Towards the top of our pyramid here is Meal Timing. This comes into play after we manage balancing our calories, which macronutrients make up our calories, and which micronutrients make up those macronutrients! Once we have found our energy balance, we can start focusing on when we are eating those calories and macronutrients! There are tons of different opinions on the timing of foods specific nutrients throughout the day, when meals should be consumed, and how often we should be eating…but I am going to focus on what I get the most questions on for food timing which are: eating after a workout, before a workout, and at night.
The majority of what you’ve probably heard about meal timing is marketing. “Drink your protein shake immediately after exercise or else you lose all your progress!” … A.K.A. be sure you get into the habit of drinking our product and believing it’s super important so that you run out sooner & buy more again! It is a brilliant marketing plan and has been successful, but what’s the real truth behind the post-workout window?
Our post-workout window is longer than those companies market. After exercising, especially at a high-intensity, your body continues recovering for about 2 whole hours! This is due to ‘Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption’ (EPOC) which is essentially your body recovering from an anaerobic (no oxygen) state and catching up by taking in greater amounts of oxygen to recover from the “deficit” your body experienced during training.
High-intensity exercise puts us into that anaerboic state which requires our bodies to rely on glucose (carbohydrate) metabolism for the majority of our energy. This depletes most of our blood sugar & stored carbohydrates so after exercise, our bodies will readily absorb those nutrients and replenish our blood sugar levels or store for later use within our muscles. This is why I encourage my clients, readers, & listeners to consume their carbohydrate sources that are more sugary/starchy only around an exercise session. It allows us to enjoy “fun” foods while still keeping us on track towards our goals, which helps us maintain our consistent diet by allowing that balance.
Replenishing these carbohydrates are important but can be fulfilled up to 2 hours post-exercise if your next training session will be in the next day or so. Where our timing does become more important is if we are competing at a more elite level or performing multiple sessions per day. If you just finished a workout session and plan to complete another session later in the day, replenishing your energy shortly after the first session will impact your later session. This is when meal timing is a bit more important and needs to be a priority.
Consuming proteins after a workout is also important. Our bodies are continually pulling from a “protein pool” within each cell. Those proteins help to not only build and maintain our muscles but are also responsible for the functioning of our cells and immune system, so it is important to regularly “fill” that pool. Proteins can be eaten regularly throughout each meal and real-food sources will be absorbed and digested better than any supplement ever will (more on this with our last part of the pyramid!)
As I mentioned earlier, exercise requires carbohydrates! Before a workout is another good time to consume sugary/starchy carbohydrates because they will be readily available to use for energy, rather than converted for storage. Being properly fueled for a workout will also help us feel our best and perform well in our session which can lead to better progress! Consuming some protein before a workout will also help to keep that “pool” filled so proteins can be pulled from there rather than broken down from our muscles for use!
For some ideas on pre-workout carbohydrate sources, check out this article!
Eating at Night
There are a lot of different ideas about eating at night. “No carbs after dark”, “Don’t eat after 7pm”, “Going to bed with food in your stomach will automatically make you fat”… here is what I believe from the things I have learned, researched, practiced and applied to clients. Avoiding eating after a certain time at night, or after dinner, was a rule established as a trick to break the habit of excessive nighttime snacking or zoning out at Netflix while eating junk-food after work. Setting the rule to not eat after ____o’clock can be a good strategy to prevent consuming too many overall calories which can lead to weight gain! However, if you need to eat a late dinner to reach your calorie or macronutrient goals, eating late isn’t going to ruin your progress. If you feel like you cannot stop eating at night, there may be a problem with how much you are eating earlier in the day! This can be another meal-timing issue but in the bigger scale of eating more food earlier in the day (when we are typically more active) so that you are satisfied and not having food cravings by the time night rolls around.
While you sleep, your body does some amazing recovering and it is a process that requires fuel and energy. Consuming slow-digesting protein (like casein) helps to keep you feeling full throughout the night and since it is slowly absorbed, it helps keep that protein-pool filled as the body pulls from it to recover your body from a long day or tough training session. Fats are also an important part of a healthy diet. Where carbs are our energy source for high-intensity exercise, fats are the main energy source for low-intensity activities, which include sleeping! We have an abundance of stored fat for energy but consuming fat is also important for assisting with the absorption of important vitamins and helping our nervous systems recover and function properly. As a slower-digested food as well, fats are good for the evening to help us feel full & satisfied when ending our day.
So ultimately, the timing of foods can help us have even greater goal achievement, however without prioritizing the bottom sections of the pyramid first, the timing of our meals won’t influence our progress very much.
For help with getting those bottom tiers balanced so you can implement meal timing, or if you are already consuming proper macro- and micronutrients and would like to feel and see even greater progress, contact me for help!