[Beau Hains, MS is the Director of Team Training at Athletic Lab]
In my previous blog, I broke down the first two major factors for nutrition, which you can check out here. Now, I will go into the remaining three factors:
- Nutrient Timing
- Food Composition
Nutrient timing is all about when to take the appropriate nutrients throughout the course of a day. This general definition can be broken down further into two subdivisions, which are meal frequency and meal timing.
Meal frequency refers to the overall number of meals that you consume in a day, while meal timing refers more specifically to the time of day that you consume the meal in relation to your activity.
Before we get into what benefits optimal nutrient timing can offer, I believe it is important to first understand what it is less helpful for. As I mentioned in my last article, if you do not have a good foundation of calorie balance and macronutrient intake, then nutrient timing will have a less significant impact.
The importance of nutrient timing, or lack thereof in some instances, is explained very well in the graphic below.
Each macronutrient has a specific set of guidelines on when they should be consumed to ensure they are utilized optimally by the body. Protein consumption, much like was discussed in my previous article about macronutrient ratios, can be simplified based on your goals. The research seems to remain consistent in that if you consume protein with all meals over the course of the day, timing really becomes a relative non-issue. However, it is worth noting that consuming over 30g of protein in a single sitting will not add any additional benefits regarding protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair. Simply put, you will likely gain the most benefit from protein consumption if you space it out evenly amongst all your meals for the day.
Unlike protein, carbohydrate consumption will typically vary from day to day, and even meal to meal, depending on your activity. Carbohydrates should ideally be consumed around your training times, either before, during (simple carbs), or immediately following training.
Pre-training meals, with an ideal amount of carbohydrates, are very important and can contribute to improving body composition. The carbohydrates in these meals help to “top-off” glycogen stores which supply blood glucose for muscle contractions. They can also have an anti-catabolic effect, which will help to reduce excess, or undesired, muscle breakdown.
Post-training meals are very commonly known for their benefits in facilitating recovery. Most people lean on the “tried and true” post-workout protein shake, which is a great start. However, protein is only part of the equation (a lesser part actually, as the ideal recovery shake should have a minimum of 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio). As previously mentioned, protein plays its part, but carbohydrates have a huge role in facilitating recovery, especially regarding anti-catabolism, glycogen repletion, and anabolic activation.
Fats are similar to protein, in that their nutrient timing is simpler than that of carbohydrates. One of the main things to realize with fats, is that they influence digestion time. Fat consumption can actually slow the digestion time of carbohydrate and proteins, which can have a profound impact on recovery. As a general guideline, you should limit fat consumption when you are close to your training window, meaning you should ideally not include it in your pre, intra, or immediate post training meal. This means that you will want to consume the majority of your fats as far away from your training times as possible, as to not delay the absorption of your nutrients that are essential for kickstarting your recovery process.
As you can see, by utilizing optimal nutrient timing, it can certainly add great benefits. Now that you have a better understanding of why and when it can be helpful, I want to leave you with four simple rules that you can follow to implement optimal nutrient timing:
Food composition plays a small role if your goal is improving body composition, but it does have benefits in terms of overall food quality and how the body absorbs them. One of the main benefits of choosing quality foods, is the fact that they typically offer more nutrient density. This helps to provide a good balance of micronutrients, which can lead to an increase in overall health and wellness. In this section, I will provide some of the better options for each macronutrient.
Top 5 suggestion for quality proteins would be:
- Fish (salmon or tuna)
- Chicken & turkey breast
- Eggs & egg whites
- Lean red meat (top round, sirloin, and 95% lean ground beef)
- Low fat dairy products
Top 5 suggestions for quality carbohydrates would be:
- Fruits and vegetables (all varieties)
- Beans (pinto, black, kidney, etc.)
- Brown/wild rice
- Whole grains (oatmeal, bread, and cereal w/ min 3g of fiber)
- Sweet potatoes
Top 5 suggestions for quality fats:
- Fish (yes, fish is a great source of healthy fats)
- Fish oil (if you do not already have enough fish in your diet)
- Nuts (all varieties)
- Flax seed
This brings us to our final section, which is about supplements. Supplements being so low on my “priority” list, does not inherently mean that they cannot contribute in a profound way. I am only trying to convey that supplements cannot make the same impact to your diet/training that the previously mentioned factors can. That being said, let’s get into it!
One of my biggest issues with supplements has more to do with the companies that sell the products. Most supplements can certainly be effective and have the research to back the claims to their benefits. However, they are often packaged as “proprietary blends,” which typically includes the desired supplement that you purchased, but it is included in such a small dose that it is ineffective in providing the benefit as claimed.
It is because of this, that I prefer to get my supplements in the simple, pure form, so that I know that I can get the appropriate dosage; therefore, eliciting the desired effect. This can also be a very good way to keep costs relatively low since you are avoiding those “big ticket” labels that companies like to throw on the products. Keeping things simple with supplementation is generally a great idea and it will probably give you the most “bang for your buck.”
Here is a list of what I believe are the best supplements that are backed by a sufficient amount of research.
- Multi‐vitamin: Normally found in fruits and vegetables; most people do not get enough of these, making a multi‐vitamin a good supplement to take.
- Protein Powder: Two types most often found in supplements 1) Whey‐relatively fast digesting, good for after training sessions 2) Casein‐slower digesting, better for during the day or at night before bed. Protein powders can be great to add into your diet, especially if you find it difficult to hit your adequate amounts over the course of the day.
- Creatine: Research shows it to be safe and effective at increasing the body’s energy stores for short term, explosive activities. There is also a water-retention effect that can help to increase mass.
- Fish Oil: A good source of Omega-3 fatty acid. Especially good to take for people who do not consume fish three or more times per week.
- Amino Acids: The best ones to take as supplements fall into the category of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s); these are both safe and effective. This is generally used to alleviate soreness, improve athletic performance, and stimulate muscle recovery after exercise.
- Beta Alanine: A relatively new supplement, all the research thus far shows it to be safe and effective at helping the body buffer lactic acid and resist fatigue. This can be particularly useful for enhancing performance by increasing exercise capacity and decreasing muscle fatigue.
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list of supplements; these are just the ones that I know can be effective if utilized properly.
While these three components of nutrition may not be as impactful as calorie balance and macronutrient intake, they can be effectively utilized to help you reach your goals!
You should now have a good understanding of the “foundational” principles that are required to build a solid nutrition plan. I hope you have enjoyed this two-part article and have learned how to effectively implement these principles. I now challenge you to go out and apply them!
Israetel, M., Case, J., & Hoffman, J. The Renaissance Diet – A Scientific Approach to Getting Leaner and Building Muscle.
Berardi, J. (2017). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Toronto, Ontario Precision Nutrition, Inc.