How does nutrition affect sleep in athletes?
Sleep for an athlete is crucial. It allows them to recover faster, have faster reflexes, train harder, and reduce injuries. The quality of sleep really is more important than the quantity within reason. I mean only getting 4 hours of sleep is going to have you losing your gains pretty quickly no matter how deep the sleep you get.
With my clients we cover nutrition because what you put into your body is what your body has to work with as far as raw materials. I like to use the analogy of a house. If you build a house with inferior materials it starts falling apart quicker, isn’t as energy efficient, and constantly has repairs. The same goes for sleep and nutrition.
While working with clients especially athletes these are the 3 main ideas I drive home in regards to diet and supplements.
Avoid Processed Foods
1. I want them to avoid eating too much processed food that is high in sugar. There are 2 reasons for this. The first is, eating a lot of processed food especially close to bed can spike the athletes blood sugar. They are able to get to sleep decent, but they will have trouble entering in the all important deep sleep stages. During the first half of a person’s sleep it is mainly comprised of deep sleep. This is when the body is releasing growth hormone to build muscle, repair injuries, and recharge their batteries. They will have trouble getting enough deep sleep because their core temp will be up as it is digesting the food that was eaten too late and then having wakeups because of the rebound effect. The rebound effect is when the body’s blood sugar spikes, but then comes crashing down too low. This then causes your body to release cortisol to release stored glycogen to raise it back up, but the side effect of that is it wakes up the person and they can have a hard time falling back asleep.
Cortisol is not supposed to be present while your sleeping. When cortisol is present, melatonin is turned off. Melatonin is the magic anti oxidant of the body at night.
The second problem with eating too much processed food is the lack of nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and other important vitamins.
Magnesium for better sleep
2. It is hypothesized that up to 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium. This is due to eating more processed foods, and soil conditions lacking sufficient magnesium. The other component that is using up people’s magnesium is stress. When a person is under stress magnesium is excreted in the urine. For an athlete they are under positive stress with training, negative stresses of life, and also sweating more. They use up even more magnesium than the normal person. Low magnesium levels can lead to insomnia or struggles entering deeper sleep.
I recommend all of my clients to supplement with a magnesium glycinate supplement an hour before bed. For athletes I would take in small amounts throughout the day to avoid any stomach issues and to make sure they are getting enough. Avoid low quality supplements like magnesium oxide and sulfate.
Boost serotonin for more melatonin
3. The last nutrition tip is to eat foods high in the amino acid tryptophan and complex carbs. This combo helps to boost serotonin levels in the blood. How this helps you sleep is that serotonin is converted to melatonin at night which makes you sleepy. Low serotonin levels become low melatonin levels. This is one reason people who are on a really low carb diet or keto can have sleep problems at first. Some high tryptophan foods are chicken, turkey, seeds, nuts, red meat, oatmeal, beans, and shellfish.
Learn all about how nutrition and other parts of your life can affect your sleep and how you can improve your sleep with my free blueprint .