Meal and Nutrient Timing — The Truth, Myths and BS.
Hey guys and girls. Today’s article will be focused on nutrition timing. This is, essentially, the science of how when you eat specific nutrients (protein and carbs) throughout the day, pre- and post-workout and how they influence your workouts, body responses and many other interesting effects.
Pre workout nutrition is a fairly easy to follow process.
The majority of people, myself included not too long ago, would happily munch on a peanut butter and banana bagel in the car on the way to the gym, you — maybe a different snack. I thought this was great nutrition. But it was only until I changed up and tried different methods did I notice the difference.
The only gains from this for me were chunky breathing mid-workout and a full stomach making me feel sick and bloat in there too. And this also affects similar individuals too.
Instead, avoid fats pre-workout. Fats inhibit digestion due to their complex make-up, preventing fast absorption of carbohydrates for a workout. By avoiding the fats pre-workout, we maximise the ability to absorb carbs from our pre-workout snack/meal. So instead, have your pre-workout meal 2 hours before you train, primarily in an easy to digest carbohydrate source and whole protein. This should leave you feeling hungry going into the gym where, actually, this is the perfect hormone balance for entering your workout.
I switched to porridge two hours before, occasionally consuming protein powder with it, finding my energy levels through the roof during intense exercise. Not only is it pretty much digested by my workout, but I feel buzzing going into a workout and not sick.
In short: Consume a whole-protein and easy-to-digest carbohydrate source 2 hours before training. Experiment with differing volumes until you find a meal which leaves you hungry just before you workout, this is perfect hormone balance and indicates we’ve digested our food.
In the early days of Nutrition Timing research there was a stand-out study indicating that after our workouts there was a 30–45 minute window when our bodies are greedy for nutrients (protein and carbs), essentially becoming a nutrient-absorbing powerhouse. After numerous years, almost two decades of further research, it’s been established that this wasn’t necessarily BS, but research was performed on biased studies or ones which didn’t take into account hard physical data such as fat loss or lean muscle gain, instead they used physical bio processes as indicators of success. Essentially, the studies proved rather unfair and inaccurate.
This 45 minute window of opportunity is called the Anabolic Window, and older studies went even so far as to suggest that if you waited longer than the 45 minute window, then in fact you were severely diminishing the benefits of the workout you just smashed. Sounds a bit too specific doesn’t it, surely there’s not that much of a minute window. You’d see people licking the bottom of their protein shaker 30 seconds after their workout was complete if so.
Research is brilliant and all, but don’t take everything for face value. Plus, our bodies are our own, mine is different to yours, physically and metabolically. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa, so how you can brand a 30–45 minute to consume these vital nutrients to every person on earth?? You just can’t.
More recent research now though has proved that this mystical window of opportunity is in fact much more cavernous as opposed to the pin prick it was thought to be. And these were longer-term studies and incredibly thorough studies. Check out this article if you’re interested in it’s study. I’m a scientist by education so this massively excites me (geek-mode on).
In short: It’s been shown that it’s very wise to top off your workout with protein and carbs in the form of protein powder and, if you’re following strength and perfomrance, definitely carbohydrate powder. A perfect ratio is 1:1 grams of protein:carbs, possibly even 1:3 if you’re a high performing athlete.
For a post workout MEAL, the golden window is more up to 2 hours after your workout. a far cry from the previously suggested 45 minutes to consume every gram of protein in sight. Further research has proven that yes, it greatly benefits recovery and growth if a protein and carb shake is consumed within 30 minutes of your workout. The next most critical window is for those that have already consumed a protein shake, and it’s the meal consumed 60–90 minutes after your workout. Our recommendation is that it is a complete meal consisting of protein, carbs and fat and is considered extremely important and an extension of your recovery.
So forget rushing home to eat that prepped meal you just had, or down a sports drink instantly after a workout. Relax, chill, maybe even watch some netflix or shower, but you have a bit longer to grab those nutrients after your workout. It’s easy to consume your post-workout shake immediately after a workout, just take it with you, but make sure you eat that meal 60–90 minutes after.
So, quite briefly that’s post-workout covered, only in a nut shell but what people need to learn most however is that there’s not one be-all and end-all approach to nutrition, however recent data has suggested that the total amount of carbs, protein and fat consumed throughout the day is more important to body composition and performance, rather than timing.
A fantastic article I found on nutrient timing can be found here. It covers in a lot of detail studies on how eating the majority of carbs at breakfast impact performance and composition. It also covers how studies on eating the majority of carbs at dinner impact performance and composition to similar results. So what comes to light is how complex exercise nutrition can be. Bloody confusing right…? But, again, what people need to realise is that the message is more about what works better for one group of individuals, may not work for another, or what may work for person may not work for you at all. Nothing will ever be successful for you strategy wise until you edit, adjust and experiment based on what works for you!!! You’re not a sheep, you’re individual, and not in a cheesy, cringe’y way
Yes, there’s numerous benefits of having more carbs at breakfast or more carbs at dinner. A list of benefits can be found in that above article. However, when there is so much complexity about a topic such as this, and how there are so many variables due to the individual, specific results of nutrition timing fall off from the ‘expected’, the ‘norm’ or the ‘standard shown by a study’.
For instance, my best experimentation was finding out my energy and recovery seemed better when I consume a bit less fat than I used to in my post workout meal. Instead of having high amounts of fat I opted for a third less and found my recovery increased. Experiment, what works for me may not for you
As a final note: From what I’ve found on the subject of nutrition timing, and from what multiple articles seem to agree with, these points seem to concur:
- Consume a whole protein and easy-to-digest carbohydrate 2 hour before you workout.
- Cap off your workout with a protein or protein/carb supplement up to 30 minutes after your workout, this has been scientifically proven to be beneficial for growth, recovery and performance.
- Consume a solid post-workout meal (protein, fats and carbs) up to 60–90 minutes after your workout for good effect, similar to above.
- But above everything else, if you’re not following the points below,
- 1: HOW MUCH YOU’RE EATING (macros and ‘eat until satisfied, not stuffed’)
- 2: HOW YOU EAT (mindfully? slowly? without distraction?)
- 3: WHY YOU EAT (boredom? stress? peer pressure?)
- 4: WHAT YOU’RE EATING (Quality vs. Junk, veg? Lean meats?)
- When you’re hitting 1–4 consistently, only after then will specific nutrition timing strategies benefit you more.
In conclusion: Get consistent, surround your workout with decent nutrition such as a pre-workout workout meal, post-workout meal and supplements in the form of protein powder and carbohydrate. What takes precedent however is what works for you. Don’t blindly follow what works for someone else and complain, you have to adjust for you. Nail the above points down consistently and only then will finer nutrition timing strategies work for you on a macro management level.
Keep strong team. Hold solid nutrition and smash those workouts