Need another reason to drink a protein shake at breakfast? Getting more protein in the morning could help you steer clear of the midnight munchies.
Restless nights can be quite normal when you’re trying to lose a few pounds. It’s not just those nightly cravings for carbs from the fridge that can get to you. Some scientific studies suggest that the calorie deficit could also disrupt normal sleep patterns likely because of its effects on the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain.
However, Purdue University researchers noticed from cross-sectional analyses of adults that a higher daily protein intake is associated with improved sleep patterns. More specifically, those who ate more protein daily got to sleep earlier and had fewer waking episodes during sleep.
Based on the observation that protein intake might be related to more restful sleep, the researchers initially began investigating how higher-protein intakes could affect overweight and obese adults during weight loss. In a pair of randomized controlled trials, they found that subjects who consumed more protein (1.5 grams per kilogram) had better sleep compared to those who had a lower intake (0.8 grams per kilogram) during weight loss (1).
From the pilot trials, they gathered that a high-protein meal itself didn’t immediately make people sleepy. It might’ve affected overall satiety during the day. Drawing on animal research, the researchers also suggested that the higher-protein intake led to higher circulating plasma amino acids. This could have affected the synthesis of brain neurotransmitters needed for restful sleep.
“The results from these two randomized controlled diet studies indicate the middle-aged and older overweight and moderately obese adults may improve sleep by maintaining higher-protein intakes when dieting to lose weight,” the authors wrote of their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1).
Those findings contributed to another area of interest by Purdue researchers on how a high-protein breakfast could affect appetite regulation. There have been few actual controlled studies looking at a potential causal role of breakfast in controlling appetite, but earlier observational work had already established a strong, consistent relationship between eating in the morning and a lower body weight.
“There is accumulating evidence supporting the consumption of increased dietary protein and fiber content at breakfast, as well as the consumption of more energy during the morning hours,” wrote nutrition and exercise researcher Heather Leidy, an associate professor at Purdue, with her colleagues from University of Missouri in Advances in Nutrition (2).
The latest developments are that the research group has designed clinical trials exploring the potential effects of a high-protein breakfast on appetite and sleep. One of the new studies compared the effects of a high-protein breakfast (30 grams of protein) in either a solid or beverage form (as a whey-based protein shake) to that of skipping breakfast in young adults (3).
While the full extent of their findings are not yet published, Dr. Leidy and her students shared preliminary data from the research last April at the American Society for Nutrition annual meeting at the Experimental Biology conference in Chicago. They reported that the high-protein breakfasts both in solid and beverage form did have a positive impact on satiety and sleep efficiency – a combination of total sleep time, efficiency, and perceived sleep quality.
The research is important because people generally consume less protein for breakfast as compared to lunch and dinner. The morning hours are considered an opportunity for shifting dietary habits in a way that could have a lasting impact on weight loss.
Overall, scientific evidence continues to suggest that getting more protein at breakfast, even in the form of a beverage shake, could be key to having more restful sleep when in a calorie deficit. The positive effects may have to do with a higher amount of protein having an effect on overall brain chemistry, appetite regulation, and satiety.
- Zhou J, Kim JE, Armstrong CL, Chen N & Campbell WW. 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 Feb 10. Available at: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/103/3/766.abstract
- Leidy HJ, Gwin JA, Roenfeldt CA, Zino AZ, Shafer RS. Evaluating the intervention-based evidence surrounding the causal role of breakfast on markers of weight management-with specific focus on breakfast composition and size. Advances in Nutrition. 2016 May 7:563S-575S. Available at: http://advances.nutrition.org/content/7/3/563S.full.pdf+html
- Gwin JA, Leidy H. The A pilot study assessing whether the consumption of a protein-rich breakfast improves appetite control, eating behavior, and sleep quality compared to skipping breakfast in healthy young professionals. FASEB J. April 2017:31(1)443.1. Available at: http://www.fasebj.org/content/31/1_Supplement/443.1.abstract?sid=3d9eb573-60f4-4470-b7b1-a889ff198e28
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