Eating specific foods at specific times to get specific results.
So how did this even catch on as a thing?
NUTRIENT TIMING: THE FUTURE OF SPORTS NUTRITION
John Ivy and Robert Portman wrote what is now known as the Nutrient Timing holy grail. After publishing their success with timing their food with their workouts, these researchers changed the way plenty of body builders, weight looks seekers and general gym-goers ate their post-workout meals.
We know our macros are important and that the macros our bodies need are connected to our body type and our fitness goals. And if we align our macros, body type, and fitness – we’re guaranteed to hit those fitness goals. (If this isn’t ringing a bell – click HERE to clear it all up!)
But what if we could align our macros and body type in a more effective way?
ENTER NUTRIENT TIMING!
Nutrient Timing is the science behind how our food and macros interact with our muscles for optimal fuel, recovery, and protection of our body.
Prior to Nutrient Timing, most people thought if something worked, just do more of it. So if protein was the key in building muscles, then more protein must be better. But there wasn’t any research behind this. And when researchers started looking at the connection between nutrition and athletic performance, they found the advantages of nutrient timing and challenged the old school of thought. More is not always better.
In fact, the nutrients that are beneficial for you at one point in the day might actually be counterproductive at other times of the time. Imagine working your butt off in the gym day in and day out, only to defeat your own progress by the timing of your meals! Devastating!
So let me give you the low down on when to eat for optimal performance.
According to that holy grail of nutrient timing, there are three critical phases for eating. Each phase requires different nutrients and happens at different times.
The Energy Phase
The Energy Phase happens when your energy needs are the highest – during your workout. Because most of us don’t eat a chicken breast while running on the treadmill, energy during this phase comes from what’s already stored in our body.
This energy is mostly from our glycogen stores in our muscles (if you don’t remember what this is, just go back to Post One HERE for a reminder). When you’ve pushed through that intense workout, you likely used up all that glycogen store, regardless of what kind of workout you did. And once we use it up, we have empty muscle tanks that need to refueled – so we have energy for the next workout.
During this energy phase, our cortisol levels raise and our insulin decreases, just as a result of our workout. And those are good things. But when you combine those hormone changes with empty glycogen stores, you turn your muscles catabolic.
Catabolism happens when complex molecules break down into smaller ones. In the world of fitness, this is the breaking down of muscle tissues.
Now catabolism is looked at negatively because there can be negative consequences of having your muscles breaking down for a long period of time – excessive breakdown of tissues, suppressed immune system, out of balance hormones, poor organ function, and fatigue. So we don’t want our muscles and tissues constantly breaking down. After all, we went to the gym in the first place to build them up!
Because the muscles are breaking down, the body wants to save them (yes, we all have natural instincts to protect ourselves). So our body forms a new goal: gain the nutrients needed to prevent further muscle breakdown, spare the remaining glycogen stores, minimize muscle damage and get the body into a recovery mode.
Remember, working out is stress on our bodies. And although it can a positive form of stress, the body’s natural response is to eliminate the stress and protect and preserve. What the body needs is immediate carbohydrate and protein macros to stop the muscle breakdown.
Welcome to your anabolic window.
The Anabolic Phase
The Anabolic Phase, more commonly known as the Anabolic Window, is the time directly after your intense workout when you most require proteins and carbs. During your workout, you depleted all of your glycogen storage from your muscles and the body now has an energy void to fill. The carbohydrates you eat in this window get used immediately to replenish those depleted glycogen banks. So instead of getting stored in the fat cells (as what most often happens when eating carbs), these carbs gets converted to efficient muscle energy!
And when the glycogen energy banks are filled up, your body is primed to start the recovery process.
If you miss this window of opportunity, the carbs you eat follow their more normal path. Some get converted to glycogen storage, but it is a much slower process with a smaller conversion rate than post-workout. And more than likely, the majority of that carbs you eat get stored as fat. The timeframe for the Anabolic Window is sensitive and only last between 45 minutes to an hour post workout.
Now you know why so many bodybuilders, athletes and fitness junkies carry their protein shakes around the gym with them! They want to be ready to get those necessary nutrients immediately to start the recovery and rebuilding of muscles!
When the body gets those nutrients, we shift our muscles from the catabolic state to the anabolic state.
Anabolism is the opposite of catabolism. It is the combination of simple molecules to form larger complex molecules. This is the building up of our muscles tissues. That sure sounds much better than breaking them down!
The most incredible part of this anabolic window is that we prime our muscles to remain in the anabolic state for an extended period of time! So not only do the muscles immediately begin to repair and recover, but they continue to repair and recover efficiently for the rest of the day!
