will encourage the maintenance and growth of muscle mass.
- Helps Control Blood Sugar- Uncontrolled blood sugar can lead to insomnia and cause you to wake up starving in the morning. Whey protein before bed can help regulate blood sugar during the night. A 2014 study of people with type 2 diabetes gave subjects 50 grams of whey or a placebo before a meal. For those that received the whey protein, their blood sugar was 28% lower. The insulin response in those that received the whey was increased, which is why the blood sugar was lower. This study may suggest that ingesting whey protein powder before bed may help lower and stabilize blood sugar.
Taking a whey protein shake before bed is a great idea, but it may not be right for everyone. Let’s take a look at a few situations where this may be the case.
A Few Tips for Whey Protein Shakes Before Bed for Weight Loss
If your goal is to lose weight, drinking whey protein before bed may be a good option. As you saw above, it can help to speed up your metabolism, maintain muscle mass, and make it possible to burn more fat and lose weight.
But, you do need to account for the additional calories if you are going to be drinking protein before bed. Additional calories, even from whey protein, will cause weight gain. One way to do this is to mix it with water instead of milk. While the taste isn’t as rich with water, the health benefits remain! You still get all of the amino acids in the protein, but with half of the calories.
A single cup of milk has around 120 calories, and a scoop of protein powder has between 115 and 150 calories. By mixing the protein with water, you get plenty of protein with 50% of the caloric intake.
Also, eliminate all of the “additives” you might include in a protein shake, such as fruit, as this will just add extra calories. If you account for the additional calories from the shake, it should help boost your results.
Drawbacks of Having a Whey Protein Shake Before Bed
Now we come to the downsides of having whey protein before bed, something you need to understand before you change your nighttime habits.
Whey protein is designed to give you a quick infusion of amino acids and some calories. This means that it’s highly useful to have before, during, and immediately after your exercise.
- Before your workout it helps to produce ATP energy to use during training
- Mid-workout it helps to keep your energy levels high and your muscles workout
- After your workout it helps to replenish lost nutrients and speed up recovery
But the fact that whey protein is fast-acting means that it’s NOT the best option for you to take right before bed. Why is this? It may not provide you with the long-term feeling of satiety you are looking for at night, since it is used up so quickly for energy and muscle repair.
But, there is a better option for protein before bed — casein. With casein protein, you get a very slow-burning form of energy that your body is able to digest and absorb over the course of the evening. It takes hours to break down the casein protein, so it’s a slow trickle of energy.
The slow burn of casein is great for blood sugar and for satiety. There’s far less chance of your waking up at night due to hunger when you consume casein protein. You still give your body all the amino acids it needs to make repairs to your damaged muscles, but without difficulty sleeping or waking up due to a blood sugar crash.
Whey isn’t as effective as casein
The bottom line is, even though whey has its benefits, it isn’t as effective as casein for overnight energy stabilization and long-term satiety. This is due to the fact that the whey protein is digested and processed so much more quickly.
Within the first couple of hours of sleep, whey will be distributed to all of the muscles and organs in your body. With casein protein, it would take much longer to digest and distribute the amino acids. Though the repairs will be made more slowly, the steady stream of amino acids will give you more energy in the morning.
When comparing casein and whey protein’s effects on your body, it’s like the difference between a bowl of oatmeal and a candy bar. Casein protein is like oatmeal, which slowly releases energy over the course of hours. Whey protein is more like the candy bar, giving you a shot of amino acids all at once and running out of steam more quickly.
A 2009 study compared the speed of digestion of whey, soy, and casein proteins. Researchers found that whey resulted in a faster and more significant amino acid increase, when compared to the other two proteins. This translated to more immediate muscle synthesis. The digestion of the casein was overall slower as well.
So what does all of this mean for you? Is whey protein before bed a good idea, or are you choosing the wrong protein?
The truth is that casein protein is probably a better choice for your pre-bedtime smoothie or protein shake. It’s designed to give you a steady stream of amino acids, enabling your body to make repairs more efficiently over the course of the evening.
Whey protein powder will run out of steam within a few hours, so it’s better to go with casein protein powder as the optimum pre-bedtime protein drink.
Still, it’s worth trying whey protein a few nights, if only to see what effects it may have. You may find that it works almost as well as casein protein, and who knows, you could even sleep better and wake up with more energy thanks to whey protein powder!
If you’re looking for a quality whey protein powder, look no further than Well Wisdom’s Vital Whey. Not only is it 100% natural, but it’s fast-acting, easy on your digestive system, and absolutely delicious when mixed into a pre-bedtime whey protein shake.