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Foods That Promote Sleep

Sleep is a vital component of post-exercise recovery for all athletes, regardless of age, sport, and level of play. Not only does it help the muscular system recover after a long day of training but sleep also has a direct effect on the immune system, the endocrine system, and the nervous system. It also plays an integral role in cognition, memory, and learning, and it can greatly impact an athlete’s overall mental state.

Unfortunately, in my practice I see many athletes who are missing out on their "zzz’s". For several different reasons, adolescents and young adults are experiencing a decrease in the quality and duration of restful sleep. Factors that may be contributing to a decline in sleep include psychological distress, poor sleep environments, and the misuse of substances like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.

While diet alone is not capable of completely restoring and maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm, there is significant evidence that shows certain foods promote optimal rest and recovery. In this article, we’ll examine three different foods scientifically proven to help support your sleep quality and duration.

Tryptophan Rich Foods

It is believed that Tryptophan-rich protein sources may help increase an athlete’s overall sleep quality. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that acts as a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that play a role in regulating our sleep cycles. Foods that naturally contain Tryptophan include milk, cheese, turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, and beans. While many researchers agree that additional studies are needed to confirm the ideal dose of Tryptophan needed to support optimal sleep, including Tryptophan-rich foods in your evening meal or snack is an easy and effective change that most athletes can manage. Before bed, try drinking a glass of milk or chocolate milk, snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds, or layering turkey and cheese on whole wheat crackers for an easy, yet effective snack.

Tart Cherry Concentrate

Perhaps the single greatest dietary intervention that an athlete can implement is incorporating tart cherry concentrate into their routine. Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, and they contain an impressive array of phenolic compounds. As a result, tart cherry concentrate has been shown to have a positive effect on both sleep duration and sleep quality. In fact, it left consumers feeling so refreshed that those who drank tart cherry concentrate napped less during the day. To get the most sleep-inducing benefits, I recommend that athletes take ~60 mL of tart cherry concentrate immediately following exercise, or in the evening before bed.

A second advantage to using tart cherry concentrate is that can significantly aid in recovery from high intensity training. Studies indicate consuming 30-60 mL of tart cherry concentrate can reduce inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Therefore, athletes may want to consider incorporating tart cherry during periods of high-volume training. Tart Cherry Concentrate is easy to find in most stores or online. 1-2 oz can be consumed alone, (although be warned… it is very tart!) or it is easily incorporated into water or a fruit smoothie.

Kiwi Fruit

Kiwi fruit naturally contain many beneficial nutrients; however, it is the unique antioxidant and enzyme profile that researchers believe in part are responsible for improving sleep. Kiwis also have a high concentration of serotonin, which likely acts as an additional sleep-promoting mechanism. While the exact processes are not completely understood, there is evidence to believe that consume 1-2 kiwis before bed will help increase sleep duration and improve sleep efficiency. It’s important to note that this research is still in its preliminary stages, and it is unknown if all athletes can expect to see similar results. Yet, for those who are looking for an easy and natural remedy to increase restful sleep, incorporating kiwis into your day may be a successful strategy!

In conclusion, there is strong evidence showing that different dietary interventions may help athletes (and non-athletes) improve their sleep cycles. Tryptophan -rich protein sources, tart cherry concentrate, and kiwi fruit are just a few of the foods shown to have a positive impact on both sleep duration and over-all sleep quality. With a few simple dietary changes, your sleep routine could be transformed!

Happy fueling!

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