Nutrient timing simply means eating your macronutrients (such as carbs, fat, protein) in specific amounts, at specifc times throughout the day or around your workouts (before, during, after).
For those who need a little refresher on what exactly macros are and how each one plays a role in our body:
Macronutrients are the three main food groups: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Your body needs all three to survive and function properly. Each macronutrient has a different purpose and we all need different amounts of them depending on various factors like our weight, gender, activity level, and other things. Protein is the essential for building and maintaining muscle. Carbs are your bodies prefered souce of fuel. And fat slows down the digestion of carbs/protein and leaves us feeling fuller longer. A few examples of good sources of protein would be fish, chicken, lean beef, bison, whey powder, yogurt, milk, and eggs or egg whites. A few examples of carbohydrates are brown rice, potatoes, oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, and ezekial bread. A few examples of fats are nut butters, olive oil, avocado, butter, nuts, coconut, seeds, egg yolks, and cheese. We often track these macros to get the optimal ratio for our bodies to perform, feel, and look our best.
Now back to nutrient timing... I'm going to answer a couple common questions & give you my opinion & talk about what has worked best for me.
Who is nutrient timing essential for?
I am sure mostly everyone can benefit from some form of nutrient timing but for those who aren't exercising, timing is not very important. For this type of person, they should mostly just focus on WHAT and HOW MUCH they are eating (lean protein, veggies, healthy fats, unprocessed carbs... eating enough for daily life but not overeating excess carbs that their body won't use since they aren't exercising).
If you are someone who is just working out a few times a week and looking to get healthier in general, nutrient timing won't necessarily produce instant results. BUT, it will help you to feel better and more energized in your workouts!
Athletes and those training regularly can benefit greatly from timing their nutrients around their training schedule. As atheltes, we have higher energy needs and specifically carbohydrates/fat will either increase or decrease our athletic performance based off of the time of consumption and ratio of carbs.
Nutrient timing is extremely benefical for athletes who are competitive, training more than once a day, training in one longer session, and those wishing to alter their body composition without muscle loss due to excessive weight loss. Nutrient timing is not as important for general weight loss, novice lifters, or general health.
How should I time my nutrients?
Everyone's bodies are different but the general rule of thumb is spacing your meals out evenly throughout the day. The amount of macros in each meal with vary depending on the individual and also their workout schedule/goals/etc. The typical "three large meals a day" or "eat every two hours" isn't necessarily the answer. In my opinion, eating every 3-4 hours during the day is what works best for me! Each time you eat, consume a balance of protein, carbs, and fat. YES, each time you eat, try to consume some type of protein. People often want to just snack on an apple and veggies. Nothing wrong with those foods but most often I see people not eating enough protein. If we make it a goal to eat protein at every meal, there's no excuse not to hit our protein goals!
I personally like to eat 6, YES SIX, meals a day. However, two of them aren't full on meals. If I am training in the moring, I typically will have breakfast, my post-workout shake, lunch, lunch 2, dinner, and then casein protein before bed. I am eating six times a day with a different amount of macros at each meal. I focus on eating every 3-4 hours but don't stress over specific times. If I am off by a little bit, oh well. But the goal is to get a stready stream of protein and nutrients throughout the day!
When to eat what macros around my workouts?
Protein: Spread it out evenly throughout the day. Do not try to eat all of your protein in one sitting. If I am eating six meals a day and my goal is 160 grams of protein, I would eat 25-30 grams of protein at each meal. Protein is helpful for building muscle and even maintaining muscle tissue. It is essential for the body to repair, develop, and maintain muscle. This is the macro I often stress that my athletes make sure they are consuming enough of daily. Athletes (especially those who are having longer training sessions or those who train fasted in the early morning) benefit from consuming a protein shake intra/post workout.
