Proper sleep is absolutely vital – for numerous reasons.
Along with the obvious lack of energy and decrease in mental focus that can come along with insufficient sleep, research has linked this all-too-common state with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer.
While there are lots of different approaches you can take to improve the quality of your sleep, there is one that people often ignore: post workout nutrition. Yes, the way that you eat after your workouts can actually impact your sleep.
Why? What should you be eating after you leave the gym?
To understand the impact of post workout nutrition on sleep, it's important that you first understand exactly what happens to your muscles when you exercise.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, your muscles do not get bigger or stronger in the gym. In fact, pretty much the opposite is true. As you exercise, you challenge your muscles and even cause damage to the fibers that make them up.
But don't worry. That damage is the stimulus that makes your brain rebuild the muscles – in hopes that you will be pretty prepared to handle that challenge the next time that it comes around. And this is where nutrition comes into play.
In order to accomplish this rebuilding work, your body needs to have all of the raw materials in adequate amounts. Specifically, this means proteins which are then broken down into amino acids and converted into... pretty much whatever your body needs them to be.
So... what does any of this have to do with sleep? If you regularly exercise without properly refueling, your body begins to think something is wrong, elevating your stress hormones and entering you into a highly disruptive state known as overtraining syndrome.
Although this condition is usually associated with an increased risk of injury and a decrease in athletic performance, it can also severely impact your sleep.
After all, your brain thinks that something terrible is happening around you. Why else would you be working so hard without proper nutrition?
Getting Around It
Now that you understand the root problem, the solution probably seems pretty obvious: make sure you have proper nutrition. And that's exactly right.
Again, however, protein is the key when it comes to workout recovery. A slow-digesting casein supplement right before bed is a commonly used nutritional tool for this situation.
Unlike whey, which dissolves very quickly in your system, casein forms a sort of protein-ball in your stomach that takes hours to digest. Unpleasant as that sounds, it means that your body has a ready source of all the amino acids that it could need.
Of course, you'll also need to make sure that you're getting adequate amounts of total calories, since this is where your general fuel will come from. Without that, your body will get upset and assume the worst.
It's also important to make sure that your workouts are well designed and that you're keeping a reasonable schedule so that you avoid over training.