Adrianna on: Meal Timing

Meal or nutrient timing refers to eating nutrients (protein or carbs) in specific amount at specific times (before, during, or after exercise).

In terms of sports nutrition, different meals should be eaten at different times of the day:

  • Post workout meals should be higher in carbs, especially faster-digesting starchy carbs (such as potatoes or rice) or sweeter carbs (such as fruit).
  • All other meals should be lower in carbs, lean protein plus healthy fats and fibrous vegetables.

This placement of carbs could help people with their performance in the gym while getting leaner, stronger, and healthier. But for the average person who exercises occasionally or not at all and is trying to just look or feel better, nutrient timing is not as important as overall daily calorie intake.

Post-workout “anabolic window of opportunity”
Brian St Pierre at Precision Nutrition states that nutrient timing can play a key role in fitness as proven by various research studies which found something we call the post-workout “anabolic window of opportunity.”

Heavy resistance training sensitizes muscle tissues to carbohydrates. After a heavy weight training session, your muscle cells are scrambling to soak up carbs to promote recovery. That means the higher your daily workout volume, the better you’ll be sensitized to carbs. – St Pierre, Precision Nutrition

Weight training or sprint intervals make our body a nutrient-processing powerhouse. During this time our muscles need glucose, either oxidizing it as fuel or more readily storing it as glycogen (instead of fat). And post-workout protein consumption cranks up protein synthesis.
Recent studies indicate that the “anabolic window of opportunity” is actually a whole lot bigger than we used to believe, you probably have one or two hours on both sides of your training to get these benefits.

Nevertheless we ought to remember that  we’re all unique. There’s no one-size-fits all rule. Just like when you exercise, what’s most important is that you make high-quality choices, consistently, whenever it works for you.

Meal Timing quote

Meal frequency
For years dietitians and nutritionists thought that the best approach to splitting up your daily food intake was to eat small meals frequently throughout the day. From early research it was assumed that eating often would speed up the metabolism, help control the hormones insulin and cortisol, and manage the appetite.
However, a recent review in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, and other lines of evidence, suggest otherwise:

As long as we eat the right foods in the right amounts, meal frequency seems to be a matter of personal preference. You can eat lots of small meals each day (i.e. every few hours). Or you can eat a few big meals each day (i.e. with bigger time gaps between them). And there’s almost no physiological difference. – St Pierre, Precision Nutrition

However, there could be psychological differences, mind you. Which is why you should listen to your own body. If you’re covering all your other bases and your current meal frequency isn’t working, try switching it up. Experiment with fewer meals if you eat more frequently. And more meals if you eat less frequently. Because either approach is physiologically valid, you’re free to find the lifestyle approach that works best for you.

When nutrient timing still matters
Nutrient timing is a complex subject and there are legitimate uses of nutrient timing for certain people.
If you’re a bodybuilder or an endurance athlete, the meaning of nutrient timing is much different than if you’re an sedentary office worker just getting into exercise and trying to improve your nutrition.
Some people are already very lean, compete at an elite level of physique or athletics. For bodybuilders, physique competitors, and/or weight class athletes an extra half-percent of body fat can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Yet, there is one thing that trumps all of the above:
“The best nutrient timing in the world won’t compensate for poor-quality, mindless, and/or inconsistent food intake”

*This post was based on Brian St Pierre’s article “Is Nutrient Timing Dead?” for


Eat carbs at night for weight loss??

IMG_20150904_094732[1]So a couple of weeks ago a colleague in the office mentioned that a few of his friends were trying a new diet trend – eating carbs at bedtime to lose weight!

I was a bit very sceptical when I heard that since I knew very well that typically this is not recommended because the body will not have enough time to burn the calories and will store them as fat instead. But when two of my trusted fitness & nutrition bloggers posted about this within a week of each other I had to investigate what the fuss was all about.

True or False?

Turns out there may be some truth in this. Shawna Kaminski, a long time athlete (swimming, skiing and bodybuilding) and top fitness trainer for women over 40, shared links to other industry pros talking about how you should not cut out carbs from your diet and even – shock & horror! – eat them before bedtime!

First off we have Nate Miyaki who is a firm believer that managing carb intake in the correct way can actually boost fat burning. He stresses how important food timing is. For example, his research found that eating carbohydrates (even the healthy ones) in the morning can hinder fat burning.

This is because carbohydrates cause a spike in insulin levels as they are converted into sugar. The rise in insulin suppresses other fat burning hormones and slows down your fat burning process. Also once the insulin levels drop, we crave more carbs throughout the day.

On the other hand, eating carbs at night can burn fat faster. A 2011 study in the Journal of Obesity found that those eating the majority of their carbs (about 80%) in the evening burned more fat and had fewer cravings than those who spread their carbohydrate intake throughout the day.

Hold your horses – cake may not be the answer here!

Then I remembered reading fellow blogger Deinza’s post where she explains that eating carbs at bedtime does not necessarily cause weight gain. Echoing Miyaki’s words she says: “With carbs, it is all about the right timing and amount you eat.

However, she stresses not only the timing of carbohydrates but also the type of carbs to be had (sorry no cake at bedtime!). For example, vegetables are also carbs but they do not affect insulin levels (so you can eat as much as you want). Starchy carbs (bread, potatoes, rice & pasta) are the ones to watch.

And here is where timing is key. Despite what Miyaki’s says about eating carbs in the morning, the general consensus is that this is nevertheless a good time to have them. This is because in the morning insulin and glycogen levels are low (so you need some fuel) and you have the rest of the day to burn the calories. Another optimal time is post workout when glycogen levels are low as well.

Yet, eating carbs in the evening can be beneficial too. They can help promote sleep by releasing serotonin (the happy hormone) and leptin which decreases hunger. Again the type of carbs is important – starchy carbs are ok, but aim for healthier options such as quinoa, oats, sweet potatoes and wholemeal bread.

A Final Word of Caution

Although there is some scientific evidence that eating (healthy) carbs at bedtime promotes weight loss and fat burning because:

  • Your body still needs energy during sleep, some experts suggest that your resting metabolic rate is the same during the night as during the day.
  • Eating carbs in the evening may result in increased fat burning by increasing insulin sensitivity.
  • And it definitely promotes good sleep through the increased production of serotonin.

There are a few things to remember:

  • Carbs are broken down in to sugar (glucose) and cause the pancreas to secrete insulin, therefore they affect insulin sensitivity (how well your body manages to get rid of excess sugar in the bloodstream).
  • Constantly bombarding your bloodstream with insulin is not good and can lead to diseases such as diabetes. Remember: timing is key.
  • Having carbs less frequently with more time between carb servings, you would be less hungry because your own body would ramp up systems that deal with excess glucose production,  and keep your blood glucose steady.

So no cake then… 😩