Thursday 15 November 2012

Nutrient Timing 101

Do you want to pack on lean muscle without gaining a ton of fat in the process? Or, are you a hard-training athlete or fitness buff who wants to get leaner while still properly fueling your body for high-performance? In either case, there are three nutritional pieces to this puzzle. The first and most important piece is eating clean and eating the proper amount. If you have not read my post on clean eating yet, please click HERE. Once the "what" and the "how much" are taken care of, it is time to move to the "when".

Back in 2004, John Ivy and Robert Portman published a book entitled: Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition. This was an influential book in getting people to think about when they ate certain foods. Since then other nutrition experts such as Dr. John Berardi and Dr. Lonney Lowery have made helpful contributions to this area. 

Here is a summary of the key principles behind nutrient timing: 

Protein Timing:
  • Eat some quality protein with each meal
  • Faster digesting proteins (e.g. whey isolate, whey hydrolysate) may be helpful before, during and immediately after training
  • For meals where you are eating a higher amount of carbs (see below for more details), it may be better to choose lower fat protein options over healthy higher fat protein options (which may be best saved for lower carb meals)
  • Examples of lower fat proteins:  (e.g. protein powder, turkey or chicken breast, buffalo, low-fat cottage cheese, egg whites, tuna, wild game)
  • Healthy higher fat examples: wild salmon, grass-fed beef, organic chicken/turkey thighs, whole free-range organic eggs

Fat Timing:
  • Too much fat before a workout may create discomfort
  • Do not bother adding fat to liquid nutrition taken immediately before or during training
  • Do not go out of your way to avoid all fat to your post-training meal. Some people have gotten carried away with this and will not eat anything with fat. I have heard of people who would not eat oatmeal after training because it contains a few grams of fat. One of the theories behind this was that fat would slow down the glycogen resynthesis. While this does not seem to be shown in the research, I would not recommend trying to eat a lot of fat at this time. 
  • When adding healthy fats to your meals, it is best to emphasize them at meals that you are not pounding back the carbs.

Carb Timing:
Important note: Carbs have been viewed as everything from the holy grail of healthy eating and optimal performance to the ultimate nutritional evil. Well, which are they? The answer, of course, is it depends on who you are, what you do, how your body tolerates carbs, and what kind of carbs we are talking about. Here is a high-mileage nutritional guideline for carbs: earn your carbs. Earn your carbs by: 1) physical activity and 2) leanness. The harder and longer you train, the more carbs you can eat. The leaner you are, the more carbs you can eat.
  • A key principle to understand is that the body prioritizes glycogen storage over fat storage. If glycogen stores are low, the body uses carbs to refuel them. If they are full, the body stores extra carbs as fat.  
  • Have most of your carbs after intense training.
  • Breakfast is another better option for carb intake as glycogen stores are typically down after sleeping all night. However, for those who struggle with body fat you may want to keep breakfast lower carb as well.  
  • Consider using liquid carbs during your training session (if training for performance and your session lasts longer than 90 min or you are training for muscle gain).
  • Eat your highest carb meal after training.
  • Post training we want fast, easy digesting carbs. White rice and potatoes are great. I personally like dried fruits (e.g. dates).
  • Depending on carbohydrate needs and training goals, the higher carb meals can range from one to three.
  • Use low glycemic index carbs (e.g. fruit, vegetables, beans) during your other meals.
  • Most of our favorite "junk" foods are high fat and high carb. This combination seems to make it difficult to stop eating when we should and is best avoided.
Note for skinny people trying to gain muscle: 
If you are in this category, do not worry too much about mixing fat and carbs together in the same meal. You can follow the basic guidelines. In your case, you will likely have some good carbs with all meals, but you can still focus on really pounding back the carbs post training. Recognize that getting sufficient calories is still the most important thing for muscle gain and restricting foods is usually not helpful for this.

Always remember that what you eat and how much you eat are important. However, these tips on meal timing may help take your lean eating to the next level.

As a mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is still a third piece to the puzzle which can be helpful for some people. It is carb/calorie cycling and that is a topic for an upcoming post...

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