The Growth Phase
The Growth Phase is the next 4-18 hours after exercise when your body takes time to repair and strengthen as a result of your training. If you took advantage of the anabolic window, your body is primed for the growth phase and your muscles will remain in an anabolic state for this whole time.
If you missed your window, your body will keep working toward reaching that anabolic state of growth, but is much less efficient. In order to get into the anabolic state, your diet for the rest of the day has to get you there – which can be pretty darn challenging.
THIS IS THE NITTY GRITTY VERSION OF NUTRIENT TIMING.
And Nutrient Timing is key for optimal fat loss and muscle growth!
OR IS IT?
Are you about to tell me I wasted my time reading something that is not true? Uhh maybe.
Nutrient Timing has been around for decades! And Ivy and Portman’s Holy Grail was published in 2004 to really kick start the nutrient timing movement. Since that time, there have been numerous studies that examined the impact of nutrient timing.
BUT THE RESULTS OF THESE STUDIES:
THE EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE FOR NUTRIENT TIMING IS INCONCLUSIVE.
In 2013 (yes mathletes, that is 9 years after the Holy Grail came out) A META-ANALYSIS OF NUTRIENT TIMING RESEARCH WAS DONE. For those of you not cool enough to take a research class in college (if you did, you may have met us and we could have been friends): a meta analysis examines almost all of the research in a specific field to look for patterns, agreements, and disagreements. So the specific field of this meta-analysis was focused on nutrient intake surrounding exercise times.
What Does That Even Mean?
When you look at research studies and the effects or existence of nutrient timing, you get conflicting information. Some studies agree with the presence of this anabolic window and support the idea of nutrient timing. But other studies found no evidence to support the claims. And because of the conflicting data, we can’t completely accept one theory over the other. We sit on the fence.
What is interesting to consider though is the timing of when the workouts occurred and the last or next nutrient fuel.
Here’s what we mean:
For a person who does an early morning resistance training session, it makes sense that they would require and benefit from an immediate protein/carb supplement directly following their workout. After all, their body just went 10 or so hours fasting (because most of us don’t eat while we sleep) so they absolutely need to break the fast and jump start their anabolic state.
But for the afternoon or evening trainers, the fueling needs are different. Some research shows that a moderate dose of protein immediately before a training session elevated bloods levels for 2-3 hours after the end of the workout, which would make a post-workout meal or snack unnecessary. But other studies were done that showed conflicting evidence.
AGAIN, WE SIT ON THE FENCE.
This meta-analysis showed that there are lots of weaknesses in the theory of Nutrient Timing.
MORAL OF THE STORY – the evidence for an “anabolic window of opportunity” just isn’t there. The magical window sure sounds legit. But just don’t have any real evidence to support it.
Let’s face it, carrying your protein and carb supplement to the gym requires planning and advanced thinking. And sometimes we just don’t want to work that hard. If the anabolic window doesn’t exist, then we could save our energy and eat our fuel when we get home from the gym (after our shower and a quick nap). That sure would be a lot more convenient for the same potential results.
SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
Do we throw nutrient timing out the window?
We don’t think so.
What we need are more research studies, systematically designed to examine this on a large scale. But until that happens…
Here are our Recommendations:
If you are an EARLY MORNING WORKER-OUTER and you don’t eat before your training, then it’s very important to get a good amount of protein and carbs immediately following your training.
If you are an AFTERNOON OR EVENING WORKER-OUTER and you do eat a good amount of protein before your training, you may not need to be too concerned with an immediate post workout snack. You prior protein intake is probably sufficient to last until you next planned meal time (which should still fit your macros and include a moderate dose of protein).
If you are an AFTERNOON OR EVENING WORKER-OUTER and you don’t eat immediately before your training, then you may benefit from an immediate post-workout snack or meal of high protein and carbs.
Ultimately, If you don’t mind the inconvenience of planning and eating a protein/carb supplement directly after your workout, then do it. But if you miss the window of opportunity, don’t sweat it. It might not even exist.
Even though researchers can’t agree on the existence of the Window of Opportunity, what they CAN agree on is the importance of protien in our diets!
Protein is absolutely essential for the REPAIR AND GROWTH OF OUR MUSCLES. So regardless of whether you refuel your body within 45 minutes of your workout or a few hours later during your next meal, that fuel needs protein.
It’s true what they say: NOT ALL PROTEINS ARE CREATED EQUAL. Optimize your protein intake by choosing a protein that gives your more bang for your buck. Check out this guide on the
Powerhouse of all Proteins and the 6 ways it can change your life.