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Dairy Before Bed: Your Muscles Love It


I love Oprah Winfrey, but she’s not an elite athlete.

Her famous words from a 2003 O, The Oprah Magazine issue—“I don't eat after 7:30 p.m. Not even a grape”—are still reverberating. I often hear athletes ask if eating later at night is OK.

There are a variety of answers and follow-up questions to the athlete’s statement, but I’m going to dive into three reasons why dairy is an important part of a bedtime snack.


Aaron Rodgers' "Got Milk?" Ad

Side note: I used to work as a nutrition communications manager for the New England Dairy & Food Council. I wasn’t sponsored for this post. I’m simply reporting on what the science states and what I recommend to my athletes.

It’s a Balanced Bedtime Snack

Milk and yogurt contain both carbohydrates and protein—key components of a balanced snack to help steady your blood sugars while you sleep and prevent tissue breakdown as the body searches for energy to keep your heart pumping, blood flowing, and body recovering from a day of training.

An 8-ounce glass of 2% milk contains 120 calories and 8 grams of protein. Opting for a slice of whole grain toast with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a small, sliced banana rings in at 310 calories and 9.5 grams of protein. Although the latter is still an awesome choice, weight-cutting athletes require a lower-calorie, nutrient-dense, and filling snack (i.e., a glass of milk).

It Helps Prevent Muscle Protein Breakdown While You Sleep

Although sleeping is key for recovery, it’s also when we undergo the longest period of muscle loss.

After a weight-lifting session, one study showed that recovering with a protein and carb meal followed 2.5 hours later by a casein supplement (the slowly-absorbed protein found in milk) and a 7.5-hour sleep resulted in a significantly better muscle protein balance (i.e., more protein was built than broken down).*

And since dairy contains the muscle-building amino acid leucine, a pre-sleep glass of milk is an easy yes.


It Contains the Sleep-Inducing Amino Acid Tryptophan

I more often hear people saying how they pop melatonin pills to help them sleep.

What’s often forgotten about is how the body produces melatonin on its own, which induces a calming effect and helps one fall asleep. The human gut produces melatonin by using the building block L-tryptophan—one of eight essential amino acids required for the body to build proteins.

That glass of 2% milk contains 551 milligrams of L-tryptophan (whole milk has 732 milligrams). Research shows that doses as small as 250 milligrams are needed to shorten the time it takes to fall asleep.

Take-Away Message: Eating at Night is Purposeful and Your Weight Training Will Benefit

So what did you learn?

  1. Selectively listen to Oprah Winfrey.

  2. Eat a balanced bedtime snack to maximize the impact of your training (including dairy would be awesome).

Not a huge dairy fan? Here are some other combinations:

  • Popcorn and ¼ cup of nuts.

  • Small turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with veggies (turkey is also high in L-tryptophan!).

  • Fruit smoothie made with whey protein powder, frozen banana and blueberries, ½ avocado, and a chocolate, non-dairy alternative.

*Within the 2.5-hour period of meal and bedtime supplement, the male study participants were provided with either 40 (control) or 60 (intervention) grams protein total. Read the full study here.

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