Spare muscle tissue by limiting overnight catabolism with proper nutrition and supplementation
By Pedro van Gaalen, Managing Editor
Quality sleep is essential for optimal growth as this is the time when a number of biological process work to repair the damage caused during training, and daily life.
It’s during REM sleep when our bodies enter a heightened anabolic state, which results in the rejuvenation and repair of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. A number of internal processes occur at night to make this happen, in particular a pronounced anabolic hormonal response. These processes releases important growth factors, such as human growth hormone (hGH) and testosterone during the night to stimulate the repair process. In fact, over 90% of your daily hGH supply is actually released while you sleep, as pulsatile secretion increases after 1-2 hours of sleep, with maximal secretion occurring during later stages of sleep.
However, while everything else is working to aid recovery, our bodies also need a steady supply of the nutrients and substrates required to repair damaged muscle tissue, and replenish whatever was depleted during training. Without sufficient amounts of amino acids, free fatty acids and glucose the anabolic process is unable to run its full course.
In addition, when the natural release of hGH stops and you run out of amino acids to synthesise new protein our bodies enter a state called nocturnal post-absorptive muscle catabolism, or NPMC. This happens every night, and it is a natural process that cannot be stopped. However, there are ways to mitigate how much muscle tissue is lost to the process.
To help fuel the nocturnal anabolic process, and limit the effects of the catabolic state that follows (this is an important distinction) there are a few tools at our disposal. One of the more controversial methods being suggested is reversing the generally recommended dietary pattern of consuming most of your calories in the morning, with a steady decrease in calorie consumption over the course of the day, with your smallest meal eaten at night, a few hours before bed.
However, this ‘conventional wisdom’ is increasingly being challenged. One of the main reasons is that a large, late-night meal provides the volume of macronutrients needed to support the initial anabolic repair phase, when hGH and testosterone levels are at their highest. A continued steady supply of amino acids will then help to mitigate the muscle breakdown that occurs during NPMC.
An interesting point worth noting here is that most carnivorous mammals will sleep after large feedings, with little or no interference from the digestion process – a common reason touted to avoid late night eating. The other reason to avoid eating before bed is that it limits the amount of calories that will be stored as fat, as there is no activity to ‘burn’ the fuel you’ve consumed. However, these mammals don’t seem to become obese by following this eat-sleep pattern. The caveat to that statement is that they follow an eating pattern characterised by periods of intermittent fasting, so that line of reasoning should be viewed in context.
“…most carnivorous mammals will sleep after large feedings, with little or no interference from the digestion process – a common reason touted to avoid late night eating…”
Regardless, if you’re eating ‘clean’ and your total calorie consumption throughout the day remains constant, it may be of benefit to shift the calorie values of your meals to favour your morning meal, to break the night-time fast, and your evening meals, to support the initial nocturnal anabolic process. Your post-workout meal would be your other big meal of the day.
The other option that has been adopted by many bodybuilders over the years is night-time feeds – waking up at strategic points during the evening for a meal. However, this is very disruptive to natural, healthy sleeping patterns, and diminishes the overall quality of your sleep.