By Jessica Sunier
Before you dive too deep into this article there are a couple key things about nutrition you should understand prior to attempting nutrient timing. The first is energy intake (consuming food) and expenditure (daily activity level). We measure our energy intake in the form of kilocalories, and we manage how much food we need daily using “calories in vs. calories out”. If we are speaking in simple black and white terms of weight loss, weight gain, or weight maintenance* it looks like this:
Calories Consumed > Calories Expended = Weight Gain
Calories Consumed < Calories Expended = Weight Loss
Calories Consumed = Calories Expended = Weight Maintenance
There are a few ways to calculate your estimated Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and the most accurate calculations include your height, weight, biological sex, and age. For those individuals in the process of transitioning and taking hormones we use the “destination” sex as the deciding factor. Of course, as with all human made calculations, there are inaccuracies. This is simply the best tool we have at the moment short of a DEXA scan or BodPod.
The second piece of nutrition information you have to know is not all food is created equal. We can do a deep dive into macronutrients in a different article, but the three macronutrients you need to know and understand are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. In a nutshell:
For now, view proteins as your repair tool, carbohydrates as your recovery tool, and fats as your transport system getting those vital vitamins and minerals to their cellular destinations.
Nutrient Timing 101
There are many excellent resources available that will break down the how’s and the why’s of nutrient timing, and I will provide you with the links at the end of this article. For now, I am going to make this straightforward and pretty shallow. If you’d like to discuss your specific timing needs please head to our Contact Us form on the website and I will get in touch. Keep in mind when I discuss nutrient timing, and food intake in general, you should always consult with your physician, especially if you have had any previous surgeries or are on medication that restricts certain foods. Furthermore, I am not taking the following into consideration:
Let’s begin with proteins, as they are the easiest macronutrient to spread throughout the day. Most active adults function best on 0.8g-1g/lb of body weight. The more active you are, specifically strength and high impact sports, the more you will want to lean toward the 1g/lb of body weight. Protein feedings are generally spread evenly throughout the day in 4-6 meals.
Athlete weight: 180lbs
Protein Intake: ~180g/day (720 kcal of total daily caloric intake)
Athlete prefers 5 meals per day: 36g Protein/Meal
Carbohydrates seem to be the macronutrient that throws everyone for a loop. Do I need carbohydrates? Short answer, yes. Your body, especially if you are an athlete, needs and wants carbohydrates to provide energy to your muscles as well as aid in your overall recovery. How much you need depends entirely on your daily activity. I keep some athletes between 60g-100g on rest days or low intensity days (tempo training, L.I.S.S. cardio, light drilling, or body weight training only), and 150g-250g on high intensity days (sport specific training, lifting, or the two combined). The amount of carbohydrates needed depends entirely on how many calories the athlete needs that day, minus the amount of proteins and fats.
Now that you understand how many carbohydrates you may need lets put them in their appropriate place. If your day is a non-training day or a low intensity day you can spread your carbohydrates evenly throughout each meal. If your day is labeled as high intensity you want to put a larger allotment before your training session. You need enough glycogen storage in your muscle to fuel your highest performance during that training session.
Carbohydrates are also needed during a training session if your training is going to last an hour or more. We call these intra-carbs. If you’ve ever seen our powerlifters train you notice they usually have something simple to digest in between heavy sets like gummy bears, as well as a protein shake. This helps the lifters keep their blood glucose levels elevated and helps “refuel” the body as they lift. By refueling during the lifts the athletes are able to do more work. More work equals more adaptations to stress (in their case stress is the weight being moved on the bar). More adaptations means they get stronger.
Finally, you want a bit more carbohydrates after your training session, especially if you’re training twice per day. Your muscles are more absorptive after a session, so get that fuel in and let it get to work. An approximate ratio of carbohydrates to protein post-training is 3:1 (3 grams of carbohydrates per gram of protein for that meal).
Now that we know how to place carbohydrates around a training session where do the rest go? A good rule of thumb to follow is the further your meal is from a training session, the less carbohydrates you need during that meal. However, if you want carbohydrates further from your training don’t feel that it’s cheating. Just make sure that you optimize the carbohydrates around your training so you can get the most out of that session.
Something to keep in mind about carbohydrates is they can affect the quality of your sleep. Eating carbohydrates before sleep, or later in the evening, may help promote healthier sleep and relaxation habits. However, there is a catch. Other research suggests that eating carbohydrates earlier in the day and less at night promotes better sleep long term. So what is the verdict? There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to carbohydrates and your circadian rhythm. Do what feels best for you.
We have arrived at fat. Fat is best calculated by using the remaining calories from your daily caloric intake and dividing it by 9 (there are 9 kilocalories of energy per gram of fat). A key factor with fat intake is to limit fat before, during, and after a training session. Fat can interfere with carbohydrate absorption, and it takes energy away from training in order to digest. Higher fat foods before a training session may also make the athlete feel nauseous. The good news is that meals further away from training sessions can be higher in fat because carbohydrates are lower.
*FitPOWER is not a weight loss facility. We do not promote or hold weight loss challenges or anything of the sort. Weight is one factor out of many that make up your health, and it is not our primary focus. Our goal is to get you moving and make you strong.