When you hit your stride in a really epic workout, you have the immediate gratification of seeing your body change before your eyes. Muscles swell, veins traverse your arms and sweat gives you that show-stopping gleam that makes each pass by the mirror all the more rewarding. Fast-forward a few hours and you’ve gone from the Hulk back to Bruce Banner. That’s because the real growth event happens much later: not as you train, but as you sleep. Solid sleep — as well as what you do just before lights-out — is typically the most underrated factor in changing your overall body composition.
Slow-wave (deep) sleep is essential for balancing levels of hormones in the body that are necessary for muscular recovery and growth. And the largest contribution of deep sleep to recovery is the release of growth hormone (GH) from the anterior pituitary, which sets up the perfect environment for muscular growth. Proper bedtime nutrition is also key to ensuring a steady supply of muscle-building amino acids while you slumber. These six supplements can promote deep sleep, GH release and muscular development while you dream of being the world’s next superhero.
Deep Sleep & GH Release
Help your brain crank up its muscle-building machinery with these sleep aids.
This naturally occurring compound in the body is synthesized by the pineal gland in the brain. It plays a vital role in maintaining the sleep cycle and has been used for years as a supplement to treat jet lag and facilitate deep sleep. Notably, scientists from Baylor University (Waco, Texas) reported in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that healthy young males who took a 5-milligram melatonin supplement had double the GH secretion under resting conditions compared to when they took a placebo. Based on melatonin’s sleep-inducing and GH-releasing properties, we think it makes a great bedtime supplement for athletes and those looking to build muscle, especially if they find it difficult to sleep deeply.
>> Take 5 milligrams about 30 minutes before bed.
2. Valerian Root
This root comes from a perennial flowering plant called Valeriana officinalis. The name “valerian” is thought to derive from the Latin word “valere,” meaning “to be well.” Its medicinal uses as an analgesic (pain reliever) and sedative are centuries old and well documented, and the root is still used today as an alternative to drug therapy. Overall, the research indicates that valerian root supplements can safely reduce anxiety and promote sleep, exhibiting its effects through critical pathways in the brain. Its sedative properties are robust enough that it’s often used as a natural remedy for insomnia and anxiety. For athletes, this supplement can be used to promote sleep and for mild pain relief.
>> Although there is no established ideal dose, 500 to 1,000 milligrams of valerian root extract taken before bed has been found to be effective.
3. Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)
GABA is an amino-acid neurotransmitter that has a number of important roles in the central nervous system. When ingested, it has been scientifically noted to boost GH release, especially during sleep. There are also several reports of enhanced fat loss when using GABA, likely due to elevated GH release. Many individuals who have supplemented with GABA report experiencing deep and satisfying sleep. Doses used in scientific studies range from a minimum of 2 grams up to 18 grams taken about two hours before bedtime.
>> Take 5 grams of GABA about two hours before bed to elevate GH release.
4. Mucuna Pruriens
Mucuna pruriens comes from an ancient Indian herb called velvet bean, which has been shown to elevate the body’s stores of L-dopa (the precursor to dopamine) when taken orally. Dopamine is a key player in the signaling for GH release by inhibiting hypothalamic somatostatin levels, which leads to greater GH secretion by the pituitary gland.
>> Taking approximately 2,000 milligrams of high-quality Mucuna pruriens (standardized to 15 percent L-dopa) immediately before bed can support a substantial boost to your nocturnal GH surge.
These supps provide your body with the proper overnight building materials.
5. Casein Protein
High-quality micellar casein protein is the No. 1 pre-bedtime protein source. Micelles are large particles that remain in suspension and act as a liquid in certain environments, yet stick to one another and form large protein globs in other environments. These properties enable micellar casein to mix easily in water or milk yet form a sustained-release “protein gel” in the stomach, making it a very efficient long-term supplier of nutrients and amino acids. When taken before bed, micellar casein supplements impart slow and long-lasting elevations in blood amino acid levels (for up to seven hours), providing long-term nutrition to recovering muscle while you sleep. In addition, this unique sustained amino acid release has been reported to cause a marked decrease (approximately 34 percent) in muscle catabolism.
>> Take 40 to 50 grams of high-quality micellar casein protein at bedtime.
6. Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)
The omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs exhibit numerous beneficial health effects including fat loss and muscle growth as well as cardiovascular, joint and neural health. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish and flax while omega-6s are found in higher percentages in vegetable oils and oils from nuts. Since the typical North American diet has an abundance of omega-6s and is lower in omega-3 fatty acids, we tend to get more than enough omega-6s but inadequate amounts of omega-3s from our daily diet. That’s why we recommend taking fish-oil supplements to boost your omega-3 levels. In terms of pre-bedtime nutrition, fish oil synergizes with micellar casein protein to further slow the release of amino acids, ensuring sustained release throughout the night while you sleep.
>> Take 2 to 4 grams of fish oil with your before-bed casein shake.