Most of you know diet is a huge part of being healthy. But did you know timing your nutrients can promote even better health, improve body composition and athletic performance and is the key to staying lean? Here, Ryan Andrews from Precision Nutrition explains the importance of nutrient timing.
Nutrient timing is a planned alteration of macronutrient intake based on how the body handles different types of food at different times.
When you exercise regularly, the body is primed for fat gain or fat loss just as it’s primed for muscle gain or muscle loss during specific times of the day. The wrong foods at the wrong times sabotage your efforts in the gym. The right foods at the right times enhance those efforts.
The macronutrient we manipulate most commonly in nutrient timing is carbohydrate. The body can better handle carbohydrates during and after physical activity, as well as when levels of fitness are high and body fat levels are lower (15% or less for men and 20% or less for women). Consult the chart below to find out when to eat each of the three main types of carb foods.
Here are some other rules to keep in mind:
- If you are lean and simply want to maintain your existing body composition, consuming more carbohydrates throughout the day will likely be fine.
- If you want to lose body fat, first control overall food intake, then aim to consume a majority of carb dense foods during and after exercise sessions (for about three hours after). Outside of the three hour window, consume primarily protein and fat, while consuming fewer carb dense foods (25% or less of a meal made up of carb dense foods).
- If you want to gain muscle, the nutrient timing principles are similar — simply add more calories overall. Nutrient timing helps prioritize muscle gain over fat gain during a muscle gaining phase. Plan meals in accordance with your weekly schedule and create a temporary food surplus.
- In all cases, assess your progress and adjust as necessary.
Regardless of goals and activity, protein and fat intake should stay fairly constant. Make sure you consume an appropriately sized portion of lean protein and good fats with every meal.
If you’re new to healthy eating, don’t worry about timing for now. Start by improving the overall quality of your food and incorporating the basic healthy eating habits into your life. Once you build a foundation of nutritious eating, then consider adding the nutrient timing habit to optimize your health.
Ryan Andrews, MS/MA, RD, CSCS, is Director of Education at Precision Nutrition. He holds degrees in Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Dietetics. A nationally ranked competitive bodybuilder from 1996-2001, Ryan trained and worked at The Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, one of the most recognized and awarded research institutions in the world.