Nutrient Timing: Does It Matter When You Eat

January 01, 2021 4 min read

Nutrient Timing: Does It Matter When You Eat

Many individuals ask us if it matters when you eat.  Is it okay to have carbohydrates at night?  Should you fast in the morning?  Do you have to eat post-workout?  

Here is the thing, we cannot tell you what to do, but what we can do is provide you with research that will help you determine what is the best path for you, your lifestyle, and your goals.  There are what we call ‘physiological truths’ that show us how our bodies metabolize food differently depending on what is going on in our day to day life and these ‘truths’ seem to apply to all humans.  

Does it Matter When You Eat? 

We’ve talked about the Importance of Circadian Rhythm before, but we must understand that our body does not just have one internal clock, it has hundreds of biological clocks running different things.  Every muscle, every tissue, every organ is controlled by our circadian rhythm (SOURCE). All of the clocks that are controlling different things in our body are impacted by certain things, the most dominant being light from the sun.  Although one of the other more powerful controlling factors is fuel from the food we eat - mainly larger meals. 

Our insulin response actually follows a circadian rhythm as well, and it acts differently for muscle tissue and adipose tissues (aka fat tissue).  Muscle insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning and declines as the day goes on, whereas adipose tissue insulin sensitivity is lowest in the morning and increases as the day progresses (SOURCE).  

This is why it is often recommended to not eat too large of meals at dinner time, or to not include the majority of your carbs later at night - your insulin sensitivity lowers as the day goes on.  There are obvious exceptions to this rule like if you workout later in the day, or if you are struggling to eat enough in general, then those are bigger things that can trump this guideline.  

This is why we also recommend eating at regular times each day, and to not skip meals often - when you eat at regular intervals, it actually improves your insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles (SOURCE).  So we recommend - if it works with your schedule to: 

  • Eat a larger breakfast with sunrise (protein and carbs mainly)
  • Eat progressively smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eat higher fat, and lower carb at night, utilizing lots of lower carbohydrate vegetables at dinner. 
  • Eat protein at each meal. 

Pre-Workout Window 

There are quite a few camps out there that discuss eating before your workout - but we will again reiterate that you have to find what works for you. The good news is that it doesn’t matter as much as many people may think.  There are often discussions around ingesting mainly carbohydrates before or during your workout for optimal results, but unless the body is completely depleted of glycogen, it will be able to use stored energy from the previous day’s intake.  So unless you’re coming off of multiple days fasted, or you are in an extreme calorie deficit, the body should do just fine utilizing stored glycogen and fat for fueling your workout!  

Several studies have investigated and proven the fact that carbohydrate consumption prior to or during workouts has no effect on resistance training performance [1].  

If you feel better lifting on an empty stomach in the morning, do you!  If you feel stronger having a full meal before workouts, that is fine as well!  We have to experiment with our own bodies to find what works best. 

Post-Workout Window 

Now post-workout is a different story.  The impact that exercising, mainly resistance training, has on the way that our body metabolizes food is quite incredible.  Resistance training makes our skeletal muscle more sensitive to insulin AND increases glycogen storage.  This means we need less insulin and can burn more fat, and when you do consume glucose (aka carbohydrates) post workout, it fills up your muscle stores rather than contributing to energy overload and eventual fat gain (SOURCE).  

So yes, there is an ‘anabolic window’ effect post-workout in the sense that your body will best utilize carbohydrates in that time-frame.  Although, if building muscle is a goal for yours as well, making sure that you’re consuming protein post-workout is necessary.  After resistance exercise, we require protein and it’s amino acids to properly support the repair and remodeling of skeletal muscle.  

This is because muscle protein synthesis, or the repair process of muscles from the utilization of amino acids, gets triggered by resistance exercise.  So that post-exercise period, if we are able to give the body sufficient protein, it will notably improve the adaptation process of growing muscle.  One amino acid in particular, leucine, has a unique capability to provide the ‘instructions’ to build new proteins and the material to carry it out (SOURCE).  

So if optimizing the post-workout window for gains is your goal, protein intake should meet a minimum of ~20g and have a strong amino acid profile with adequate leucine (~2.5g worth).  This is exactly why we formulated our CLEAN PROTEIN how we did - we wanted to make sure that we could get the optimal amount our body needs and the most beneficial breakdown.  

The good news is if you have a sensitive stomach post-workout, you don't have to be chugging down your protein shake as soon as you finish your last rep.  The anabolic window post exercise is open for hours, not minutes.  

Do What Works For You 

Like we mentioned in the beginning, you need to do what works for you.  So experiment if you’d like, but make sure once you find something that works - stick with it.  The more consistently you can eat meals, workout regularly, and get your body fuel at similar times - the more it conditions our body to expect those things, and in turn, improves the metabolic response to the food and supplement (SOURCE).  

Humans are creatures of habit, we thrive in a similar routine each day with a healthy dose of challenge thrown in here or there!  

Additional Sources -  

1 - Haff, G.G., A.J. Koch, J.A. Potteiger, K.E. Kuphal, L.M. Magee, S.B. Green, and J.J. Jakicic. 2000. Carbohydrate supplementation attenuates muscle glycogen loss during acute bouts of resistance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 10(3):326-39.

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