Have you ever noticed that breakfast foods are really carb heavy (cereal or toast anyone?) and dinner foods are very rich in protein? Although many Americans are programmed to eat certain macros at particular times, it might not be right for everyone. Should the time of the day influence your macro intake? The answer may not be as simple as the numbers on the clock.
The time of exercise matters more than the time of day
It’s the position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) that timed ingestion of carbohydrate, protein, and fat may significantly affect how the body responds to exercise. In other words, timing nutrients properly can lead to significant training gains. But the question remains—when should you be eating protein, carbs and fat in relation to your workout?
Before a workout
In general, athletes perform best with some carbohydrates in their system. The ISSN agrees and notes that a mixture of pre-workout carbohydrates and protein can increase muscle growth. They recommend eating a meal with 1-2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram and 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per kilogram three to four hours before a workout. For a 140-pound woman, that’s about 70-90 grams of carbs and 10-15 grams of protein prior to a workout.
It’s good to know these recommendations, but many of us don’t want to break out our calculators at every meal. A good rule of thumb is to eat a well-balanced meal 2-3 hours before a workout, such as a turkey or egg sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side of fruit. Or opt for carbs with a dash of protein one hour before a workout, such as fruit with yogurt or nut butter.
After a workout
The post-workout recovery meal differs based on the type of workout. Cardio recovery requires primarily carbs with smaller portions of protein, while strength training recovery requires more protein. The ISSN suggests ingesting essential amino acids within 3 hours of exercise to increase muscle synthesis, and adding carbs to protein may increase this response. Research has also found that including 0.1 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight to a carb and protein recovery meal may further stimulate muscle growth.
The biggest misconception about eating after a workout is that you need to load up on protein, which isn’t necessarily the case. Small snacks, like crunchy chickpeas or cinnamon roasted almonds, will suffice. Or for a tougher workout, try this smoothie formula or turmeric egg sandwich.
For weight loss
Many many (many) studies find that eating protein at breakfast promotes weight loss. For example, this study suggests that eating 30 or 39 grams of protein at breakfast can help with appetite control throughout the day. Participants in the study actually felt less hungry throughout the morning and ate less calories at lunch, therefore inducing weight loss. So, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, feel free to add an extra egg at breakfast or double the yogurt in your smoothie.
Let me set the record straight—the thought that eating after 8pm will make you fat is a MYTH. The research on nighttime eating is very limited, but the few studies on this topic demonstrate that this is not true. One study actually found that consuming a caloric beverage prior to sleep, regardless of type, increased resting energy expenditure—aka the amount of calories your body naturally burns—the next morning. Another review suggests that when training or competition occurs late in the evening or early in the morning, pre-sleep nutrition can help maximize athletic performance.
Above all else, the quality of your macros matters much more than the timing. This may sound like common sense, but if your carbs consist of donuts and your protein is bacon, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat—you won’t be able to achieve your athletic goals. Opt for lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables to see the biggest gains, no matter when you eat.