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Sleep Like a Champion: The Impact of Nutrition | LA Galaxy Performance Blog presented by Herbalife

Herbalife is the sports nutrition and presenting partner for the LA Galaxy. Registered Dietitians at Herbalife work closely with the LA Galaxy technical staff to make sure we are maximizing their nutrition to support performance goals.

If you’ve ever experienced a sleepless night, you already have an idea of the detrimental impacts a lack of sleep can cause. In sports, this becomes even more apparent as being on top of your game applies to both the physical and the mental.

The Importance of Sleep for Athletes

Sleep is the time for your body to reset, recover, and repair. For athletes of all levels, this recovery time is absolutely key to ensure your body and mind have the best chance to perform at their best during training and games.

Sleep is necessary to maintain cognitive function, including memory, your level of alertness, coordination, and reaction time.1-3 Sleeping enough also regulates basal cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, allowing you to handle daily stressors better and helping improve your mood and maintain well-being.1,3

Many people make poor nutrition choices the day after a bad night’s sleep.3-5 One reason for this is that appetite regulation is tightly tied to your sleep patterns. Sleeping sufficiently helps regulate your appetite hormones to prevent poor choices, skipping meals, or overeating, all of which could lead to unfavorable body composition changes.

Getting enough sleep can also help increase levels of testosterone and growth hormone, which together serve to increase muscle protein synthesis and repair, decrease recovery time before your next session, and decrease the risk of injury.1

Low amounts of sleep are associated with lower immune system function, potentially causing you to get sick more easily and for longer periods of time.1-4 This can lead to poor performance during training, reduced recovery, and even missed training sessions or games.

Finally, not sleeping enough directly impacts your performance by causing you to feel sluggish, become fatigued more quickly, and increase injury risk.6 Poor sleep is connected to reduced recovery, increased resting heart rate, reduced heart rate variability, increased catabolism (the breakdown of tissues), and impaired muscle protein synthesis.1,2 Combined with all of the other effects listed above, it is clear that your performance can decline dramatically when under this sleep debt.

While everyone is different in terms of the exact amount of sleep needed on a nightly basis, it is important to aim for between 7 to 10 hours of sleep on a nightly basis (approximately 8 to 10 hours for adolescents, 7 to 9 hours for adults, and 7 to 8 hours for older adults, but likely higher than these ranges for athletes).1,4 If you are not sure how much sleep you personally need, you can experiment a bit to find your sleep sweet spot. Perhaps add in a 30 minute early afternoon nap and see if that helps as well.

Nutrition for Better Sleep

Focus on Protein and Carbs for Building Strength and Recovery

If you find yourself peckish before bed, opt for a light meal or snack rich in protein and carbs as your bedtime treat. Having a small serving of food before bed also helps prevent you from being over-hungry first thing in the morning.

Consuming protein (20-40 grams or more) and fiber-rich carbohydrates (like fruits, vegetables, or whole grains) prior to bed helps to prevent catabolism as you sleep, also known as the breaking down of tissue.1,4 Instead, these nutrients allow for the stimulation of anabolism (tissue building and repair). Carbs plus protein together also enhance plasma (blood) tryptophan concentrations, helping you ease into a sleepy state.1

Opt for fiber-rich carbs both throughout the day (but not within an hour of training to reduce gastrointestinal upset) and before bed for better sleep.1,4 This will also help you to fill up any losses in your liver and muscle glycogen stores in order to give you the maximum storage of energy that your body can use overnight before you break your fast in the morning with breakfast. Be sure to be consistent with your carb intake throughout the day as well, because low-carb diet patterns are associated with poorer sleep.3,6,7

Dairy Products

Out of the major milk proteins, choose slower-digesting casein over whey, a protein that is digested and absorbed relatively quickly. This will allow for the state of muscle protein synthesis and repair to be achieved for longer throughout the night, preventing unwanted muscle break down.

Casein is abundant in milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and other dairy products. Higher casein consumption of 30 to 40 grams prior to bed may even further increase muscle protein synthesis and metabolic rate while you sleep.8

Fermented dairy products like yogurt or kefir also contain small amounts of GABA (a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in your brain that helps slow your brain and central nervous system resulting in a calming effect), which can also increase sleep quality and efficiency.4

Melatonin-Boosting Foods

Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone. This hormone is produced in response to darkness, helping to regulate your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle. Not only does the human body produce melatonin, it is also present in some of the foods we eat, which we can use to benefit our sleep.3,4,5

Melatonin-containing foods include: milk, tart cherries, ginger, tomatoes, strawberries, pineapples, oranges, bananas, almonds, walnuts, corn, rice, barley, and some lean meats.1

Tart cherries, and tart cherry juice in particular, have been associated with improvements in sleep length and quality, along with having some antioxidant and inflammation-busting properties due to its phytonutrient content that further improves recovery.1,3,5-7

Serotonin- and Tryptophan-Boosting Foods

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps modulate our sleep-wake cycles, and tryptophan is an amino acid needed to produce serotonin within the body. Each is associated with beneficial impacts on sleep when consumed through the foods we eat, including sleep quality, time, and efficiency.1,3-5,7

You can obtain dietary serotonin from whole foods like kiwi, pineapple, banana, plums, tomatoes, walnuts, and pecans.5

Tryptophan is found in foods like oats, whole grains, cow’s milk products, cheese, seafood, eggs, beans, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, leafy greens, and lean meats like turkey, pork, beef, lamb, and chicken.1

Eating these foods with a carb-source may facilitate the entry of tryptophan into the brain to promote the production of serotonin and melatonin.

