The Nutrient Timing Advantage
Nutrition Blog

The Nutrient Timing Advantage

Have you ever felt dead-legged or worn out during a practice or workout? Do you lift and lift and lift yet can’t seem to put on an ounce of muscle? Are you frequently getting sick or injured? Maybe you feel great but want to perform at an even higher level than you are right now, but you believe something is missing. What you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat can affect your energy, your training, your immune function, and even your risk of injury.

Nutrient timing is a strategic approach to how much, what and when you eat before, during and after training and competition to maximize training effects, reduce risk of injury, maintain healthy immune function, and help with recovery. Various strategies may be used depending on the type of activity you are doing. An athlete would never show up for practice without the appropriate gear (soccer cleats, baseball glove, hockey puck, lacrosse stick, and so on), so why would an athlete show up to practice or a game without the proper fuel?

Some of today's fad diets, such as Ketogenic diet, promote fat fueling. But these methods fall short when it comes to enhancing performance. The body prefers carbohydrates for fuel because they are a more efficient energy source. Athletes should consume about 50-70% of their total calories from carbohydrates (starch/grains/fruit). This leaves roughly 30-50% leftover for protein and fat. These two remaining macronutrients can be divided evenly (Example: 15% protein, 15% fat or 25% protein, 25% fat). MyFitnessPal is a free, user-friendly phone application that can help you set/reach macronutrient and calorie goals.

Prior to working out it is recommended to consume a meal or snack that provides some carbohydrate (15-30 grams). Lean protein can, and in some cases should, be consumed prior to working out, to help prevent muscle breakdown. Protein shakes or meat should be consumed at least 2 hours prior to working out (these tend to be heavier on the stomach). Dairy or non-meat sources of protein can be consumed a little closer to your workout (30-60 minutes prior).

Fueling needs during a workout can vary. If you are going to go on a long bike ride (2-3 hours) or do back-to-back cardio workouts, then it is recommended to consume carbohydrate during your workout. It is recommended for a 150-pound athlete to consume approximately 50 grams of carbohydrate per hour during a long workout or event (60 grams per hour for 200 pound athletes). If chewing and swallowing is not conducive to the activity that you are doing (example: running) then you can drink your carbohydrates. Many sports beverages (or powders that can be added to water) can meet this need. If you are doing an endurance event (triathlon, Iron Man etc), then you will need to consume protein at some point. The best time for this is when you are on the cycling portion of your event (easier to chew and swallow especially if on a flat road). In this case a peanut butter and jelly or turkey sandwich will suffice.

Finally, what you eat after your workout could be the most important time to eat (recovery). When you are done working out you have a small window to replenish your energy stores and prevent muscle breakdown. It is recommended to consume a 2:1 or, optimally, a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates-to-protein. This should be consumed within 45 minutes of completing your workout. Post-workout protein needs can range anywhere from 10 grams to 50 grams (depending on your age and how hard you worked your muscles). Intake of carbohydrate should be double or triple the amount of protein you eat (Example: 30 to 45 grams of carbohydrate and 15 to 20 grams of protein post workout would be a good recovery meal for many). Eating fat (even good fat) during this recovery “window” is not recommended as it will interfere with the recovery process. It is best to include some good fat into the meal following recovery (approximately 1-2 hours later).

By Kim Brown, BS, RDN, CDE

Recovery Shake

  • 1 cup of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup frozen berries
  • 1-2 scoops of protein powder (your choice…if it contains carbohydrate then you may reduce the amount of fruit you put in shake)
  • Blend all ingredients until smooth