More than just WHAT you eat, WHEN you eat can also be very important. I like to think of nutritional timing as “the planned manipulation of your macro nutrient intake in order to get the most out of the foods you eat.” Your body handles different foods better at certain times of the day, so planning your food around how your body works naturally can help you maximize your results. How much you are eating is still the most important as far as changing your body, however, becoming more efficient with nutritional time will help your get the desired results faster than you otherwise would.
Maybe you are losing weight but not feeling as strong. You are probably losing muscle mass too. Maybe you are gaining weight, but it’s not that lean look you want. You are likely adding fat mass as well. Nutritional timing helps you lose (or gain) the weight you want, while keeping (or increasing) the mass you worked hard to get. Nutritional timing can be used to help you improve health, change body composition, improve athletic performance, and enhance workout recovery. Nutritional timing can also help you take advantage of anabolic hormones such as insulin which can help boost muscle mass and/or fat loss. A closer look at nutritional timing will reveal how to most efficiently feed your body for your desired results.
Keeping an Eye on Macros
Regardless of your current level of fitness, your protein and fat can/should stay relatively consistent which leaves you with carbohydrates to manipulate. This means that when manipulating macronutrient timing you are often manipulating the timing of your carbohydrate intake. Your body handles carbohydrates well during the day and around (mainly after) times of physical activity. This is because your muscles use glycogen (carbohydrates broken down for the body to use) for fuel, glycogen is stored in your liver and in your muscles, when you use up the energy stores in your muscles they will need to be refilled. One thing to keep in mind is that there is protein in carbohydrates as well so when your carbohydrate intake is higher your, protein intake does not need to be as high.
Before I set my Swole O’clock watch to help with my macronutrient timing there are some other factors that we are going to want to take a look at as well. Factors that will affect your carbohydrate time are; workout intensity, when you last ate, your personal body composition, medications/health conditions, sleep, length and type of exercise, the food choose, and the time of day. Since there are so many factors at play it is hard to say how long each person’s carbohydrate tolerance is (post workout.) It is safe to go with up to three hours from the time you finish your workout to most effectively use those carbohydrates. If you sleep for about 8 hours each night and add in the 3 hour carb window post workout you are left with 13 hours during the day where your body doesn’t uptake carbs so readily. These times are just as important in timing and planning your meals. During those 13 or so hours of the day when your body is not sleeping or working out it is important not to overload on carbs, but rather space them out. I like to have a little more at breakfast (along with protein and fats) to break the overnight fast from sleeping. You will want to increase or decrease your carbohydrates slowly to see if your body can handle more without getting soft or handle less without getting weaker in the gym.
As I’m sure you know, you have some choices when it comes to carbohydrates – fiber-rich, starchy, and refined sugars. Each of these foods will have a different effect on your body so it is important to know the difference. 1. Fiber-rich carbohydrates: This group is going to include your fruits and vegetables as well as your beans and legumes. Because of the high fiber content they are absorbed slowly which does not result in much of a change in blood sugar. 2. Starchy carbohydrates: This group includes foods such as; quinoa, sprouted grain breads, potatoes, yams, squash, oats, grain pastas, and (some) cereals. These starchy carbohydrates are great for your post workout fuel (up to three hours afterward.) Your muscles are effectively a sponge and want to soak up as many carbs as they need to refill their glycogen stores. Just because your muscles need to replenish, does not mean its fair game to eat as many carbs as you want– energy balance is still important! 3. Refined sugars: we all know the foods that fall into this category… your sweets, candy, pop, (or soda, depending on your part of the country) juice drinks, etc. For the most part, these are empty calories- they aren’t going to get you any closer to your goals.
The next questions is, when should I eat which type of carbohydrate? Fiber-rich carbohydrates are great! Eat those veggies, beans, legumes any time. Fruit such as apples, bananas, oranges, and strawberries all have around 3 to 4 grams of fiber, raspberries have about 8 grams/cup. Exotic fruits such as mangos pack 5 grams of fiber per mango and a cup of guava has 9 grams! Be careful with all the fruit though, fructose doesn’t have a good use in our body and is often stored as fat when unused. Startchy carbohydrates are going to serve you best in that three hour window after your workout. Foods like yams and potatoes, oats, rice, quinoa are great during that window. Refined sugars are not something that you want to have regularly but if you do choose to take them in, do it during that three hours after your workout so they can give you muscles a that quick boost but I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
Whether eating for muscle gains or fat loss, or both it is important to take advantage of well timed nutrients. If you want to build you know that you need to be at a calorie surplus but simply eating more calories whenever you want could result in fat gains as well. If you want to lose fat you need to be at a calorie deficit, however, cutting calories without planning can result in muscle loss as well. Space your carbohydrates out throughout the day but don’t forget to take advantage of that three hour window following your workout. Personally I save about 1/3 of my daily carbs for that post workout window. Each person will have different macronutrient needs- some people will be able to eat carbohydrates all day and allot more during their post workout meal while others will have to eat carbohydrates more sparingly so they have enough left over to utilize the post workout window.
Planning your meals out before hand will allow you to use the calories that you have available to you in the most effective, efficient way possible. With that being said, nutritional timing is NOT for everyone. If you are new to the “healthy lifestyle” it is more important that you focus on the basics. First, make sure that you have a solid base- you are eating well balanced meals throughout the day that include your protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Once you feel comfortable planning out a healthy meal plan look to your goals- if you want to gain weight, focus on creating a calorie surplus. If losing weight is the goal you’ll want to make sure you are burning more calories than you are taking in (a calorie deficit.) When you are comfortable in either area and are making progress you may want to start using nutritional timing to make even more dramatic changes. There is no set formulas in fitness that works for everyone, nutritional timing included. You may find a limit to how many carbohydrates you can handle after a workout, you may find that your window is shorter than the three hours I estimated earlier but don’t get discouraged, it’s a process and the more you experiment the more that you will learn!