Is Timing Everything?
Of Course, overall intake of your macronutrients, with most of it coming from whole, micronutrient dense sources, will be the biggest player in feeling strong in your workouts and maximizing your recovery. If you are eating too much or too little of a certain macronutrient, the timing of those nutrients won’t really matter, it's all about the numbers. Starting with the basics and nailing down those macros targets is the first step.
If you’re consistently hitting your macros and the numbers that are right for you, then 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. Just like your macro targets, the timing of your nutrients will be completely individual based on your “optimal performance”. But, we have a few good starting points for you.
Early Pre-Workout Meal (1-3 hours before workout)
This time-frame gives you time to digest and properly fueling for your workout provides necessary macro and micronutrients for physical and mental energy. This meal is also important for supplying your body with vitamins and minerals for optimal organ and muscle function.
Which Macros and Why?
Protein Exercise damages muscle tissue, but protein keeps amino acids stocked while promoting protein synthesis. Make sure this meal includes a bit of lean protein.
Carbs Whatever the workout (long, short, endurance or resistance) eat a mix of high and low glycemic (GI) carbs, for example, grains with leafy greens.
Fat Fat slows the digestion of food. This meal is intended to prime and prep the body, and slowing digestion will keep that from happening. Incorporating some fat in this meal is okay, but try not to overdo it.
Immediate Pre-Workout OR During Workout Meal (30 minutes – immediately before a workout OR half way through a long workout)
Eating earlier is optimal but if you’re unable, eat immediately before. If you’re doing a workout that is 2+ hours long it may require you to eat/drink mid-workout.
Which Macros and Why?
Protein: Always important and we recommend opting for a whey protein shake. Whey is also fast digesting. I like Driven Nutrition whey and for all their products.
Carbs: With less time to digest whole food, stick with high 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.
Fat: Avoid high fat in this meal. It further slows digestion which is time critical at this point.
Post Workout Nutrition
First Meal After Workout (0-2 hours after workout)
This meal enhances your recovery for the next day, which is important if you workout frequently.
Which Macros and Why?
Protein: Eat ASAP! Protein will continue promoting muscle maintenance and growth.
Carbs: Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores, 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 your job afterwards then carb intake is extra important.
Fat: Digesting the carbs and protein you consume immediately post workout is important, so keep fats low in this meal.
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 certain recovery is specific to sleep! This recovery 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: Especially 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. These are mainly veggies that grow above the ground.
Fats: 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, training goals, 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.
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The common misconception that you have to get in protein and carbs right after your workout (within 30 min-1 hour) really only comes into play if you’re training fasted or working out multiple times per day. If you’ve gotten a solid protein and carb meal in before your workout that “anabolic window” actually extends to be up to 3-4 hours after your workout.
For Recovery/Rest Days (if you’re in a calorie deficit)
Rest days are extremely important! They allow you to recover and repair so that you can get stronger. What qualifies as “recovery” or “rest” can look different for everyone. For example, if you typically train for 2-3 hours a day, going for a mile walk with your dog would definitely constitute as a “rest” day.
You might have a lower macro target for rest days vs. training days because your body doesn't need as much energy when you aren’t training. This can depend on your calorie deficit and training type but you can manage low macro days to keep you feeling as full and energized as possible:
First, remember that a little hunger is a ok and is a normal healthy body signal. It's to be expected, especially when you're in a deficit or right before a meal.
Incorporate these strategies on lower macro days, when you’re awake for a longer period of time (and therefore need to spread your macros out) or on those “hungry days” because we all have them. Some of these tips we’ve touched on through this guide but this will be a good reminder:
Evenly space protein across the entire time you’re awake. Aim for at least 30g per meal.
Keep your meals as balanced as possible. If you can add a little fat to a meal, it will slow down the digestion of everything you eat and help you feel satisfied.
Drink enough water. I recommend at least half your body weight in ounces.
Incorporate vegetables into every meal and use them as snacks between meals. The fiber slows down your digestion and you can eat a high volume of them, so they'll fill your stomach up but not all your macros.
Time your meals/snacks around your workouts to maximize performance and recovery.
Limit ALL macros coming from drinks (BCAAs, protein shakes, sodas, high-carb recovery drinks, etc.). Eating your macros will keep you much fuller!
If you workout first thing in the morning and are fasted, eat more carbs for dinner and maybe even a snack before bed that digests slow like casein.
Ultimately, eat well all day, be mindful of what you're going to eat, and when you're going to eat so you have a plan. Things are always going to come up but if you have a plan, you stand a fighting chance of eating healthy!
Eat Well, Perform Well!