Should Athletes Eat a Nighttime Snack? Get the quick answers along with the perfect recipe for a Wild Blueberry Nighttime Power Smoothie.
In my work with athletes, a very common question I get is:
Should I eat a bedtime snack, and if so, what should it be?
While the answer to this question is not universal, here is who I think can benefit from a nighttime or bedtime snack:
- Athletes looking to increase lean muscle mass and are training (at least) several times a week in the weight room to do so.
- Athletes with an intense schedule including long days of school, workouts and practices which makes eating frequently a challenge.
- Athletes who struggle to keep their weight up.
- Endurance athletes, especially those who struggle with injuries like stress factors or pulled muscles.
- Athletes who get sick very easily, especially with upper respiratory track infections.
- Athletes trying to lose weight by cutting calories. (Yes, it's true.)
All of these scenarios could warrant a very good reason to end your day with a strong snack or mini meal to give your body the boost of nutrients it needs to reach your goals and maintain health.
Whey and Casein protein
I've been thinking about ideas for strong nighttime snacks lately, especially after attending a sports nutrition workshop a few weeks ago where we discussed the roles that whey and casein protein have in muscle building. I knew that whey protein is quickly digested and plays a critical role in muscle synthesis, especially post-workout, but I wasn't as clear on if and when casein was as needed. After learning about some really fascinating research results, it became clear that as a slow-digesting protein, casein can be extremely important in times where an athlete is not able to eat, like while sleeping.
What happens while you sleep
During sleep, you eventually run out of energy from your last meal to fuel the processes of your body. You will move to breakdown glycogen (stored glucose) and once that runs out you can also begin to break down protein (such as muscle or the immune system) in your body to make energy.
Why is this such a big deal?
In a nutshell, if you are trying to maintain performance and/or gain muscle, the LAST thing you want to happen while you sleep is muscle breakdown. You work WAY too hard to simply give up muscle for energy. Surely there's a solution.
Because casein digests more slowly, it can offer the athlete a slow-release trickle of energy and protein that could last them through the night, preventing unwanted muscle breakdown. YESSS!!!!
Additional Benefits of a nighttime snack
Beyond just getting the right amount of protein, a nighttime snack offers the athlete an opportunity to get more calories from nutrient rich foods. While simply eating enough quantity of food is important, so is the quality, and that can be a challenge for many athletes.
Don't worry though because I've made this easy for you by creating a nighttime smoothie that meets all the requirements: Wild Blueberry Nighttime Power Smoothie
By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America and I am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.
Let's breakdown what this smoothie has to offer:
The first important ingredient chosen for this smoothie is wild blueberries because they have, what I like to think of as, super powers. Wild Blueberries have twice (2x) the antioxidant capacity of larger, cultivated blueberries. A growing body of research shows the potential health benefits of Wild Blueberries including gut health, diabetes, cancer and brain health (direct quote from Wild Blueberries). And while these may not have as well known direct connections to performance, taking care of your body for the long term is very important! Plus, they are just so delicious.
Next up is cottage cheese, which might sound a little weird in a smoothie. Cottage cheese is a great source of casein protein, that much needed, slow-release protein we've already discussed. This will help your body preserve muscle tissue and can actually help ensure you build muscle in your sleep (more on that another time).
Milk is also added to this smoothie to provide some whey protein. Whey protein is a great source of the amino acid leucine which is well-known for its ability to promote muscle building and repair. Plus, you need some liquid here to make a smoothie.
Avocado & Flax Seed
Next up is two sources of inflammation-fighting foods: avocado and flax seed. See, as an athlete you put your body through a lot of work that causes inflammation. Therefore, my belief is that athletes need to be very diligent about eating plant foods that are known to protect their body from the damage caused by inflammation. Both these foods help your body fight the good fight plus provide healthy fat, fiber and good calories.
Avocados also help you get a really creamy consistency that mimics a great shake.
The dates are included in this smoothie to be a natural source of sweetness. It does provide a little fiber too. If you don't have dates, you can use honey as an alternative, or leave it out altogether.
Lastly, is the cinnamon. I included this because apparently blueberries and cinnamon go well together. It totally works here and gives this smoothie a really delicious flavor. Beyond flavor, cinnamon is known to have many health benefits on your blood, energy systems and even your brain. Boom!
Without further ado, here's how you make my Wild Blueberry Nighttime Power Smoothie...
Wild Blueberry Nighttime Power Smoothie
- ¾ cup frozen, wild blueberries
- ½ cup cottage cheese
- 1 cup reduced fat milk
- ½ hass avocado
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
- 4 pitted dried dates roughly chopped
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Put all ingredients into a high powered blender.
- Blend until very smooth, about 45-60 seconds. Add more milk if needed to blend successfully.
- Serve immediately.
Hopefully I've helped answer the big sports nutrition question of "Should athletes eat a nighttime snack" and also given you an easy solution in my Wild Blueberry Nighttime Power Smoothie. If this was helpful, please leave a comment and let me know. Share it with a friend too!