Common wisdom for overweight dieters is to eat regular meals and avoid snacking. Eating before bedtime is an especially big no-no since sleeping is typically the longest period of time spent in an inactive state with very few calories burned by physical activity.
But two British studies have shown that the body compensates after eating cheesy foods to avoid weight gain. In fact, eating cottage cheese before going to bed may help promote weight loss.
The first study was conducted in 2009. The results were published in the British Journal of Nutrition out of Cambridge, England.
The 2009 study set out to test the theory that snacking causes overweight. The scientists devised out a very clever way to figure this out. They wanted to see if eating snacks increased “energy intake” – chemical energy derived from the calories in food – or if the body has a compensation mechanism that maintains daily energy intake at a constant level.
In other words, does the body process caloric energy steadily throughout the waking day or do energy levels spike after eating?
The snack chosen was high in protein, provides moderate energy when consumed, and was “cheesy.” Each snack portion consisted of 22 grams (about 3/4 of an ounce) of cheese.
Two types of cheese were tested. They had different types of milk proteins: one contained only casein (CAS). The other contained a mixture of casein and whey proteins.
Casein is “a slow-digesting dairy protein that people often take as a supplement. It releases amino acids slowly, so people often take it before bed to help with recovery and reduce muscle breakdown while they sleep.”
Whey protein contains “an incredible range of essential amino acids, which are absorbed quickly. Numerous studies show that it can help you increase strength, gain muscle and lose significant amounts of body fat.”
The 2009 study concluded that eating high-protein, moderate-energy, regular cheesy snacks “should not promote overweight” because the body regulates energy uptake during subsequent meals on the same day.
For their study, the Brits recruited 27 normal-weight women who were healthy non-smokers aged 18-60 years old. The women were fed a “preload” cheesy snack one hour before mealtime and then tested to see if energy intake (the number of calories provided by the food they ate) at the next meal and throughout the day changed. In this way, the researchers could tell if the body compensated for the cottage cheese snack.
The second study was also published in the British Journal of Nutrition in November 2018.
These researchers wanted to find out if eating a whole-food protein – cottage cheese – before sleep affected the amount of “next-morning resting energy expenditure” (how much energy the body burned while sleeping after eating the cottage cheese). They also wanted to see if appetite changed the day after eating proteinous food before retiring.
These scientists also wanted to compare the effects of eating cottage cheese to a liquid containing the same amount of protein.
Basically, the British scientists wanted to know if eating cottage cheese before bed would have the same weight-loss benefits as drinking a supplemental protein shake.
Ten active women in their 20s were tested in an overnight laboratory setting. The test subjects were fed either one cup of cottage cheese, which has 30 grams (1 ounce) of protein and 0 percent fat, casein protein (30 grams), or a non-caloric placebo at night on three separate occasions about 30 to 60 minutes before bed. The following morning, the number of calories burned during sleep was measured.
The results showed that the women’s metabolic response from consuming whole-food protein was the same as that from a concentrated milk-protein liquid. These benefits suggest improved strength, metabolism, and general health can be gained from eating cottage cheese before bedtime.
Study author Michael Ormsbee, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M. directs Florida State University’s Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine. He explained that “The nighttime sleeping period is typically the longest span of time that most people have without eating.”
Dr. Ormsbee continued:
“This means that it’s possible that muscle protein degradation is also at its highest while you’re sleeping. So you’re taking advantage of a period of time that is normally catabolic [meaning your body is using up energy], and instead, turning it into an opportunity for overnight muscle protein synthesis—or growth.”
Dr. Ormsbee also noted that a Dutch research team had found similar results in both men and women of all ages and fitness levels.
So ditch those expensive protein shakes and supplements and treat your midnight munchies to an affordable ounce of cottage cheese. You’ll be ready to face the next day’s activities in stride.