Whether you want to lose weight or gain it, a diet with an adequate amount of protein is key.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests that 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 20 to 35 percent should come from fat, and 10 to 35 percent should come from protein.

Daily Calories from CarbsDaily Calories from FatDaily Calories from Protein
45 to 65 percent20 to 35 percent10 to 35 percent

More specifically, the recommended daily allowance of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Research suggests, though, that athletes benefit from more protein to maximize muscle protein synthesis, or muscle growth. Those who frequently and consistently lift weights or do resistance training may benefit from consuming 1.3 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.

That means that an active 180-pound male should consume about 106-147 grams of protein a day for muscle growth, and an active 140-pound woman should consume between 83 and 114 grams.

Is there an optimal time to consume this protein? While hitting the overall daily intake is most important, research does suggest that protein timing can make a difference. Studies are mixed about whether consuming protein immediately after a workout has a beneficial effect on muscle growth. Several studies do demonstrate, however, that protein consumed before bed can indeed foster muscle growth.

The Science Behind It

Our muscles, which are built from amino acids supplied by protein, repair themselves and grow while we sleep. Growth hormone, which boosts this muscle growth and decreases fat, is elevated during this time.

Studies have shown that if you consume an ample amount of protein right before bed, you’ll take full advantage of this spike in growth hormone and maximize muscle gains because you’re providing the amino acids that are needed for repair and growth.

The first study, published in Medicine & Science and Sports & Exercise in 2012, had 16 healthy young males perform a single bout of weightlifting in the evening. All subjects were provided with 20 grams of protein immediately after exercise. Thirty minutes before sleep, eight of the men ingested a beverage with 40 grams of casein. Muscle protein synthesis rates were increased in the eight men who consumed the casein beverage before bed, which provided evidence that protein increases post-exercise overnight recovery.

The latest study, published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2015, monitored 44 young men as they completed a 12-week resistance training program. All participants consumed a high-protein diet (1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight), but one group consumed a drink before bed containing 27.5 grams of protein and 15 grams of carbohydrates while the other group received a placebo drink. The group who consumed the protein drink saw greater improvements in muscle strength, muscle size, and muscle fiber size. This means that the protein ingested before bed was effectively absorbed and digested, stimulating growth in the muscles.

Not Just Active People Benefit

Another study, published in the American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism in 2011, explored the loss of muscle mass with age. Sixteen “healthy elderly men” participated in the experiment. Eight ingested casein, a slow-digesting protein, before bed, and the others had a placebo. The group that consumed the casein protein showed a more positive overnight whole-body protein balance. This means that dietary protein before sleep promoted muscle growth, even in older and less active people.

What Should You Eat?

If you’d like to boost muscle growth during sleep, what should you eat? An average adult should aim for something with about 10 to 20 grams of protein.

Good sources of protein include:

  • poultry
  • fish and seafood
  • tofu
  • legumes, lentils, and peas
  • Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and ricotta cheese
  • eggs
  • nuts

About 3 ounces of chicken, salmon, 90 percent lean ground beef, or 1 cup of cooked beans or lentils will help you reach a 20-gram protein mark. Some appropriate high-protein snacks include:

  • 1 cup of 1 percent milk fat cottage cheese
  • one slice of bread with peanut butter and a glass of 1 percent milk
  • a container of plain Greek yogurt with berries
  • three hard-boiled eggs

High-Protein Recipes

Supplements vs. Real Food

While protein powders, shakes, and bars may also provide an adequate amount of protein, it’s preferable to consume “real” food instead.

These supplements, which aren’t regulated strictly by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USDA), don’t offer the same nutrients as whole foods like lean meats, eggs, or yogurt. They are also often packed with sugar and high in calories.

If you have trouble meeting your daily recommended caloric or protein needs, a protein shake could be a good option. The USDA recommends about 2,600 calories a day for a moderately active man and 2,000 calories a day for a moderately active woman for weight maintenance (calorie needs are lower for weight loss).

The Takeaway

If you’re looking to encourage muscle growth, consider adding protein to your late-night routine. By providing the amino acids that your muscles need to repair and rebuild during sleep, you could make gains while you snooze.