Grow muscle while you sleep? Is that possible or just hype? Actually it is possible and it’s due to the dynamics of sleep, exercise and nutrition.
The fact is that you don’t build muscles and get strong while you’re exercising but while you’re resting. Following a single bout of resistance training in healthy males, Chesley and colleagues found that muscle protein synthesis in the biceps brachii remained elevated for up to 24 hours postexercise.[i] During this recovery period the inhibition of protein synthesis in previously less active muscles and fibers makes it possible to concentrate the adaptive protein synthesis for structures that performed the highest load. That means that the muscle you worked the most get the most attention and grow more in order to adapt to that day’s exercise.
It’s well known that exercise results in a catabolic response, which while this response can be partially and perhaps even mostly attenuated by using certain amino acids, proteins, and other nutrients before, during, and after exercise (see – Exersol and post exercise carbs are counterproductive articles) it’s still important for increased results to take into consideration the rest of the time we’re recovering. ***** 2 links
Since full recovery can take at least a day and often more, it seems strange to neglect that part of our 24- hour day when we rest the most? That’s right, I’m talking about that forgotten seven or eight hours while you sleep. Why do we fast during the night and then try to make it up with a meal to break that fast? Having a good break-fast just won’t cut it. We need to think about all those wasted hours between the time we go to bed to the time we get up.
During our night time fast, since it can’t get the energy and nutrients it needs from food, your body gets them any way it can, usually be sacrificing some of your muscle for the amino acids your body needs for its various functions and for fuel.
The other side of all this is that if you’re short on the building blocks that make up muscle, then you’re not only losing muscle, but you’re not going to build any new muscle – a double whammy that’ll knock your muscle mass down.
We already know that the body’s primed for growth and repair while we’re sleeping. So what we need to do is to give the body the chance, and the materials to do its job. If you do it right, you can make maximum use of that beauty sleep to grow muscle, repair and rejuvenate the body and mind, and lose body fat.
Although somewhat limited in its scope, recent research has shown what I’ve been saying for several decades about protein intake before bed. Of course I’ve taken it much further by introducing NitAbol over a decade ago and which I’ve improved dramatically up to the present. NitAbol not only contains the ideal mix of proteins but also ingredients to maximize post exercise recovery and provide anabolic, body composition, and performance enhancing effects beyond just the bolus of protein before bed.
Although this research is directed mainly toward the Myosin Protein component of NitAbol, it shows what I’ve been saying for years, that nighttime nutrition is paramount for those wanting to improve body composition, strength, and exercise/sports performance.[ii]
In the past three years the authors of this study published two other papers showing the importance of night time protein supplementation in one smaller study in young men and in the elderly.[iii] In this study the authors involved 44 healthy young men in a 12-wk resistance-type exercise training program and found that those that took a bolus of protein before bed significantly increased muscle mass and strength compared to those not taking in any protein before bed.
Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. Snijders T, Res PT, Smeets JS, van Vliet S, van Kranenburg J, Maase K, Kies AK, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. Protein J Nutr. 2015 Jun;145(6):1178-84.
It has been demonstrated that protein ingestion before sleep increases muscle protein synthesis rates during overnight recovery from an exercise bout. However, it remains to be established whether dietary protein ingestion before sleep can effectively augment the muscle adaptive response to resistance-type exercise training.
Here we assessed the impact of dietary protein supplementation before sleep on muscle mass and strength gains during resistance-type exercise training.
Forty-four young men (22 ± 1 y) were randomly assigned to a progressive, 12-wk resistance exercise training program. One group consumed a protein supplement containing 27.5 g of protein, 15 g of carbohydrate, and 0.1 g of fat every night before sleep. The other group received a noncaloric placebo. Muscle hypertrophy was assessed on a whole-body (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry), limb (computed tomography scan), and muscle fiber (muscle biopsy specimen) level before and after exercise training. Strength was assessed regularly by 1-repetition maximum strength testing.
Muscle strength increased after resistance exercise training to a significantly greater extent in the protein-supplemented (PRO) group than in the placebo-supplemented (PLA) group (+164 ± 11 kg and +130 ± 9 kg, respectively; P < 0.001). In addition, quadriceps muscle cross-sectional area increased in both groups over time (P < 0.001), with a greater increase in the PRO group than in the PLA group (+8.4 ± 1.1 cm(2) vs. +4.8 ± 0.8 cm(2), respectively; P < 0.05). Both type I and type II muscle fiber size increased after exercise training (P < 0.001), with a greater increase in type II muscle fiber size in the PRO group (+2319 ± 368 µm(2)) than in the PLA group (+1017 ± 353 µm(2); P < 0.05).
