In the last while I have been getting a few questions from readers about the importance of nutrient timing, meal timings and meal frequency. I hope to address some of these questions in today’s post. So “does nutrient timing matter?” The answer simple answer is yes, however, there is a huge caveat. This is that there are other issues, far more important, which will have a far greater impact on your results. In Eric Helm’s book, The Muscle and Strength Pyramid, he discusses five things which have an impact on your ability to reach your body composition goals. Of these five, nutrient timing is the deemed the 4th most important. So, before we even begin discussing this in more detail, I would like you to ask yourself the following questions;
- Am I eating mostly whole foods, minimally processed and in as close to their natural state as possible?
- If weight loss, or fat loss is my goal, am I maintaining a calorie deficit. In other words, am I eating the right amount?
- Am I eating enough of all three Macro-nutrients as discussed in What are Macros Anyway? Am I making sure to include good quality protein with each meal?
- Am I getting enough diversity in my diet, namely different fruit and vegetables to ensure I am getting all the vitamins I need?
- Am I getting enough sleep? We should be shooting for at least 7 hours per night
- Am I drinking enough water? If your urine isn’t clear (unless you take a vitamin supplement) you’re probably not.
- Am I exercising?
- Am I managing stress?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I strongly suggest you go back and address that particular issue first, as it will definitely get you to your goals faster than worrying about how many meals per day you should have.
One of the questions I am asked is “how many meals per day should I have?” The answer to this is, unless you go to extremes at either end of the spectrum, it doesn’t really matter. What I mean by this is that if you eat between 3-6 times as day, as most people probably do anyway, and you ensure you get sufficient protein, fat and carbs during the day, there is no need to get hung up on whether 3 meals or 6 is optimal. What I would advise is do what works for you, fits in with your schedule and your family and doesn’t upset your digestion. For me personally, I go with the standard three meals a day, with two-three small snacks depending on how I feel.
Another topic that is much debated is the question of post workout nutrition and the so called “window of gainz!” Until recently it was generally widely accepted that it was optimal to ensure you ate protein with 1-2 hours of your workout. Newer research has shown that this window may be wider than previously thought. In the case of training in the evening you will have already eaten several times during the day already. The nutrients you have consumed will be in the process of being digested and will be available for your body to use during and after your workout. It is never a good idea to train either hungry or full, so I would aim to eat something small 1-2 hours before your session. I would usually opt for a protein shake and a banana about two hours before, as I find this sits well in my stomach and gives me enough energy for my workout. If you are training first thing in the morning, eating a meal beforehand may not be practical, in which case eating soon after your workout will be a good idea. But let’s face it, you will probably want to do this anyway as you will be hungry! Like with many things, there’s an element of trial and error, but for the most part keep it intuitive.
Another frequently asked question is “can I eat after 7pm?” Again, the short answer is yes! There is no arbitrary time at which your body decides it won’t accept any more nutrients. I will risk stating the obvious by saying that I wouldn’t recommend having a huge feast 20 minutes before bed, but other than that, it isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference. Personally, by the time I finish work, train, walk the dog, do whatever house work is needed, shower and actually cook a dinner, I would rarely be eating before 8:30pm, and I can report no adverse effects. However, if I were to put myself under the kind of pressure it would take to get myself fed before 7pm, the effects would definitely be detrimental.
Lastly, and briefly, I am often asked about fasted cardio. In other words, is there a benefit to doing cardio in a fasted state versus a fed state. The answer to this one is no. There have been lots of studies done, which show that overall it makes essentially no difference. There’s lots of science behind this, which I won’t get into here (I will save it for a future post) but basically the consensus is that it really depends on your individual preferences. If eating before you do cardio makes you feel ill, then obviously avoid it. Otherwise, eating carbs will actually give you energy to perform better in the workout and therefore you will get more out of it. Again, it comes down to taking the time to discover what works best for you.
I think the reason why these types of questions come up is because dieting can, at times, be difficult. Inherently we would all love for there to be one quick and easy change for us to make, which would bring it all together and get us the results we want. Unfortunately if there is one, it hasn’t be discovered yet and nutrient timing certainly isn’t a silver bullet in that respect. The key to making any meaningful change is patience and consistency. Regularly ask yourself the questions I outlined above and continuously look for small, incremental improvements you can make. Enjoy the journey xxx