Although the impact of sleep on the body’s ability to recover and repair has been established for many years, researchers have only recently begun to examine the role that night-time protein intake can have on the body’s typical sleep patterns.
Protein, when taken immediately post-workout, has been long tied to muscle recovery and repair from exercise and training. For example, sports dietitians recommend that athletes consume protein foods containing approximately 2.3 grams per serving of leucine, an amino acid that signals the muscles to recover and repair after a workout. Research shows this amount of leucine can best repair and maintain muscle.
Scientists have recently begun to explore what happens in the body when protein is provided outside of the post-workout recovery period.
When we sleep, the rate at which the body creates new protein – an essential part of recovery from training and competition – is normally quite low. In general, protein consumed during the post-workout period is no longer available by the time an athlete is settling in for a night of sleep. So researchers are now considering if there are ways to support recovery during this “window.”
Given that the recommendation is for athletes to get 8-10 hours of sleep a night, this means one-third of the day is spent in a state of low protein synthesis. The standard assumption has been that low availability of amino acids – the building blocks of protein – at night is a rate-limiting factor in protein synthesis.
But researchers in the Netherlands in 2012 showed that 40 grams of protein consumed by resistance-trained subjects 30 minutes before sleep could, in fact, be digested and absorbed, which increased the availability of amino acids throughout the sleep period. This increase in available amino acids supported the body’s ability to create new protein.
Armed with this information, researchers set out to determine whether an increase in available amino acids during sleep would have an impact on performance and training. Subjects were strength-trained in the evening and given a recovery drink containing 28 grams of protein before sleep or a placebo that contained no protein.
The protein group exhibited a greater increase in strength output, as well as an increase in muscle size.
Although further research is expected to continue, these studies are important first steps in establishing that repair and recovery can be supported by nutrients during sleep. Interestingly, sports performance researchers are not the only scientists who are examining the impact of protein on sleep.
Researchers at Purdue University in 2016 examined the effect of diet on sleep quality in overweight and obese patients who were attempting to lose weight. Those individuals who consumed a higher amount of protein – 1.5 grams of protein per kg body weight – ranked their sleep quality better than the individuals who consumed less protein.
These recent findings have opened the door to explore the impact of protein consumption before bed on both sleep quality and the body’s normal response to training.
If sleep is an issue for you, contact your physician and consider an at-home Sleep Test – an easy test to perform in the comfort and privacy of your home. A Sleep Test removes guesswork because it tracks melatonin levels and cortisol levels at four different times during a 24-hour period.
Res P, Groen B, Pennings B, et al. Protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Excer 2012;44(8):1560-1569.
Snijders T, Res P, Smeets J, et al. Protein ingestion before sleep increases muscle mass and strength gains during prolonged resistance-type exercise training in healthy young men. J Nutr 2015;145(6):1178-1184.
Zhou J, Kim J, Armstrong C, et al. Higher-protein diets improve indexes of sleep in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults: results from 2 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2016;103(3):766-774
Keith Kaval took his warmup lap on the ice and the only thing he could think about before officiating one of the biggest games of his career was the illness that had sapped him of energy.
The longtime official skated around HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York, before the start of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship gold-medal game and thought to himself, “This is not good.” Kaval was about to referee the championship game between Canada and Russia.
“I kind of composed myself and I ended up working the game,” Kaval recalled recently. “The game was amazing. We called what we had to call. We weren’t a direct affect in the game and the Russians came back in the third period to beat Canada, which was a crazy, amazing game. Being able to do that game here on our own soil was pretty amazing. That’s something I’ll probably never forget.”
Having the opportunity to officiate the game, and fight through his illness, is one just one of the experiences Kaval is drawing on as he has transitioned from on-ice official to the director of officiating for the North American Hockey League and North American Tier III Hockey League.
Kaval wants to use his nearly 30 years as an on-ice official to develop the next wave of officials and hopefully provide them the same opportunities he had in a career which spanned nearly every rung of the hockey ladder, including the American Hockey League, the Kontinental Hockey League and the NCAA.
“It’s a continuous thing where we’re trying to move guys up and move them on, and give them the experience that they need,” Kaval said of his new position. “They serve our league, obviously, but the end game is to get them prepared for the next level of hockey. It’s no different than our member clubs, a lot of good opportunities for our guys to earn scholarship with the various NCAA teams and no different with us. We’re trying to move our guys up and on as well. It’s pretty much, we co-exist with the teams trying to do the same thing.”
Kaval worked his last game in the AHL on Oct. 13, finally hanging up the skates after a long on-ice career. He hopes to impart some of his knowledge and experience on newer officials who are starting their careers.
While the highlight of his career might have been Canada-Russia in 2011, Kaval worked three straight IIHF World Championships. He also became the first North American official to work in Russia’s professional KHL.
“Every day was a challenge,” Kaval said. “It was a pretty cool experience and there’s another thing that I can share with our guys about being uncomfortable in different situations where pretty much the only normalcy was hockey.”
Having moved full-time into his new role, Kaval is enjoying the new experiences he faces after starting a career at age 13 while just trying to earn some money and extra ice time.
“The biggest thing for me is just learning about each individual official and what makes them tick, and then seeing what they do because they all bring different skill sets,” Kaval said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter system where this is our method or this is what’s going to work for you. Every official’s different and I’d just rather give them some perspective on what may have worked for me and they can take some of that.”
In the early-going, Kaval was traveling constantly to have face-to-face interaction with officials and teams. He’s working through the challenge of increasing numbers of total officials. He wants to train the officials on technique and help deliver tips. He also preaches accountability and communication.
“There are certain things we can control as officials; That’s being professional, that’s being good communicators and being honest and trying to work the best game we can,” Kaval said. “We’re never going to be perfect, but I think the teams are starting to realize in our league that we’re here and we’re a partner to, not only the league, but all of them in that we’re just trying to make the game better and trying to do what’s right to keep the game fair and safe.”
Tag(s): Player Nutrition