Protein ingestion before sleep represents an effective dietary strategy to augment muscle mass and strength gains during resistance exercise training in young men.
Unfortunately, this study also included 15 grams of carbohydrates along with the 27 grams of protein. This is unfortunate because carbs before bed will attenuate the growth hormone response that occurs with sleep. Taking in carbohydrates before bed is as counterproductive as taking in carbs after exercise as far as improving body composition and exercise/sports performance. For more information on this topic go to the detailed information on NitAbol in the store and also type NitAbol in the Search Engine to see more articles about night time nutrition.
Anabolic and Catabolic Influences for Increasing Muscle Mass
It’s important to understand what’s involved in increasing muscle mass. There is a delicate balance between protein synthesis (building muscle) and protein catabolism (breaking down muscle). Both processes go on simultaneously and it’s the balance between the two that decides whether or not you’re going to gain or lose muscle mass.
It’s also important to understand that even if protein synthesis increases all during sleep because of an increase in anabolic hormones, the natural tendency of the body is to break down muscle in the postabsorptive phase – when there is no longer any food in the GI tract that is being absorbed. The body needs a constant supply of energy and nutrients and if this supply is not forthcoming from dietary intake then it takes what it needs from body stores and the breakdown of tissues, especially muscle.
It’s the net gain in protein accretion that’s important, not the degree of either protein synthesis or degradation. Even in states in which there is extensive protein degradation, as long as protein synthesis is greater, then there is a positive protein balance and likely increases in muscle mass.
What this means is that muscle mass can increase as a result of decreased catabolism, either physiologically or through the use of anticatabolic agents (ingredients that decrease catabolism or muscle breakdown), just as much as from anabolism. In fact if catabolism is not checked it can easily outstrip any anabolic processes and result in muscle loss.
It makes just as much sense to try and decrease protein degradation as to increase protein synthesis, and makes the most sense if you can do both at the same time.
The Missing Link
If you eat right, train hard, and take your supplements and you’re still not getting stronger and growing, you better start taking your sleep time more seriously because that just may be the anabolic primer you’re missing.
Most of us take sleeping for granted. We go to bed and wake up in the morning with little care of what goes on in between. But if you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter or anyone who’s into training, and you want to maximize the effects of your training you should care about what’s going on in your body at night. That’s because what you do, or more specifically what you’re not doing, while you sleep may be sabotaging your body composition goals.
So what should you do to make sure that your nighttime is not down time, at least as far as your body is concerned.
The first thing you have to do is to make sure you’re getting your fair share of sleep. Look at sleep as a “do not disturb” sign for out bodies and mind and make sure you’re not short changing yourself by not getting enough of it. Without enough sleep both our bodies and minds, and our metabolism are adversely affected.
We live in a society that’s in a frenzy 24/7, and few people value a good nights sleep. That’s because we have so many demands on us that we’re always looking for a few extra hours to catch up. And most of us cut back on our sleep to gain that time. As such, sleep deprivation is all too common in our culture, with disastrous consequences on our mental and physical health. And as important, at least for us, on our ability to gain muscle and lose body fat.
Besides all the rejuvenating effects of sleep on our brain and nervous system, many of the body’s cells also show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins during sleep. Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like training, stress and even ultraviolet rays, the time we sleep should be optimized to get the best results.
[i]A Chesley, JD MacDougall, MA Tarnopolsky et al., "Changes in muscle protein synthesis after resistance exercise," J Appl Physiol 73 (1992): 1383-1388.
[ii]Snijders T, Res PT, Smeets JS, van Vliet S, van Kranenburg J, Maase K, Kies AK, Verdijk LB, van Loon LJ. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. J Nutr. 2015 Jun;145(6):1178-84.
[iii]Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, VAN Loon LJ. Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012;44:1560–9.
[iii]Groen BB, Res PT, Pennings B, Hertle E, Senden JM, Saris WH, van Loon LJ. Intragastric protein administration stimulates overnight muscle protein synthesis in elderly men. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2012;302:E52–60.