A brief discussion on meal and nutrient timing
Nutrient timing is the idea that eating at certain times, or having a specific timeframe between meals, is more beneficial to fat loss and health improvements. We are also going to cover if eating a particular type of macronutrient (Carbohydrates, Protein and Fats) at a specific time of day, is beneficial or not. Before we go on any further, I need to stress that what I’m about to talk about is general advice and that you should consult with the proper health professional if you have any metabolic conditions such as diabetes. The concepts that I am going to discuss today is purely for people who have no metabolic diseases.
I’m sure many of you have heard about the meal frequency concept; you need to be eating up to 6 meals per day to help ‘stoke’ your metabolism. So, the idea behind this is that the more you eat, the more your body will burn fat. The reasoning behind this is that every time we eat, we use energy to help break down the foods that we have eaten. Energy is used to break down the food we eat and is called the thermic effect of food, which is a thing that has been highly researched and backed up by science.
With this knowledge someone, some time ago probably said to himself “if I eat more often then I’ll burn more calories”. Increasing meal frequency then became the norm in the health and fitness world. However, what science has proven is that the amount of energy we burn, when we eat, is proportionate to how much we eat. For example, if we eat 2000 calories per day, it doesn’t matter if that’s split into four meals at 400 calories each or two meals at 1000 calories per day. You’ll use the same amount of energy, digesting 2000 calories regardless of how often you eat.
Does that mean meal frequency is bullshit? Not necessarily. It depends on your goals. If you want to build muscle mass, then eating up to 6 or more meals per day is the best way to go, especially if you need to consume plenty of calories. Again, the tool that we use will come down to the end goal and the lifestyle that you live.
How about nutrient timing?
Nutrient timing is the idea that eating certain types of macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein and fats) is better for us, then eating it at random times.
We’ll take protein first because that’s the most important one. If your goal is fat loss, then the total amount of protein is most important, not necessarily when you consume it. The same goes for muscle gain. However, where it is a little bit different is frequency. Eating protein more frequently will be beneficial for people looking to increase muscle mass. So, protein timing, not that big of a deal unless your goal is muscle mass. As long as you eat enough during the day, you’ll be alright.
Carbohydrate timing has been up for debate for a very long time. Individual diet advocates say carbs are bad and so on. I don’t want to get into all that. What I will recommend with carbs is that, similar to protein, it doesn’t matter which time of day you eat it. I would recommend scheduling carbs around your workout times, before and after. Besides that, if you like having a big breakfast high in carbs, have it then if you want a big lunch and so on.
Out of the three macronutrients, fat doesn’t have much timing discussions. What I will recommend with fats is try not to consume too much before training. It takes a while for fats to be consumed and when you train your body won’t be digesting the food in your stomach so you might feel uncomfortable or even vomit. That’s pretty much the only reason I don’t recommend having foods high in fat pre-workout. If you are fine, eating high-fat food and not feel like you have to vomit, then eat a large number of fats before working out. Besides that, I would recommend having meals higher in fats when you know you’ll go a little longer than usual with no foods as it will help you feel fuller.
You will probably hear or see different information regarding this topic. You just need to find one that works for you and go with that. Make sure if you have metabolic conditions to consult with the proper health authorities before drastically changing your diet.
To conclude, consider the following points:
- Eat as often, or as infrequently, as you want, just make sure the number of calories you consume is right for your goal. For example, fat loss less than your maintenance. Muscle gain more than your maintenance.
- Find the meal frequency that works best for you, your lifestyle and your goal. This comes down to trial and error. If you find you are not hungry in the morning, you can perform some sort of Intermittent Fasting protocol. If you are starving first thing in the morning, eat breakfast. It’s all about finding what works best for you!
- Nutrient timing-wise, as long as you consume enough of each macronutrient for your body and goal, then it’s all good. I would suggest more carbs 1-2 hours before and after training, less fat for the reasons I mentioned above (scroll up if you missed it)
- No matter which meal frequency you decide to go with, remember, eat whole, nutritious foods, not too much junk food, and you’ll be alright