My parents used to tell me to drink a lot of milk. I never understood why, til I found out that milk was made up of two types of protein, casein and whey (okay, that was a joke). Casein accounts for roughly 80% of the milk protein and whey for the remaining 20%. Simple and plain the difference between the two are how fast they’re absorbed. Whey gets absorbed faster than casein.
New Study on Casein
Previous acute data show that a bolus (40g is typically used) of casein – a slow digesting milk protein – consumed before bed results in a higher muscle protein balance during the overnight period compared to both baseline and a non-protein placebo. Follow-up longitudinal research showed that nighttime protein consumption enhanced strength and muscle size compared to a non-protein placebo over a 12-week period, as well; however, daily protein intake was not matched between groups (1.3 versus 1.9 g/kg).
A study last year found no differences between groups consuming and not consuming pre-sleep protein with daily protein matched, but resistance training was not controlled. The present study is the first study to control training and daily protein intake while comparing nighttime versus protein consumption at another time of day. Interestingly, no significant differences between groups were found.
It’s absolutely not critical to get a bolus of protein before bed. It could theoretically help, but that hasn’t panned out in the applied research yet, so I would view this as one of those “cherry on top” nutritional strategies.
If you do decide to adopt this strategy, probably don’t have a big, mixed meal consisting of a lot of calories and dietary fat as a vehicle for your protein bolus, as this could have a negative effect on your sleep. Sleep quality shouldn’t be negatively impacted, though, if you just consume 30-40 g of protein.
You don’t need to go out and buy casein, as cottage cheese and lean meats would serve the same purpose just as well.
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Joy et al. Daytime and nighttime casein supplements similarly increase muscle size and strength in response to resistance training earlier in the day: a preliminary investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):24.