Up until recently, nutrient timing was thought of as absolutely essential for obtaining a lean physique and muscle growth. In the past couple of years however, we have learnt so much more about the body, specifically in relation to calories and nutrient intake, so the question is, does nutrient timing really matter at all?
WHAT IS NUTRIENT TIMING?
In essence, nutrient timing simply means eating specific nutrients, such as protein or carbs, in a specific amount, at a specific time, such as pre or post workout. It is the planned implementation of your daily macronutrient intake to promote health, workout performance, and positive biotransformation.
The strategy behind nutrient timing is based around how the body utilizes different types of food at different times. The most popular nutrient timing principal is highlighted across pre and post workout nutrition. The theory surrounding this is that nutrient timing supports nutrient partitioning, improved body composition and athletic performance as well as enhanced workout recovery.
PRE AND POST WORKOUT NUTRITION:
I am sure you have heard the term “anabolic window”. The anabolic window is a period of time post workout, that is said to be vital for nutrient intake. The basic idea is that after exercise, especially within the first 30-45 minutes or so, our bodies are hungry for nutrients, specifically carbs and protein. A fundamental aspect of the anabolic window is carb replenishment, as carbs are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Your body uses this glycogen as fuel for your workouts, thus it was thought that after your workout, you need to replenish the nutrients lost.
The second aspect of the anabolic window is the consumption of protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis which plays a key role in recovery and growth.
Now that we have covered post workout and the anabolic window, what’s the hype around pre-workout fuel? What we now know actually supports that pre workout nutrition might be more important than the anabolic window. As mentioned above, glycogen is the primary and preferred fuel for performance. Logically, we would want our stores to be full before we train which means consuming simple (fast acting) carbs prior to training to support output.
DOES NUTRIENT TIMING MATTER?
For elite athletes, nutrient timing can provide a competitive advantage in performance ability and a more efficient recovery. For the majority of people, however who are just focusing weight-loss, muscle gain or improved health, the current research shows that nutrient timing isn’t really all that important. Are you going to magically lose your muscles or will you suddenly increase your body fat percentage if you don’t follow the nutrient timing principal? Absolutely not! So, what is important? Consistency. The head honcho when it comes to results is daily calorie intake, followed by food quality and sustainability. Once you have these fundamentals locked down, you may begin to implement more advanced methods like nutrient timing if you feel the benefits from it. As long as you obtain your set targets for protein and carbs across the day, your muscles will be just fine.
THE TAKE-HOME MESSAGE:
We are all unique beings with various energy outputs, goals and needs. Track your experience and do what feels right for you, your recovery and body composition. If you are someone who does multiple sessions a day, then nutrient timing may be beneficial to you as a means of ensuring you are getting the right nutrients to drive performance in sessions and also recover quickly. For the rest of us, however, most of the time, nutrient timing demands extra effort, planning, and adds dietary complexity with minimal return. The best thing you can do for your results is consistently hit calorie and macro targets in your day, this will see you reach your goals.