I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal for a four-day intensive sports nutrition conference through Dietitians of Canada. This was a great opportunity to learn from some of the top leaders in sports nutrition who work with Canadian’s top-level athletes. Unfortunately, I learned so much that I struggled to choose just one topic for this week’s blog.

One of the top reasons that people come to see me is for body composition changes, especially with the goal of gaining muscle or “leaning out”. There are many nutrition interventions that can be implemented to help with this goal. One particular tip that I found extremely practical during this sports nutrition conference is looking at what you eat before hitting the hay to help increase muscle mass synthesis. Research suggests aiming for a snack containing about 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For instance, if you weigh 65 kg then a snack containing about 30-35 grams of protein should do the trick.

When it comes to selecting your high protein snack there are no shortage of options. However, not all proteins are created equal. Proteins are made up of building blocks known as amino acids. Selecting a protein that contains all the essential amino acids, particularly the amino acid leucine is important. This is because leucine is key to stimulating muscle growth. If you”re getting your protein from animal sources like meat, eggs or dairy, then you”re probably getting enough leucine. Whey protein isolate is also a good source of leucine. On the other hand, plant based protein sources tend to contain less leucine.

The original research looking at eating protein pre-bed used a protein called casein. Casein is one of the proteins found in milk. The other main protein in milk is whey. Whey protein is digested very quickly while casein is digested more slowly by the body. Because of casein”s slow digestion, it was thought to be the ideal protein to choose before bed. Since people are typically going over 8 hours before eating their next meal, selecting a slower digested protein before bed would help keep amino acid levels in the body higher. While theoretically this makes, the original research used casein for convenience. There is no research to support that casein protein is superior to other types of protein pre-bed.

The table below shows examples of foods containing 30-35 grams of protein and highlights how different foods contain differing amounts of protein. The first column represents concentrated protein sources. Little amounts of these foods need to be consumed to hit protein targets. The other columns show less concentrated protein sources. More food, and consequently more calories, needs to be consumed to hit the protein target.

 

Concentrated protein sources: Less concentrated protein sources:
1.5 cups Greek yogurt 2 slices sprouted bead with 2 tbsp. peanut butter and 1.5 cups milk
1 cup cottage cheese 2 cups plain yogurt with 4 tbsp. almonds

For those watching their weight, selecting a more concentrated protein source would be appropriate. Protein supplements such as whey protein isolate might be another viable option to hit protein targets without going overboard on calories.

A pre-bed high protein snack doesn’t always need to be included. This is more important on days that have hard workouts or weight lifting. This is because the exercise acts as a stimulus for muscle mass synthesis. As always, remember more isn’t always better.

Stay tuned to my weekly Tuesday blog for more exciting tips that I learned. In a few days, I will be sending out my monthly nutrition newsletter. To sign up go to megankuikmanRD.ca, scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your e-mail.