Nutrient Timing: 101

Nutrient timing refers to how you disperse your calories and macronutrients throughout the day. This can be a complicated concept because, like most things regarding diet and exercise, there is no “one-size-fit-all” guideline on how someone should consume their nutrients throughout the day. There are many different factors that can go into determining the most effective nutrient timing for an individual.

Let’s shed some light on one thing before we dive right in; nutrient timing is sometimes advertised as an important factor for fat or weight loss. There is some conflicting evidence out there for this claim. However, in this blog we will be focusing in on nutrient timing as it pertains to sustained energy throughout the day and overall recovery/muscle health.

Let’s break down some of the basics within nutrient timing

The Anabolic Window

This window of opportunity is a key aspect in nutrient timing. This is the idea that ideal nutrient absorption post-workout occurs in a small window of 15-60 minutes after you finish your workout. This is based on carbohydrate replenishment and protein intake. Immediate carbohydrate replenishment can help to maximize glycogen stores, which can improve performance & aid in recovery. Because protein can be broken down during a workout, protein intake post workout can help repair and initiate the growth of muscle by revving up the process of muscle protein synthesis.

Pre-workout Window

This window may play a more important role for some individuals. For those taking supplements to help aid in performance during a training session (i.e. caffeine), the proper timing is necessary for the supplement to be most effective. If coffee is your preferred source of caffeine, it is important to know that it is quickly absorbed by the stomach within 15-45 min. and reaches its peak around 30-50 minutes. If you are taking a pre-workout caffeine supplement, most of the active ingredients take around 30-60 minutes to reach their peak levels. This timing can also apply to eating food before your training session. A well-balanced and easy-to-digest meal eaten 60-150 minutes before a workout can help improve performance. This is especially important for those working out in the morning after fasting while sleeping. How much food someone should be eating before the workout is really dependent on the individual’s goals.

Breakfast Nutrient Timing

To eat breakfast or not….this is something that has long been debated. I am a major breakfast advocate but that is irrelevant for this topic. What is relevant is what you should be eating for breakfast if you so choose. A low-carbohydrate, high-fat breakfast may be linked to improved energy levels, mental focus and may help keep you feeling fuller longer. The jury is still out on the research supporting this claim. Protein-based breakfasts have also been linked to curbing appetites and preventing overeating. Whether you choose to pack on the protein or pack on the fat in the morning, be aware this timing will have an effect on how you disperse your fats and protein throughout the rest of the day.

Nutrient Timing at Night

 “Don’t eat carbs at night, it will make you fat” – Aristotle.

Let me clear the air for you, eating carbs at night WILL NOT MAKE YOU GAIN WEIGHT. Being in a caloric surplus (eating too many calories) will make you gain weight. The reason why many people shame eating carbs at night has nothing to do with carbs at all. It more so has to do with the fact that many people tend to overeat and exceed their recommended daily caloric intake with the foods that they consume at night. If that is the case, eliminating or reducing carbs at night may be a beneficial tactic for staying within a maintenance range for your caloric intake or it may help you cut down on calories to achieve a caloric deficit (if you are looking to lose weight). But if you want to enjoy your carbs at night, that is okay! Just be aware of your carbohydrate intake throughout the rest of the day. In fact, eating carbs at night may actually help you out. Carbohydrate consumption in the evening has been linked to relaxation and improved sleep. That’s because of our little friend, serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter in charge of helping to regulate our sleep cycle. Do you know what releases serotonin in our bodies? CARBS!

Yes, nutrient timing and figuring out what timing works best for you as an individual can be confusing. Nutrient timing itself is a very advanced idea.

If you are just starting out on the healthy eating journey here is my advice to you: start with the basics. Here are some key elements of nutrition that you should be focusing on:

  • Daily caloric and macronutrient intake for your goals
  • Consistency in meeting you caloric and macronutrient goals
  • Consistency in choosing quality fuel
Once you have the basics nailed down, then you can start manipulating and delving into nutrient timing. I promise you, building the foundation of your nutrition with basics will be the most beneficial nutrition trick you can master.
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