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How Important is Meal Timing For Workouts?

Overall intake of your macronutrients, with most of it coming from whole, micronutrient dense sources, is going to be the biggest player in feeling strong in your workouts and hastening your recovery. If you are eating too much or too little of a certain macronutrient or the quality of the foods you are eating is questionable, the timing of those nutrients won’t really matter. The first step is always, start with the basics and nail down those macronutrient targets.

We are honing in on the last 10% regarding your nutrition. What I mean by that, is if you are eating the right macronutrients, hydrating, and your food quality is both natural and in a variety of colors, you have done 90% of the most important part. The last 10% is to really dial in your composition, recovery and performance. If you’re consistently hitting your macros, timing your intake (particularly carbs) around your workouts can be beneficial and take you to the next level.

A qualified coach will take your individual goals and training into consideration to help you work out the best nutrient timing for YOU. If you want a qualified coach just sign up for our free discovery call. Just like your macronutrient targets, the timing of your nutrients will be completely individual based on your goals and what is your optimal performance. Having said that, here are the general guidelines to follow in regards to nutrient timing.

Pre-Workout Nutrition

Early Pre-Workout Meal (1.5 - 4 hours before workout)

This meal is critical to performance because it gives you time to digest and properly fuel for your workout. It will be the meal that provides the necessary macro and micronutrients for physical and mental energy. This meal is also important for supplying your body with hydration, vitamins and minerals for optimal organ and muscle function. This meal really comes down to any meal during the day preceding a workout, whether it’s breakfast and you’re not working out until 3:00pm, the following rules apply and should be considered.

Which Macros and Why?

  • Protein: Exercise damages muscle tissue, but protein keeps amino acids stocked while promoting protein synthesis. Make sure this meal includes at least 20g of lean protein and up to 50g depending on how much time you have until you workout, how long/intense the workout is going to be and your size.

  • Carbs: Whatever the workout (long, short, endurance or resistance) eat a mix of fast and slow digesting carbs (also known as high and low glycemic carbs (GI), for example, grains with leafy greens, greek yogurt with berries, or steel cut oats with a banana. The amount you eat depends on time, intensity and type of workout. How much depends on a lot of factors but eating up to 200g of carbs can usually be tolerated.

  • Fat: Fat slows the digestion of food. This meal is intended to prime and prep the body so really be aware of how much time you have until your workout. To much fat will slow digestion to several hours and can cause gastrointestinal upset (disaster pants). Incorporating some fat in this meal is okay, but no more than 15-20g is usually recommended.

Immediate Pre-Workout OR During Workout Meal (30 minutes – immediately before a workout OR at intervals during a long workout)

Eating earlier is optimal but if you can’t make that happen then eat immediately before. If you’re doing a workout that is 90+ minutes long it will most likely require some during workout nutrition.

Which Macros and Why?

  • Protein: It’s important and we recommend opting for the fastest digesting protein out there, a whey protein shake. It can be combined with carbs to make it easily digestible and minimal stress on your gastrointestinal system. Keep intake to 15-25g.

  • Carbs: With less time to digest whole food, stick with high glycemic index (GI) carbs. Examples include, but are not limited to, white rice, fruit, baby food, fuel pouches and carb/protein shakes. They digest easier and absorb quicker. This is one situation where the more processed the carb is, the more effective it will be at getting out of your stomach and into your system. Amount is really dependent on digestive tolerance so usually 25-50g is enough.

  • Fat: Avoid almost any fat in this meal, less than 5g and that is pushing it. It further slows digestion which is time critical at this point. Slow digestion here is going to lead to stomach problems, cramping, and no energy.

Post Workout Nutrition

First Meal After Workout (0-90 minutes after workout)

This meal enhances your recovery from the stress of the workout. It starts the repair process of muscles, tendons, ligaments and the refilling of glycogen in the muscles. Sound important? That’s because it is and especially if you workout frequently like 5-6 days a week so you are ready for the next day.

Which Macros and Why?

  • Protein: Eat ASAP! Protein will continue promoting muscle maintenance and growth like we talked about above. Try to get in at least 25g of protein and up to 60g depending on your size and macronutrient requirements.

  • Carbs: Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores (energy waiting to be used in your muscles and liver), particularly after a heavy workout. Sticking to high GI carbs will be especially beneficial at this time. If you workout multiple times or go to a high activity job like construction afterwards then carb intake is extra important. Again think rice, fruits, shakes, yogurts, etc...How much, again depends and is usually at least 50g and up to several hundred depending on your requirements determined by you and your coach.

  • Fat: Fat will get in the way of digesting and assimilating the nutrients you need from your carbs and protein. Fats are important but concentrate them at meals 3+ hours away from workouts. Post workout keep fats low, under the 10g range.

Outside of Workout Windows (4-5 hours either side of workout)

This meal keeps you recovering from earlier workouts and if it is one of your last meals of the day it also prepares you for a good night's sleep. This is important because recovery is determined by the quality and quantity of your sleep! This meal also ensures proper preparation for tomorrow’s workout.

This is the best time to eat essential macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins and minerals that you didn’t eat around workout times like fats and more fibrous vegetables.

Which Macros and Why?

  • Protein: This is where you get the rest of your protein for the day in whole unprocessed foods. If you need to supplement a slow digesting protein, like casein, is ideal for continued muscle growth and maintenance while you rest.

  • Carbs: Low GI carbs keep glycogen and glucose stocked without spiking insulin. In other words, you'll get the benefits of carbs and feel full without the unnecessary spike of energy while you rest. Examples are all leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and pretty much any veggies that grow above the ground. Stick with berries and high fibrous fruits like apples. Again get the rest of your carbs in for the day without excess.

  • Fat: Time for fats! They keep the digestion and release of carbohydrates and insulin steady. So, the majority of your fat should be eaten during this time window. Fat also transports important vitamins and minerals around your body, required for healthy organ function.

Remember, these are general recommendations and your specific needs may vary based on gender, lean muscle mass, what time of the day you train, temperature, recovery time until your next workout and so many more variables! This is why working with a coach who knows your goals and your body is so important.

Ready to meet your coach and get personalized recommendations? Let’s get started!

Eat Well, Eat Right!


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