Can You Actually Build Muscle While You Sleep? Science Says Maybe
Whether counting sheep or counting reps is more your speed, you may have thought about questions related to protein timing. More specifically, what exactly happens to muscle growth while you snooze? Thanks to a recent review1, we've got new insight into how consuming protein before bed may help you on the gains train.
In a review published for Frontiers in Nutrition, two things became pretty clear: The jury's still out on what time is best to consume protein during the day to maximize muscle growth, but sleeping offers a unique window for muscles to repair and increase in size.
Most experts advise consuming protein right around your workouts, since you'll kick-start that muscle repair from the damage your workout caused. However, this review highlights why sleep deserves some extra attention.
In order for muscles to grow, they need amino acids. Since your body doesn't store these amino acids in a reserve to use throughout the day, they're typically used up when they're available—i.e., when you eat a burger, your body will use the amino acids from the protein in the burger almost immediately.
When it comes to sleep, your body is in recovery mode but typically won't have amino acids available (unless, of course, you happen to sleepwalk into the kitchen for a late-night high-protein snack). If you consume protein before bed, the review found, those amino acids will actually be available to your body and repair those muscles during the night.
So far, no studies have actually (successfully) compared different protein timings, holding factors constant like workouts or total daily protein intake. So while the real truth about protein timing may still be up in the air, all we're saying is that high-protein ice cream pint before bed isn't the worst you could do. All in the name of muscle growth, right?
Elizabeth Gerson is a former mindbodygreen intern and a student at Stanford University studying Psychology and Communication with a specialization in Health & Development. She has also written for SFGate.com and The Stanford Daily and runs a paleo(ish) food Instagram, @healthy_lizard.