The Nighttime Protein Fix – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

A Bedtime Snack That Won’t Make You Fat

Many studies show that late-night eating wrecks your body composition. Luckily, one food does the opposite.

An old expression goes like this: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” So, to be healthy, have a big breakfast, a lighter lunch, and don’t eat much at night.

It’s not that simple, of course, but many successful diet strategies cut off your eating a few hours before bed. Many in the intermittent fasting brigade are even shifting their eating windows: instead of skipping breakfast, they skip dinner. More than a few studies show that eating a lot before bed can have negative effects, and it goes beyond just ingesting too many calories. The devil is in the details, or in this case, the devil is in the macronutrient makeup of your pre-bed snacks.

Previous studies on nighttime eating paint an ugly picture. Eating a late-night meal or a big snack before bed leads to more fat gain. In short, fat metabolism is impaired. A few studies conclude this happens even if those nighttime snacks don’t result in a caloric surplus.

Eating more before bed (as opposed to earlier in the day) also raises insulin, fasting glucose, and triglyceride levels, adding to a negative metabolic profile (1). The body just doesn’t seem to “handle” those calories as well, which might lead to a disruption of your appetite-controlling hormones.

However these studies were usually conducted using average-people food. And the average person makes terrible food choices. So what happens if you switch out the carby or fatty snacks for protein? Research published in The Journal of Nutrition sheds some light.

The Study

Researchers gathered up a bunch of weight-training women for this study. In one experimental condition, the buff women consumed a casein-containing protein shake (30 grams) during the day. In the second condition, they consumed the same protein shake 30 minutes before bed.

The researchers dragged out all their fancy machines and used various methods to measure overnight fat oxidation and subcutaneous abdominal adipose tissue (belly fat) metabolism.

The results? The protein shake did not blunt overnight lipolysis (the breakdown of fats) and was not expected to increase subcutaneous abdominal fat (2). The lead scientist said, “Essentially, you can eat protein before bed and not disturb fat metabolism.”

By the way, a related study on male lifters found that those who consumed 28 grams of casein protein before bed gained 4 more pounds of additional muscle than a control group over 12 weeks. The researchers noted: “All protein ingested prior to sleep is used for protein synthesis.”

In short, eating protein before bed, especially casein, is perfectly fine. You don’t have to eat like a pauper at night.

Here’s What To Do

The 30-gram protein shake in the first study didn’t contain a significant amount of fat or carbohydrate. So, if you want to switch out your normal snack for a shake, use a lower-carb protein powder that contains a lot of casein, preferably far-superior micellar casein like that found in MD Protein (on Amazon).

Now, drinking a protein shake while watching TV at night doesn’t feel much like snacking, so try one of these options:

Protein Pudding

  1. Mix one or two scoops of MD Protein (on Amazon) into a very small amount of water or unsweetened almond milk. You want it to be very thick and creamy.

  2. Partially freeze your protein goop. About 15-30 minutes does the trick.

  3. Eat it with a spoon. It’s darn close to pudding or soft-serve ice cream and feels a lot more “snacky” and satisfying than just chugging a shake.

Protein-Pumped Yogurt

Mix one scoop of MD Protein (on Amazon) into a serving of fat-free Greek yogurt. Add raw nuts and/or dark chocolate chips if it fits your goals. (I don’t think the added fats throw things off too much, and it sure beats a bag of Doritos.) The important thing is the 38 grams of protein provided.

Protein First… and Last

This protein-at-night trick slots nicely into what we call the protein-first eating strategy. In short, pump up your protein intake to about a gram per pound of body weight and everything else pretty much autoregulates and takes care of itself.

Make your last snack of the day with 30-40 grams of protein and you’ll much more easily reach that target number.



  1. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Timing meals later at night can cause weight gain and impair fat metabolism. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily 2 June 2017.
  2. Allman BR et al. Lipolysis and Fat Oxidation Are Not Altered with Presleep Compared with Daytime Casein Protein Intake in Resistance-Trained Women. J Nutr. 2020 Jan 1;150(1):47-54. PubMed.

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