Basics of Nutrient Timing for Everyone
What should you eat? When should you eat it? Simple questions that are usually met with really, unnecessarily complicated responses. Or a sales pitch!
Today we’re going to take a look at the 5 most common areas where you can start thinking about nutrient timing. We’re simplifying things, of course, and these won’t change your life if your diet is crap on the basics: calories, macronutrients, vitamins, or minerals.
However, if you can add these elements to your own diet – pretty easy, actually – then you can add another layer of good habits. Let’s get stuck into some basics.
Carbs are a simple one: they fuel performance in the short- to middle-term. They provide short-term fuel and can be stored for the middle-term. They’re the single most rapidly burned up fuel and they directly correlate with the ability to perform well.
To get started with carbs, you only need to understand how many you need and their GI.
You should be on 4-6g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight, which provides a good general guideline. Within this, we’re going to discuss GI primarily. This is an index of the speed at which they are absorbed into the bloodstream – and can be pulled to the muscles.
Carb Timing: Amount and Types
Carb timing should be considered for what kind of activity you’ve got coming up, what carbs you’ve eaten already, and what you’re eating it with.
You need to structure your carbs around your workouts. You should be eating carbs proportional to how much intense training you’re doing. You should also eat higher GI carbs (more ‘white’ and including sugars and simple starches) closer to workouts and lower GI carbs (specifically pulses and wholegrains) further out.
Eating sugars while you’re sat on your sofa at night isn’t the same as getting the right amount of carbs and proteins, deliberately, before a workout. The idea is to fuel the intense work and keep your muscles primed and fuelled – which is why 45g of carbs / 15g of protein per hour is the usual recommendation.
Don’t Demonize Carbs and Sugars
If the rest of your carbohydrates are nutrient dense and well-chosen, you can make great use of higher-GI, sugary carbs in combination with caffeine and protein at the start of a workout.
Writing these types of foods off without thinking about why they’re usually considered bad is a silly choice and only harms your own performance!
Protein timing is one of the areas of nutrient timing with the most dedicated and interesting research. It’s also been covered time and time again – with very little to actually add that you couldn’t have read in the scientific journal 10 years ago.
You need protein – ideally at regular intervals – throughout the day. It should also be combined with carbohydrates before workouts, as previously mentioned. You’ll also want to keep your pre- and post-workout meals protein-rich with as few hours between them as possible – and definitely no more than 4-6 hours.
The anabolic window is not as much of a ‘do or die’ as previously presumed! However, there are a few other fun little ways you can incorporate protein into your diet for better results.
For example, a breakfast that is rich in proteins is a great place to start. The amino acids are good for mental performance and provide a general boost to alertness and overall function when you’re waking up. For this reason, eggs or 0% fat Greek yoghurt are classic breakfast foods.
Equally, compounds like theanine – an amino acid in many animal proteins – combine perfectly with caffeine. Add a cup of coffee (ideally black) to your egg or yoghurt breakfast and you’ll be off to a great start.
Timing your dietary fats is simple: balance the intake so that you’re not feeling heavy throughout the day. Keep them far away from your workouts: if anything, you can provide the opposite approach to how you eat carbs.
Eat more of them when you’re further out from workouts and fewer as you get closer. There are fats in most of your high-quality protein sources like fatty fish, cultured dairy, and a number of quality vegetables, so those should be your go-to sources.
The timing of fats is – by definition – not a huge concern. Both dietary and body fats take on the role of a slower-release, long-term energy source so you won’t have to worry as much about when you eat them.
Just don’t eat poor-quality fats (like greasy fries and doughnuts) before intense exercise. Obviously.
You might not be paying enough attention to electrolytes, but they’re one of the most important nutrient timing considerations. They add up over time in a significant way – and they’re really important before/during/after exercise.
A steady diet of well-rounded electrolyte intake is important: potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium should all be present in your diet anyway.
However, they’re even more important near workouts. Whether before, during, or after, they set the scene for better performance and the ability to recover effectively and rapidly from the work you’re doing in the gym.
Their role in hydration is something you might already be familiar with. Water with electrolytes is more effective in re-hydrating cells and supporting muscular performance, as well as fighting cramps, and replenishing lost nutrients from sweat.
However, it’s also one of the best ways to address muscular chemical balances after a workout. There’s a pretty good chance this will address common causes of muscle damage and soreness like Calcium ion build-up, supporting proper recovery.
You should have some electrolytes in your water while you’re training and afterwards. Ideally in combination with creatine or some other post-workout hydrating/recovery compounds to kickstart the recovery process.
Stimulants and relaxants
Speaking of kickstarting the recovery process, proper management of the compounds that affect your brain is important. We’ve already mentioned the combination of things like coffee with proteins for better effects, but there’s more to it.
First of all, caffeine and carbs are the best choice for before a workout, even if caffeine and protein is the best way to start the day. Combining caffeine and carbs has been proven time and time again to improve mental and physical performance, which both contribute to better workouts.
On the other side, however, you want to control the less-useful effects of caffeine. This means taking It with theanine wherever possible (as mentioned above), but also counteracting it when the night comes along and you want to rest and recover.
Green tea is the main one we recommend here; it provides GABA which is a systemic relaxant and provides some significant benefits. It combats the worst effects of caffeine and helps you relax while also promoting growth hormone release in response to resistance training.
Get a cup of tea into your evening routines and you’re likely to have better quality sleep alongside some significant changes to your mood and an overall improved response to training.