Nicolas Paraskevopulos, Bakala Academy – Athletic Performance Center, KU Leuven
Eating cottage cheese before bed rest has become a popular custom in strength and power athletes. Cottage cheese is a milk product rich in casein protein, which is slowly digested. It provides a gradual release of amino acids into the bloodstream. That is why these so called “meat heads” use it to bridge the 7-8 hour fasting period during sleep. They claim that eating cottage cheese before sleep reduces overnight muscle breakdown and helps to maintain and build muscle mass. Is there some scientific evidence in support for late evening protein intake in the form of cottage cheese?
A study from the group of Luc Van Loon at the University of Maastricht provides a clear answer on the above question. They recruited sixteen healthy young males. After eating an identical diet throughout the day they performed a single resistance training session in the evening (20h00). Immediately after the training (21h00) the participants received a recovery drink containing 20g protein plus 60g carbohydrates. Thereafter the subjects were split into two groups: half of the subjects received an extra 40g (= 0.54g per kg bodyweight) of casein protein 30 min before sleep (23h30), whilst the other half started the night without the casein supplement.
This study showed that:
− Casein was effectively digested and absorbed during sleep, resulting in a rapid rise in circulating amino acid levels, which were sustained throughout the remainder of the night.
− Overnight muscle protein synthesis rates were approximately 22% higher after pre-sleep casein intake compared to no extra protein.
Take home message:
Cottage cheese, preferentially light cottage cheese, can be termed an adequate pre-sleep protein snack. Standard cottage cheese contains about 10g of protein per 100g, and most of the protein in cottage cheese is casein. Other good sources of casein include milk and yoghurt, but the protein content is much lower (3-4%). During traveling a casein or milk protein powder solution (±80% casein) is conceivably more convenient to use than cottage cheese. Future research needs to explore the efficacy of other protein foods, or lower protein doses (<0,54g per kg bodyweight), to stimulate muscle protein synthesis overnight.
Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JMG, van Loon LJC (2012) Protein Ingestion before Sleep Improves Postexercise Overnight Recovery. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.