Bedtime Snacks: What to eat before bedtime to help you get to sleep, stay asleep and build muscle

Bedtime Snacks: What to eat before bedtime to help you get to sleep, stay asleep and build muscle

Before getting into what to eat before bedtime, we’re going to dispel a myth about Turkey Day. You might remember “The Thanksgiving Song” Adam Sandler introduced on Saturday Night Live: The lyrics go, “Turkey lurkey doo and turkey lurkey dap, I eat that turkey, then I take a nap.” Sure enough, we do get sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner, and scientists have been telling us for years that turkey contains L-tryptophan. If carbs make us sleepy and L-tryptophan makes us sleepy, then wouldn’t the perfect bedtime snack be a turkey sandwich? Not quite.

First: although there is L-tryptophan in turkey – a 200-calorie serving of turkey contains about 507 mg of L-tryptophan – consider that the same amount of chicken contains almost as much, about 491 mg. You don’t hear anyone complain of sleepiness after eating a carton of chicken nuggets, do you? In fact, many other foods are much higher in tryptophan. So why has turkey gotten such a reputation as a sleep inducer? Think about it: On Thanksgiving, all those high-carbohydrate foods we pile on our plates (mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls and pie, oh, my!) add up to a surefire recipe for sleepiness – and think of the amount of energy it takes to digest it all.

Yes, carbohydrates are just the ticket to make you sleepy, and you should consume the majority of them in the evening. Also, if fat loss is not a major concern, carbs can be added to your postworkout shake. But it has to be the right type of carbs. That bread in your turkey sandwich probably contains gluten, which is bad news for just about everyone. All processed carbs are bad – that piece of cake may cause you to crash, and in the long term those bad carbs will make you fat and inflamed.

It’s best to consume carbs toward the end of the day to induce sleep. Carbs are associated with a release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is linked to the onset of sleep and the regulation of blood pressure regulation and mood control. As a general guideline, the types of carbs you should consume are “Paleo” carbs.

To learn exactly which carbs are acceptable, you can consult books such as Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, but to get started simply ask yourself, “Would a caveman have access to these carbs?” Oranges and sweet potatoes? Yes. Kellog’s Frosted Flakes? No. It also makes sense not to consume foods that stay in the stomach a long time – so a small tub of Chunky Monkey ice cream before bedtime might create some stomach distress in the middle of the night or the following morning. And although the jury seems to still be out on the subject, for some individuals sugar consumption before bedtime might cause nightmares. Alcohol and foods high in salt and grease, like pizza, may get you to sleep but also may cause shallow sleep. Heavy boozing can make you feel like a sleep-deprived zombie the next day – and not only because you were out until 2 a.m.

Drinking alcohol before bed is common – in fact, it may be the most common sleep aid – but it’s not a good idea according to research. A Japanese study published in the November 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research looked at the affects of alcohol on sleep. The authors concluded that alcohol inhibits parasympathetic nervous system and as such “interferes with the restorative functions of sleep.”

If your goals include increasing your strength and muscle mass, then consider taking branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before bedtime. A study published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2012 tested the effects of strength training late in the evening followed by a large protein feeding on rates of muscle building and sleep quality. The subjects trained at 8:00 p.m., and at 11:30 p.m. they were given either a placebo or a protein drink containing 40 grams of protein.

None of the participants had trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, and they all reported decent sleep quality. Further, the authors found that the pre-bedtime protein feeding after strength training triggers a dramatic increase in muscle synthesis. As such, for anyone who has trouble gaining mass and doesn’t want to take a protein shake before bedtime, BCAA supplementation at night is a great option.

So let’s talk turkey, figuratively speaking. To improve the quality of your sleep, focus on eating some good carbs late in the day. And to boost your muscle and strength training progress, take BCAAs before turning out the lights.

Copyright © 2012


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