Fatty Fish and Other Seafood

Fatty fish (i.e., salmon, mackerel, trout) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. These nutrients are not only critical for recovery, they are also associated with more efficient sleep and improved performance.3,4

Zinc-rich oysters and astaxanthin-rich krill may even benefit sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.3,7,9

What to Avoid Before Bed

Avoid heavy meals before bedtime. Heavy meals include those that are large in portion size, high in fat/fried, and even those that have a lot of spices. These types of foods can cause increased stomach acid secretion, which can lead to acid reflux (and thus, worse or reduced sleep) when your head hits the pillow.3

Avoiding foods higher in saturated fats (non-lean meats, baked goods, fried foods, fast foods) before bedtime is also a good sleep strategy because these foods are associated with more time awake throughout the night and shortens your slow-wave, recovery sleep stage.4

You should also try to maintain consistent hydration throughout your day, rather than loading on the water intake right before bed. If you drink a lot of fluids before bed, you are more likely to get up once or maybe more throughout the night to use the bathroom, further hindering both your sleep quantity and quality. If you are extremely thirsty but not hungry, opt for sports drinks containing sodium to help promote hydration and reduce the rate of urine production overnight.

Stay away from alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine - especially in the afternoon and evening - to give yourself the best shot at a nice, deep sleep.3,4

High Performance Sleep Strategies

It is worth noting that we recommend obtaining these sleep-enhancing nutrients from foods first as opposed to fixating on supplementation. All of the foods listed above have many other essential nutrients, and many also contain gut-beneficial fiber or beneficial fats that are necessary for a well-rounded diet.

In combination with the nutrition considerations above, here are some other sleep hygiene strategies for your nightly consideration:

  • Stick to a schedule: try going to bed and waking up at the same times each day.
  • Create your own sleep routine that puts you in a relaxed state, ready for bed. Warm baths/showers, herbal tea, gentle yoga, stretching, or reading a physical book are all great ways to set the mind at ease.
  • Avoid bright lights and screen time for 2+ hours before heading to bed to encourage melatonin production. Use blue light-blocking glasses in the evenings if screen time is necessary.
  • Make sure your room is as dark as possible. Cover up lights from electronics and invest in black out shades to block the light from outside.
  • Check in with yourself: are you comfortable? Invest in a quality mattress, pillows, and blankets.
  • Try using a weighted blanket.
  • Consider meeting with a mental health counselor or partaking in a sleep study if you consistently have poor sleep.


  1. Doherty R, Madigan S, Warrington G, Ellis J. Sleep and Nutrition Interactions: Implications for Athletes. Nutrients. 2019;11(4):822. Published 2019 Apr 11. doi:10.3390/nu11040822
  2. Mason L, Connolly J, Devenney LE, Lacey K, O'Donovan J, Doherty R. Sleep, Nutrition, and Injury Risk in Adolescent Athletes: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2023;15(24):5101. Published 2023 Dec 13. doi:10.3390/nu15245101
  3. Pattnaik H, Mir M, Boike S, Kashyap R, Khan SA, Surani S. Nutritional Elements in Sleep. Cureus. 2022;14(12):e32803. Published 2022 Dec 21. doi:10.7759/cureus.32803
  4. Sejbuk M, Mirończuk-Chodakowska I, Witkowska AM. Sleep Quality: A Narrative Review on Nutrition, Stimulants, and Physical Activity as Important Factors. Nutrients. 2022;14(9):1912. Published 2022 May 2. doi:10.3390/nu14091912
  5. Zuraikat FM, Wood RA, Barragán R, St-Onge MP. Sleep and Diet: Mounting Evidence of a Cyclical Relationship. Annu Rev Nutr. 2021;41:309-332. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-120420-021719
  6. Gratwicke M, Miles KH, Pyne DB, Pumpa KL, Clark B. Nutritional Interventions to Improve Sleep in Team-Sport Athletes: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(5):1586. Published 2021 May 10. doi:10.3390/nu13051586
  7. Binks H, E Vincent G, Gupta C, Irwin C, Khalesi S. Effects of Diet on Sleep: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):936. Published 2020 Mar 27. doi:10.3390/nu12040936
  8. Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:33. Published 2017 Aug 29. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4
  9. Saito H, Cherasse Y, Suzuki R, Mitarai M, Ueda F, Urade Y. Zinc-rich oysters as well as zinc-yeast- and astaxanthin-enriched food improved sleep efficiency and sleep onset in a randomized controlled trial of healthy individuals. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017;61(5):10.1002/mnfr.201600882. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201600882