Best Foods To Help You Sleep To Maximize Growth & Recovery


Sleep is so important to our growth and recovery, but too often do we forget that.

How many hours a night do you sleep? No, really think about it? Some nights may see 8 hours, some 7, maybe the occasional sleep in with 9 hours. But if you start saying 4, 5, even 6 hours of sleep a night, you may be hurting all of your gains you worked so hard for.

While it is true that some people can run on a full tank of gas with continually 5-6 hours of sleep, it is safe to say that the majority of us cannot. Don’t let this stigma of getting “too much” sleep stop you from getting enough sleep.

How many times has someone said to you, “You sleep too much. You need time to get things done”. Remember how annoying that is? Changing your mindset to say sleep allows you to do more in less time is only stating the facts about sleep. The more recovered you are, the better you will perform.

And that goes for our bodybuilding and fitness goals as well. The more recovered you are, the better you will perform. The gym might be where the gains are created, but recovery is where they actually come to life. When you lift, you are tearing the muscle fiber, thus making space for new muscle to form. But that muscle forms with proper rest and recovery, and a healthy nutrition plan, and sleep should be priority number one.

Let’s talk about sleep and how it helps with muscle growth, then of course, everyone’s favorite topic of which food is best for promoting sleep. Help yourself feel great by taking sleep more seriously.


The Sleep Cycle

There are 5 stages of sleep that scientists categorize during your sleep cycle. Stages 1-4 are considered non-REM and stage 5 is considered REM (1). We’ve all heard of REM and non-REM, but let’s jump into this a little more. It is important to note that changes in brainwave frequencies and amplitudes are what differentiate each stage.

Stage 1: The lightest stage of sleep, your brain frequency is just slightly lower than when you are awake.

Stage 2: Deeper than Stage 1, you are starting to fall into a state where its harder to be awakened.

Stages 3-4: Entering into a deeper sleep, these stages are known as slow-wave sleep and as we age, we spend less time in these stages.

Stage 5: You’ve now entered REM sleep and this is where dreams start to happen. The skeletal muscles don’t move and breathing is elevated.

It is Stage 3 where your muscles are most relaxed, blood supply starts to flow through the muscles more and tissue growth and repair occurs. Energy is restored and growth hormone is released starting to do its magic. REM sleep is where that energy for your brain and body starts to charge up for the next day’s performance (2).

strong man

Importance Of Sleep For Growth & Recovery

When paired with a healthy diet, sleep is that vital piece of recovery to really work to repair muscle and see an increase in your muscle growth. When you sleep, your body enters into a higher anabolic state that means your body has more time to repair those torn muscles.

Your body also has a higher rate of protein metabolism than when you are awake. Protein is essential for muscle growth and by processing more protein, you allow for more build up which in turn increases muscle strength and size. As human growth hormone spikes, it plays a role in the productions and regeneration of cells to help fix any damage caused by your workout (3).

In terms of cognitive function, adenosine is sent to the brain to signal that it needs rest. During sleep, these levels of adenosine start to decline which in turn make you slightly more alert. This would seem like the brain is recharging and refueling to ensure alertness and focus for whatever the next day brings (4).

We all know how it feels to operate the next day after a poor night’s sleep and the ability for its physical growth and recovery should be equally matched by its cognitive recovery as well.


Foods To Help You Sleep

While there are ways to help you sleep like meditation or quality supplements, some foods may help with this as well for a more natural source.

Almonds: A great healthy source of fat, almonds can boost sleep quality by serving as solid sources of melatonin and magnesium, both highly effective for sleep enhancing properties.

Walnuts: Packed with nutrients, aside from multiple benefits of walnuts, when it comes to sleep they are a great source of healthy fats and melatonin. They provide the omega-3 fatty acids ALA and DHA to increase serotonin.

Turkey: Turkey is a popular food source for promoting sleep because it contains tryptophan, an amino acid that encourages sleepiness and increases the production of melatonin (5). Also a great source of protein, turkey can improve your quality of sleep and really aid with muscle growth.

Fatty Fish: Filled with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, both of these have serious benefits when it comes to improving your overall quality of sleep.

Beans: High in fiber, beans can help you spend more time in that vital slow-wave sleep of Stages 3-4. They can control glucose levels to stunt arousals that may come from sugar (6).

Tart Cherry Juice: Can improve sleep and lead to a longer sleep. Filled with melatonin, this works great but just be sure to get 100% juice with no additives.

Chamomile Tea: Has benefits to boost your immune system, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve sleep. It contains an antioxidant called apigenin which promotes sleepiness and reduces insomnia.

Wrap Up

Sleep and its value to our overall growth and performance is more than important when it comes to our training and performance success. Too often do we overlook sleep but we all need it. Getting adequate sleep should not make you feel lazy or unproductive, but quite the opposite. Getting good sleep clearly promotes cognitive functioning and allows for that much desired muscle growth to finally appear. Try these foods before bed and see how they can really boost your sleep to keep you looking and feeling great.

Let us know what you think in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

*Images courtesy of Envato


  1. Cell Press (2018). “How REM and non-REM sleep may work together to help us solve problems”. (source)
  2. Waterhouse, Jim; Fukuda, Yumi; Morita, Takeshi (2012). “Daily rhythms of the sleep-wake cycle”. (source)
  3. Dattilo, M; Antunes, H. K. M.; Medeiros, A; Neto, M. M.; Souza, H. S.; de Mello, M. T. (2011). “Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis”. (source)
  4. Saini, Ekjyot K.; Gillis, Brian T.; Elmore-Staton, Lori; Buckhalt, Joseph A.; El-Sheikh, Mona (2020). “Longitudinal relations between sleep and cognitive functioning in children: Self-esteem as a moderator”. (source)
  5. Hartmann, E. (1982). “Effects of L-tryptophan on sleepiness and on sleep”. (source)
  6. Zhang, Duqin; Wang, Liping; Tan, Bin; Zhang, Weiqing (2019). “Dietary fibre extracted from different types of whole grains and beans: a comparative study”. (source)
Austin Letorney
Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.