A midnight snack might not be such a bad idea. According to a new study, consuming protein right before bed could aid in muscle recoveryProtein Ingestion Prior To Sleep Improves Post-Exercise Overnight Recovery. Res, P.T., Groen, B., Pennings, B., et al. Department of Human Movement Sciences, Brentford, United Kingdom. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2012 Feb 9.. (Morning burpees, anyone?)

Sixteen young men were put to the test: They worked out at 8 pm for slightly less than an hour, then immediately ate a meal filled with protein and carbs. Thirty minutes before their midnight bedtime, some participants consumed a beverage with casein protein (which we digest slower than many other forms of proteinThe digestion rate of protein is an independent regulating factor of postprandial protein retention. Dangin, M., Boirie, Y., Garcia-Rodenas, C., et al. Laboratoire de Nutrition Humaine, Centre de Recherche en Nutrition Humaine, Université Clermont Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand, France. American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology And Metabolism, 2001 Feb;280(2):E340-8.). Scientists found that during the night, the protein from the beverage increased protein synthesis rates (protein synthesis helps repair muscles) by 22 percent, compared to rates in those who did not enjoy the protein drink.

Refueling with protein after exercise is vital to staying on top of our A-game, since muscle breakdown is likely to occur during workoutsHuman muscle protein synthesis and breakdown during and after exercise. Kumar, V., Atherton, P., Smith, K., et al. University of Nottingham, School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health, Derby, UK. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2009 Jun;106(6):2026-39. Epub 2009 Jan 22.Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Tipton, K.D., Wolfe, R.R. Metabolism Division, University of Texas Medial Branch-Galveston, Galveston, TX. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2001 Mar;11(1):109-32.. But these findings might not apply to the general population. The experiment was small, and involved only men. (It’s worth noting that women naturally have higher rates of protein synthesis.)Higher muscle protein synthesis in women than men across the lifespan, and failure of androgen administration to amend age-related decrements. Henderson, G.C., Dhatariva, K., Ford, G.C., et al. Division of Endocrinology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 2009 Feb;23(2):631-41. Epub 2008 Sep 30.. The study also looked at muscle recovery after evening exercise, so those who workout in the morning or midday may not need a protein-filled bedtime treat.

Muscle mass breaks down in men and women as they age, so it’s important to remain active and get enough protein as we get olderExercise, aging, and muscle protein metabolism. Yarasheski, K.E. Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri. The Journals of Gerontology, Series A, 2003 Oct;58(10):M918-22.. But be careful: Overdoing it in the calorie department can lead to weight gain, no matter which food group the calories come fromEffect of dietary protein content on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition during overeating: a randomized controlled trial. Bray, G.A., Smith S.R., de Jonge, L. Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, LA. The Journal of American Medical Association, 2012 Jan 4;307(1):47-55.. So if exercising at night, ditch dining with Outback Steakhouse in bed. Stick to a small protein beverage, or snack on some nuts or slices of lean deli meat before shutting off the lights. Those muscles will thank us in the morning.

Photo by Ben Draper