Whether you’re a seasoned gym goer or have just started your health and fitness journey, it’s unlikely that the concept of nutrient timing - or eating specific nutrients at specific times to enhance performance and recovery - has evaded your radar.
On the surface, the concept makes perfect sense, which probably explains its wild popularity. However, despite what a local gym’s PT or a supplement store representative may have told you, the necessity of applying nutrient timing is not as clear-cut as it may seem!
Truth #1: Protein intake is important - but a post-workout protein shake is not
A building block of muscles and a super important macronutrient for all aspects of body functioning, protein must indeed be taken seriously.
That is, whatever your goal, it pays off to ensure you’re having enough calories in your diet coming from protein sources. Depending on your lifestyle, current physique, results you’re working towards, and your dietary preferences, for most women the sweet spot tends to be somewhere between 1.0-2.2 g/kg lean body mass, roughly.
However, as to when protein should be consumed - namely, the importance of the supposedly short “anabolic window” after exercising, is largely debatable. Any rigid protein intake regimes generally benefit supplement manufacturers, not yourself.
Take home message: ensure you’re consuming enough protein throughout the day - that’s it. Nothing wrong with that trusty post-workout shake if you enjoy it, but it’s not a necessity.
Truth #2: Having (or skipping) breakfast is not going to make or break your progress
The advice here tends to go one of the two ways:
- “Want to lose fat? You must train fasted!”
- “Never skip breakfast if you want to gain muscle!”
However - fortunately for your breakfast preferences - it’s a gross oversimplification.
A growing body of research shows that our bodies are great at balancing out incoming nutrients over the course of the day, adjusting to our preferred eating patterns. For example, while you may technically burn more body fat during your workout if you train fasted, this will then be balanced out throughout the day when you do eat.
Take home message: no need to skip breakfast or stuff yourself with a hearty bowl of oatmeal if it goes against your natural eating preferences - just make sure your intake is adequate across the entire day.
Truth #3: Having a meal prior to going to bed isn’t automatically a recipe for fat gain
Have you ever heard something along the lines of “don’t eat after 6 pm or else your dinner will go straight to your thighs”?
Well, worry not - much like the previous point, there is absolutely no need to starve yourself late at night in a bid to avoid fat gain. While this is a bit of an oversimplification also, “calories in - calories out” is a helpful way to think about it. So long as your intake is balanced across the day, a midnight trip to the fridge will not turn you into a (squishy) pumpkin.
However, something to be mindful of is that sometimes eating close to bedtime can cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms and even insomnia. If you notice this happens to you - make sure you eat your main meal 3-4 hours before bedtime, and reserve lighter snacks for the evening munchies.
Take home message: hungry at night? No need to go to bed hungry so long as you are tracking well with your nutritional goals across the entire day.
P.S: a note on elite athletes
It’s very important to note that in the world of elite sports, nutrient timing can indeed become “a thing”. Where the smallest intricacies in performance and recovery genuinely matter, particularly if one has multiple intense training sessions in a single day, it’s very much worth looking into nutrient timing guidelines for the sport - or better yet, consult a sports dietitian.
However, for a regular fitness enthusiast, there is absolutely no need to go crazy about nutrient timing!