Ensuring we get the proper fuel to aid and support our bodies is one thing, but what about the simple act of sleeping? As athletes, both the amount and quality of sleep is vital for performance. During sleep important adaptations take place in the body, such as muscle repair and memory consolidation.
Unfortunately most of us struggle to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, especially when travelling for important tours and races. This is problematic for several reasons. Essentially we become ‘functionally drunk’ with poor concentration, increased fatigue and a lowered glycogen storage. All of which impact negatively on our skill, performance and decision making.
So just like we eat to recover we need to sleep to recover as well. Fortunately there are many foods which naturally promote sleep. For example foods high in serotonin (a neurotransmitter which helps regulate the sleep/wake cycle), vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid. Below are some examples of foods which may help to calm the body and increase your serotonin levels for a good night’s rest.
Wholegrain carbohydrates such as bread contain tryptophan, Vitamin B6 and folic acid. All of which promote serotonin.
Contain potassium and magnesium which are both natural muscle relaxers. Vitamin B6 also helps turn tryptophan into serotonin.
Pure glucose which leads to a spike in insulin levels and release of tryptophan from the brain. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin which is converted into melatonin in the dark.
Contain healthy fats and magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxer.
Calming and raises your body temperature making you sleepy. It is also a good source of protein and carbohydrates.
Tart Cherry Juice:
High in melatonin which promotes sleep. The only issue here is tart cherry juice may be hard to find and is often expensive. The evidence is also largely anecdotal. Try searching your local chemist warehouse or health food shop if you’re keen to try it.
Non caffeinated herbal tea:
Both relaxing and calming, tea has a similar effect as milk but is not as heavy.
Some of my favourite ways to incorporate these into a bedtime snack include:
- A mug of warm milk with a tsp of honey
- Wholemeal fruit toast with honey, ricotta and walnuts
- Wholemeal toast with peanut butter
- Handful of almonds
- Banana with yoghurt
By Stephanie Ives
Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist