In this article on nutrient timing we will teach you what and when to eat, before, during and after exercise.
Regardless of your training intentions, whether it is weight-loss, weight-gain, increased performance (fitness and/or strength), or increased muscle mass, the most effective methods to get results have always included a combination of training and dietary interventions.
For most people the concept of energy in vs energy out is easy to understand, to make it more complex however experts are now also focusing towards nutrient timing (when to eat), which has been shown to influence the results and in particular muscle growth.
Nutrient timing is most easily defined as the timing in which nutrients are supplied to the body. It would appear that the timing in which certain nutrients are consumed (in particular protein and carbohydrate) can significantly impact on both performance and recovery. The underlying physiology of this process is quite complex, but essentially there is a greater affinity for nutrients to be absorbed at certain times of the day (relative to your training) and that his is largely influenced by the foods that you eat, when you eat them and they type of exercise that you do.
Athletes are typically a breed of their own, the word 'extremist' quite often comes to mind as they tend to have an all or nothing approach. In regards to nutrition; if it's deemed good for you (eg protein) they believe more is better and typically consume in excess (these people aren't hard to find in a gym) on the alternative side if they learn something is bad for them (eg fat) they try to avoid it at all costs. However just because a certain food is good for you, more isn't necessarily better. In the example of protein, yes athletes require an increased portion of protein in their diet (read how much protein do I need?), but once you have the right amount of protein in your diet, instead of consuming in excess you will achieve better results if you shift your focus to towards good nutrient timing.
The concept of nutrient timing is largely unknown by everyday gym users and athletes, however by applying a little bit of knowledge there is opportunity to outsmart your competition, save money on food and supplements and accelerate the time in which it takes to reach your training goals.
How Does Nutrient Timing Work?
When you exercise, your body metabolizes energy. Naturally if you burning energy at some point your body will require refueling to help prolong the activity and assist recovery. When and what you ate earlier, as well as the time and duration of your workout will define when and what you should eat next. Poor nutrient timing can not only affect your energy levels throughout your workout, but also inhibit recovery and potentially increase your risk of injury.
So that you can apply the principles of good nutrient timing, we will now briefly discuss the types of food that should be consumed, before, during and after exercise. The pre and post workout meals are arguably the 2 most important meals of the day and will be discussed in a lot more detail later in this chapter.
The Pre Exercise Meal - What to Eat Before Exercise
A well-balanced meal containing low GI carbohydrates, lean protein and good fats should be consumed 2 to 3 hours before a heavy exercise session or athletic event. If need be, a smaller snack or liquid meal may be consumed from 15- 60 minutes before exercise. Whilst fibre is generally good for you, if you eat a lot of insoluble fibre in your pre workout meal or snack, particularly if you are about to run a marathon, this could lead to bowel discomfort.
What to Eat and Drink During Exercise
If a good pre training meal was consumed at an appropriate time, the body will require replenishment of carbohydrates and electrolytes stores after 60-90 minutes of steady exercise. This rule usually applies to athletes who are training / competing for a number of hours at a time, more intense modes of exercise may need to start to replenish earlier.
As a general rule water should be the main replenishment during the first hour of training. A diluted sport drink, juice, orange slice or gel would be a good choice after the first 60 –90 minutes depending on the intensity of the exercise.
Sports drinks and gels during exercise
Fluid sources of electrolytes and carbohydrates (eg sports drinks, gels etc) are often the best choice if exercise is going to be continued for hours as they are easily digested and readily absorbed. It should be noted however that most sport drinks are very high in sugars (although they are getting better), which can lead to a rapid increase and drop in blood sugar and/or stomach problems so you may want to dilute with water. A good rule of thumb is that sports drinks consumed during exercise should be no greater than 10% carbohydrate (i.e. less than 10g per 100ml). Additionally sport gels should always be consumed with water.
Eating during endurance exercise
Energy fatigue sets in when glycogen stores run low after 90 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise. It is recommended that athletes drink water for the first hour and then slowly introduce easily digested sources of carbohydrates thereafter to help maintain blood glucose levels.
Eating during intense or Intermittent exercise
Energy fatigue sets in after 60 minutes for sports that require short bursts of energy such as: weight training, sprinting, football, tennis, hockey, skiing etc. Water intake should be the primary focus for the first 45-60 minutes of intense exercise after which the introduction of diluted carbohydrates as discussed above should follow.
The Post Exercise Meal - What to Eat After Exercise
This is the most important meal of the day as it replenishes your energy stores and stimulates muscle growth and recovery. After exercise, hormonal and enzymatic changes within your body enable it to become more sensitive to storing new carbohydrates as glycogen in your muscles. Optimize your post exercise meal by combing high GI carbohydrates (those that quickly convert to blood glucose) and fast proteins in the form of a liquid meal within the first 30 minutes.
Follow this up with a well-balanced meal containing whole foods within 2 hours post exercise. A good meal would contain sources of lean protein, carbohydrates, good fats and lots of salad or vegetables.
The pre and post workout meals are the two most important meals to consider when aiming for good nutrient timing, these will be discussed on more detail in the articles below.
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These articles will provide you with the necessary tools to start a successful gym training or bodybuilding program. These principles are only the beginning. Remember that discipline, knowledge and consistency are the keys to achieving your goals. Good luck!
Over the coming months we will be developing this chapter. Please visit our blog and subscribe to our rss feed such that when new articles are added to this chapter you will be notified.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us for advice.
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