Nutrient timing: Does it really matter?

Starting in the early 2000s, nutrient timing became a trend among sports nutrition specialists, and many new concepts came out that are still used in today’s vocabulary among bodybuilders and athletes. The whole idea behind nutrient timing is that the human body makes better use of nutrients when they are consumed in a precise pattern. But, is it really necessary?

Pre-workout, post-workout, anabolic window and many other concepts you might have heard of came from this assumption. But when new evidence came out, our understanding of nutrient timing started to change, and now we know it is useful, but not for everybody.

Some people need nutrient timing along with nutrient proportion to create a strategy with a very specific goal in mind. In other cases, the results will not change as long as they are eating the right proportion of macronutrients.

So, is your body like a chess board where every step contributes to the strategy for a checkmate? Or is it like a puzzle where everything fits together regardless of which piece comes first? After reading this article, you will be ready to figure out the answer yourself.

When nutrient timing does NOT matter

Here’s the thing. Most of the scientific research about nutrient timing was short-term, evaluating a single workout session or a very short period of time. A longer study actually focusing on building muscle mass and strength looked promising, but further research with the same protocol didn’t have the same results.

Moreover, recent data on the anabolic window points out there’s no need to hustle for your protein shake immediately after training. You have plenty of time to get back home, take a shower and prepare your food.

The reason is simple:

In most cases, eating the right proportion of nutrients throughout the day is what really matters regardless of the nutrient timing strategy you choose to follow.

Another thing to cover about nutrient timing is choosing the right macronutrient intake for breakfast and dinner. In this regard, there is much scientific information and very little consensus. Certain studies show that eating more carbohydrates in the morning improves body composition while other authors state exactly the same thing about dinner.

When we look at the bigger picture, all we see is different people having different results according to their own circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycles. Thus, there’s not a strict and immutable rule around when or how to eat your nutrients as long as you keep them in the right proportion. The best timing will depend on you, and you need to find out what works best in your individual case.

In a nutshell, if you’re trying to lose weight and improve your health and you’re not spending 2 hours or more in your workouts, nutrient timing is not very important for you. Similarly, if you’re a novice athlete or weightlifter and do not have extreme muscle gains as a part of your immediate goals, you can choose any nutrient timing strategy. It will hold the same results as long as you keep an appropriate nutrient balance according to your goals.

Nutrient timing as a part of the strategy

As you might have guessed in the last paragraph, nutrient timing does work for certain individuals, depending on their type of training and their goals. Despite the scientific evidence we have summarized above, there’s a strong foundation for using a precise nutrient timing as a part of your muscle-building or endurance strategy.

When is nutrient timing your way to go?

  • If your training sessions usually last 2 hours or more.
  • If you’re practicing endurance sports, such as marathon running.
  • If you are looking for extreme muscle gains.
  • If you have exhausting training sessions after an overnight fast.
  • If you are an athlete with various competitions ahead and little time in between.

In these cases, nutrient timing allows athletes and bodybuilders to have the right amount of energy at the right moment. For instance, nutrient timing for a marathon runner would prepare his glycogen stores for a race ahead and replenish them during the event and afterwards. For professional bodybuilders, taking into consideration the anabolic window of opportunity would help them adjust their protein intake around exercise sessions to maximize gains.

In every case, always remember that nutrient timing is not a do-or-die scenario, and even the anabolic window is longer than most people think. Thus, it is not something to become obsessed with but rather an additional strategy on the board. Moreover, this strategy is not the first thing you need to adopt, and definitely not the most critical part of your journey as an athlete or bodybuilder. It is rather the very last.

When should I start focusing on nutrient timing?

Nutrient timing is not for the overweight office worker trying to lose some weight. It won’t make a difference if you’re still failing to your own diet every single week, and it will definitely not help you if you’re still struggling with peer pressure to eat healthily.

Most people are eager to start using protein shakes and other supplements without even adjusting their diet. Similarly, novice exercisers read about nutrient timing and start adopting these strategies, but are they only adding unnecessary complexity to their training? Probably so. Thus, before considering nutrient timing as a part of your strategy, you should build strong dietary foundations.

Follow these simple, yet underestimated steps for success before becoming obsessed with your clock:

  • Stop eating to the point of bursting. You don’t need to feel stuffed after your meals, and you’re probably overeating if you do.
  • Take small bites and chew your food correctly. Take your time and avoid distractions during this time.
  • Find out the proper macronutrient proportion for your goals and start adjusting your diet for the whole day.
  • Build strategies to avoid cheating on your diet according to your own flaws.
  • Include vegetables in every meal and more than 5 servings of fruits every day.

You don’t need to have a perfect diet to start using nutrient timing, but your results will be noticeable as you become more consistent with your foundations. Remember there’s not an absolute way to do things, and you need to find out what works best for you. Nutrient timing can be an unnecessary source of complexity or an exciting strategy to speed up your gains, but it will mostly depend on you.

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