Article by Emily White
If you go to the gym, I have no doubt you will have heard about nutrient timing. Rushing for that scoop of protein as soon as you have finished your workout? Then you are practicing nutrient timing.
To put it simply, nutrient timing is eating certain macronutrients at certain times in specific amounts in order to achieve specific goals. Protein and carbohydrates immediately post workout is a popular one, as is the belief that you shouldn’t eat carbohydrates after dark.
But is there actually any science behind this?
The post-work out ‘anabolic window of opportunity’
For years many have believed that if you miss replenishing your body with the all important protein and carbohydrates post workout it can be as dire as missing the postman on a Friday afternoon. The idea is to eat something that contains carbohydrates and protein within 15-60 minutes after finishing your workout. The role of the carbohydrates is to replenish glycogen stores which is thought to aid recovery, whilst the proteins role is to repair and initiate growth of muscle. While yes, this is true to a certain extent, it may not be as dire as one originally thought. If you are training several times a day this may apply, but for the average Joe like you and I who works out once a day, there is plenty of time to replenish those glycogen stores at your next meal. With protein, it is actually more important that you reach your total daily protein intake, from good quality sources, rather than ensuring it is immediately after your workout. Therefore if you are meeting your daily protein requirements, the ‘anabolic window of opportunity’ may not be so important after all.
The exception to the rule (there is always at least one!) is for people who are elite athletes whereby that extra 1% can make all the difference or for people who are training several times and therefore need to maximize fuel replenishments between their sessions.
‘No carbs after dark’
To be honest, I didn’t even think this myth was still circulating, but it seems to be a question that pops up time and time again so thought it be worth addressing!
The reason why this became popular was because if you cut an entire macronutrient out at a meal, you limit your overall calorie intake which is going to put you in a calorie deficit, ergo you lose weight. It isn’t the lack of carbohydrates that are causing you to lose weight, it is the reduction in overall calories. In fact, some studies have suggested that having carbohydrates at night can help with sleep quality. Of course, it depends on your carbohydrate tolerance as to how much carbohydrates you should be eating, but same as the protein example above, it is more important to consider your total overall carbohydrate intake rather than the timing.
It is much more important to consider how much and what you are eating rather than worrying about when you are eating. If you are an elite athlete or someone who is doing multiple workouts a day and you have the quantities and qualities of your food under control then nutrient timing could be important for you. However, for the average person it is going to be much more important to focus on consistency, food quality, quantity and establishing a sustainable lifestyle. As always, you have to do what works for you, but for the meantime, the research doesn’t support the importance of nutrient timing for most people.