Sports Nutrition Experts since 1993

How to adapt your nutrition for better sleep?

  • amino acids
  • bcaa
  • Health nutrition

Would you like to be able to adapt your nutrition to get better sleep? What are the impacts of sport on your sleep and its quality? Nutrimuscle informs you and provides you with many details.

What is the impact of diet and nutrient quality on sleep?

When we have sleep problems, we are legitimately led to wonder about the impact of our diet as well as the timing of meals. Should we avoid proteins, carbohydrates or fats? What nutrients help you sleep? Should we eat or not before sleeping?

These are all questions that the latest scientific studies will help you answer in order to improve your quality of sleep.

The limits of science

No scientific study has shown that there is a miraculous way to get to sleep like a baby, even though we all would like to. This is normal, as there is not just one cause of sleep problems, but a multitude. It goes without saying that a technique that works for one will not necessarily work as well for another. So, only half of scientific studies show that modulating diet can improve sleep. The other half cannot detect an effect.

What science offers us is a multitude of avenues that everyone will have to explore in order to find what suits them best. At least each of these leads is based on solid and coherent arguments.

Impacts of sport on sleep and its quality

You might think that the fatigue caused by playing sports helps you sleep well, but it is not. Paradoxically, athletes are one of the groups of individuals who sleep the least well (1-2).

The incidence of sleep disturbances tends to be higher than in the general population. Athletes tend to experience both a reduction in the quality and quantity of sleep (3).

Sports and lack of sleep

This is of course only an average which hides large disparities. However, we can conclude from this that sport tends to have a negative rather than a positive impact on sleep while at the same time physical activity will exhaust the body.

This is a problem, as a lack of sleep slows down recovery and progression, while negatively impacting health. On the contrary, by sleeping longer, performance improves (4).

How can we correct this phenomenon by modulating our own diet?

Competition between amino acids to enter the brain

Amino acids aren't just for building muscle; they are also the precursors of neurotransmitters. It is their ability to enter the brain that modulates the production of these brain neurotransmitters.

Among the most effective amino acids are BCAAs and tyrosine, which act as boosters by serving as precursors to dopamine (a stimulating neurotransmitter). On the contrary, tryptophan increases the level of serotonin, which works the opposite of dopamine by accentuating the feeling of fatigue.

There is competition for brain entry between tryptophan and BCAAs. It is their concentration in the blood that determines who will be the winner of this competition.

Why take BCAAs?

During an effort, especially of long duration, the level of BCAA blood decreases while that of free tryptophan increases. It is therefore the latter who will win the competition to enter the brain (5).

When the brain's tryptophan concentration rises, we start making serotonin, the neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. The performance drops! This is why it is recommended to take BCAAs, especially those rich in valine during exercise: in order to reduce the arrival of tryptophan in the brain and therefore the synthesis of serotonin.

On the contrary, in the evening, it is necessary to promote the arrival of tryptophan. By filling up with tryptophan, it promotes the synthesis of serotonin and therefore the onset of sleep. Indeed, serotonin is the natural precursor of melatonin, the sleep hormone (5).

Studies show that less than 1g of tryptophan is enough to induce a sedative action (6). On the other hand, taking pure BCAAs before sleeping is not a good idea when you suffer from sleep disorders.

How to modulate the result of the BCAA / Tryptophan competition?

It is possible to influence the chances of tryptophan reaching the brain by taking a little carbohydrate. The latter, by stimulating the secretion of insulin, will transport the BCAAs to the muscles, which leaves the field free for tryptophan to reach the brain.

This provides an explanation, at least in part, for the question: How can taking carbohydrates before bed promote sleep? (7).

Carbohydrates in solid form such as oatmeal or barley flakes are more effective than liquid carbohydrates (dextrose, maltodextrin...).

The oil, like olive oil, by increasing the level of fat in the blood, will also promote the entry of tryptophan into the brain (8). Be careful though, too much fat interferes with sleep (9).

Remember that while the nervous system takes advantage of sleep to recover, at night, the muscles are in a phase of net catabolism due to a lack of protein. Fortunately, contrary to popular belief, high protein muscle-friendly diets do not degrade sleep quality, since they tend to improve it (10).

Other supplements that help you sleep better

  • Glycine (temporarily) reduces brain neurotransmission which promotes sleep.
  • Green tea, thanks to the presence of a calming amino acid, theanine accelerates falling asleep.
  • ZMB improves the quality of sleep thanks to the pidolate-magnesium synergy.
  • Mate and taurine will also promote the quality of sleep.

Scientific references

(1) Halson SL. Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep. Sports Med. 2014; 44(Suppl 1): 13–23.

(2) Fallon KE. Blood tests in tired elite athletes: expectations of athletes, coaches and sport science/sports medicine staff. Br J Sports Med. 2007;41(1):41–44.

(3) Leeder J. Sleep duration and quality in elite athletes measured using wristwatch actigraphy. J Sports Sci. 2012;30(6):541–545.

(4) Mah CD. The effects of sleep extension on the athletic performance of collegiate basketball players. Sleep. 2011;34(7):943–950.

(5) Fernstrom JD. Large neutral amino acids: dietary effects on brain neurochemistry and function. Amino Acids. 2013 Sep;45(3):419-30.

(6) Silber BY. Effects of tryptophan loading on human cognition, mood, and sleep. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010;34(3):387–407.

(7) Porter JM. Bed-time food supplements and sleep: effects of different carbohydrate levels. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1981 Apr;51(4):426-33.

(8) Knowlden AP. Systematic Review of Dietary Interventions Targeting Sleep Behavior The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2016 april

(9) Grandner MA. Relationships among dietary nutrients and subjective sleep, objective sleep, and napping in women. Sleep Med. 2010;11(2):180–184.

(10) Zhou J. Higher-protein diets improve indexes of sleep in energy-restricted overweight and obese adults: results from 2 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2016 Mar 103(3) : 766-74.

Written on 12/30/2021 by Nutrimuscle Conseil
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