Have you ever heard someone say “if you don’t consume protein within 30 minutes of a workout, your workout was a waste” or “eating frequent meals can boost metabolism”? Does eating at specific times really matter? Yes especially as it relates to sports performance! Nutrient timing is the concept of strategically planning when to consume specific nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, in relation to exercise or daily activities to optimize performance, recovery, and overall health. The idea behind nutrient timing is to take advantage of the body’s metabolic responses to different nutrients at specific times, enhancing their effectiveness and supporting specific goals. It’s important to note that individual nutrition needs can vary based on factors such as workout intensity, duration, and individual goals. Here are a few basic tips for nutrient timing.
Moderate to high-intensity exercise relies heavily on carbohydrates as a fuel source, however, glycogen stores in the body are limited, therefore can only provide the body with energy for a few hours depending on exercise intensity. What to eat before exercise or sports performance is typically divided into three separate time points: 1-3 hours before exercise, 30-60 minutes before exercise, and/or 15 minutes before exercise. Consuming carbohydrate rich foods during these timeframes are crucial for ensuring the body has sufficient glycogen stores for upcoming exercise. For the 1-3 hours before exercise focus on meals with complex carbohydrates as this allows your body to digest and absorb the carbohydrates, providing a steady release of energy during exercise. Consuming a smaller pre-workout snack with simple carbohydrates is best for 30-60 minutes before a workout especially for shorter, less intense workouts. Quick digesting carbohydrates and those with minimal risk of gastrointestinal distress are recommended for 15 minutes prior to exercise.
In some cases, workouts or sports performances may exceed 60 minutes. Nutrient timing is key for helping athletes stay and feel energized. If your training session lasts longer than 60 minutes or is very intense, supplementing with 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of training will help avoid an energy crash. This may be more geared towards endurance athletes. For those partaking in back to back competitions, rapid refueling is key. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends consuming 0.6 to 1.0 g/kg body mass within the first 30 min of the first exercise session and again every two hours for the next four to six hours. Other studies have reported consuming 1.2 g/kg carbohydrates every 30 minutes for 3.5 hours will help replenish glycogen stores.
After engaging in physical exercise, your body undergoes various changes and requires specific nutrients to optimize recovery and adaptation. The most obvious benefit of post-workout nutrition, specifically protein, is supporting muscle protein synthesis and enhancing recovery. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends combing protein with carbohydrates for the optimal post-work out snack/meal. This will help the body’s glycogen stores replenish. The combination of carbohydrate and protein enhances the uptake of amino acids by muscles as well! Post-workout is a great time to rehydrate the body and prepare for the next workout/performance.
Editorial By Cassie Evans
Cassie Evans is a registered dietitian and a published researcher. She has studied sports nutrition and completed an internship with the University of Miami Sports Nutrition Team and Nova Southeastern University’s sports performance team. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sports Science and received her CISSN in 2018. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Human and Sports Performance from the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.
- Kerksick, C.M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B.J. et al.International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr14, 33 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0189-4