Why is cottage cheese often suggested as a bedtime snack?
~Lise, via email
Two factors come into play when considering the popularity of cottage cheese as a bedtime snack: protein and sleep.
When you eat protein, it lasts in your bloodstream about 3 to 4 hours, which is why fitness buffs generally eat small clean meals and snacks every 3 waking hours. But what about at night, when you sleep–and basically fast—for 7 to 10 hours? That’s when the differences between the two types of milk protein, whey and casein, come into play.
Different proteins are not digested and absorbed at the same rate. Whey is often referred to as a “fast” protein because your body rapidly absorbs it. This is why it is recommended for post workout nutrition.
Casein, the protein in cottage cheese, is considered a “slow” protein because it takes longer for your body to break down and absorb. It clots in the stomach, which delays gastric emptying time and causes a slower release of amino acids into the bloodstream.
“In this respect, casein is often referred to as an ‘anti-catabolic’ protein due to its impact on decreasing protein breakdown,” Tom Venuto explains in Casein Supplements as a Nighttime Anti-Catabolic. “Because you tend to go into a catabolic state about half way through the night while you are sleeping, this is the reason you hear the recommendation for casein as a nighttime protein (taken right before bed).”
Keep in mind that combining proteins with other foods can also change the speed of digestion and absorption.
“Foods that contain fat and fiber slow the time it takes to digest a meal,” Venuto notes. “Whey protein taken by itself is not the same thing as whey protein with a tablespoon of flax oil, or whey protein with oatmeal, ground flaxseeds and an apple (favorite of mine).”
Why does this matter to you? If you need a nighttime snack, low fat cottage cheese is a good choice because of its impact on decreasing protein breakdown. Just remember to include it in your calorie count so you don’t exceed your daily needs. But don’t lose sleep worrying you will lose muscle while you’re snoozing! Focus on consistently eating between 5 to 8 clean snacks and meals each day—and consume protein with each meal.