Mmm... carbs! I love carbs. They are your bodies preferred macro for energy. Your body can store carbs for later use. The frequency of carbs in your meals for general fitness and health isn't important but for an athlete, timing your intake of carbs close to your workout is ESSENTIAL. Consuming carbs before your workout tops of your glycogen stores (carbs are converted to glucose and used as fuel), prevents the body from burning muscle as fuel by instead using the glycogen, and it allows your body to use carbs first over protein and fat. Prior to training, I would typically suggest consuming around 30% of your daily intake of carbs. For example, if I am eating 200 grams of carbs a day, 30% of that is 60 grams. I would eat 60g of carbs in my pre-workout meal which should be consume 1-3 hours before training. You can divide them into more than one meal if you have the time but if you are training after one meal, eat them all in one meal. DO NOT try to eat this large of a meal any closer than an hour beforehand. Your body will still be digesting the food and it's main focus will be on that rather than peforming at your best. Post-workout carbs are probably the most important! This should be your biggest consumption of carbs, typically 30-40% of your daily carbs within the first 1-2 hours afterwards. Consuming the large amount of carbs after working out replenishes your glycogen stores that you just used up. If the amount of carbs seems like a lot to you, try drinking your protein shake and having a banana while still at the gym and then consuming the rest of your carbs in your next actual meal. You will be left with about 30% about your daily carbs to spread out throughout the rest of your meals. This is just a general guideline, it doesn't have to be exactly these percentages but just know to consume a larger amount of your carbs before and after training!
Typically, you want to eat your fats father away from your workout. For example, if you aren't working out until 6:30pm at night, your earlier meals will consist of higher fat with your protein and lower carbs. Your fat amounts will taper off throughout the day as you get closer to your workout. Fat can be stored four later use. Since fat is slow digesting, you should consume less prior to and right after training. It takes longer to digest and can slow down your bodies absoprtion of carbohydrates which will be used mostly in your workout. I suggest eating your meal with the highest fat when you tend to get hungriest during the day or you will be going a long time without food. The fat satisfies hunger feelings and keeps you fuller longer.
As I talked about above, I typically eat six meals a day. My timing of my nutrients varies depending on when I workout but I will give you an example. Let's say my macronutrient ratios are 125g Protein / 240g Carbs / 45g Fat. If I am working out at 10:30AM, I following this loose guideline for my meals:
Meal 1 - 8:00AM: 21g protein / 60g carbs / 5g fat
Meal 2 - Post-workout shake: 20g protein / 25g carbs / 0g fat
Meal 3 - 1:30PM: 21g protein / 75g carbs / 5g fat
Meal 4 - 4:00PM: 21g protein / 40g carbs / 10g fat
Meal 5 - 7:30PM: 21g protein / 30g carbs / 10g fat
Meal 6 - Bedtime: 21g protein / 15g carbs / 15g fat
Notice how my protein is pretty evenly spaced out between my meals, my carbs are higher closer to my workout with low fat, and the carbs decreases as the day goes on while the fat increases. Consuming a high protein and high fat meal before bed allows the body to get a slow, steady stream of nutrients during the night hours while your body is fasting.
Nutrient timing for rest days isn't as important. Just focus on eating balanced meals spread out evenly throughout your day and possibly saving a large meal for the point of the day where you feel the hungriest.
If your results have stalled/progress has stalled, give nutrient timing and macro tracking a try. However, the total amount of macronutrients you eat during the day is more important than the timing if the nutrients for altering body composition and optimizing performance. Consuming enough calories (while making good food choices) to meet your bodies demands is essential and should be prioritized. In order of importance, I would say that it is 1) how much you are eating.. 2) WHAT you are eating... 3) how often you are eating. Focus on the first two parts to start. Once we have that part down, nutrient timing is encouraged!
Everyone's body is different and will require different things. There isn't one magic plan that work for everyone. Try new things. Log your results/progres/feelings. Track your food intake. Do whatever works for you. Email me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org :)
I am passionate about creating a healthy lifestyle for myself & helping those around me.