Every person who enters a gym wants to see results. Why else walk through the doors, subject to the Sisyphean act of slinging weights? And all gym-goers, whether they’re Under Armor-clad kettlebell swingers or dumbbell virgins, know the importance of protein to post-workout recovery. Protein is, after all, a muscle-building block that helps you refuel, build mass and lean out.
Every few years, someone new tries to prove, once and for all, that before bed is the ideal time to slug a protein shake in order to build mass . The theory makes sense. One of the main purposes of sleep is recovery; ingesting pre-bed protein could conceivably speed muscle revitalization if you workout regularly. We’re also at rest for a good eight hours — a long time for a body to go without fuel, especially someone who’s burning plenty of calories during the day.
In one 2012 study published in Medicine and Science and Sports and Exercise, researchers asked 16 healthy young men to ingest 20 grams of protein directly after a resistance workout and 40 grams of protein 30 minutes before bed. Researchers monitored each subject’s absorption levels and found that protein ingested directly before sleep stimulates muscle repair and overall recovery during rest. In fact, it boosted muscle growth by as much as 26 percent.
Before you polish off a few scoops of whey before brushing your teeth, this was a very specific example (small group, highly monitored, performing a prescribed routine). Your protein intake depends on several different factors, including your activity level, body type. In short, there’s controversy.
To shed some light on the condundrum, we turned to Chris Stevenson, N.A.S.M, C.S.C.S, owner of Stevenson Fitness in Los Angeles and a faculty member at the California Health and Longevity Institute. First, Stevenson is quick to counter the “more is always better” approach when it comes to protein intake.
“Our bodies reach a maximum protein input during the day,” he says. “When you reach that limit, your body can’t process the excess and it transforms it into glucose and fat and it can also stress the kidneys and liver.” He suggests online protein calculators to determine what’s best for you. “More is not always better,” he says.
Noted. Now, to that sleep issue.
“A lot of literature shows that consuming protein before sleep is positive — and for good reason, as sleep is so integral to recovery — but there’s also as much that says it doesn’t really have a positive or negative effect,” he says.
For Stevenson, the cardinal rule of protein is consuming it within a two-hour window of your work out. “This is a hard fact,” he says. “If you work out regularly, whether at the gym or during recreational activities, this provides you the best way to repair broken down muscles and maximize gains. Do that and you’ll be good.”
Stevenson added that real protein sources are better than powders. “It metabolizes much better than whey, no matter the quality.” If you do have to intake powdered protein, Stevenson says to look for Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Egg Protein, which uses natural egg proteins and is currently the most well reviewed protein supplement across the board. But, again, natural sources are always better.