As a fitness professional, you want your clients to see results from all their hard work. That is where proper nutrition and nutrient timing come into play. In this article we will discuss the importance of nutrient timing in each stage of a training session.
- Gain an understanding of nutrient timing and how it relates to performance.
- Be able to explain the connection between nutrient timing and improved athletic performance, including recovery.
- Summarize sources of whole food nutrition for each stage of exercise.
We have all heard the saying “you are what you eat” but what about “you are when you eat?” It is just as important to consider timing as it is type of food when training. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone—what works for me may or may not work for you, even if we are training in the same type of sport. That’s because there are many factors to consider, such as the frequency, duration and intensity of your workout, as well as personal constitution, preference and even time of day you’re training.
What is Nutrient Timing?
Nutrient timing is the art (and science) of consuming the right nutrients at the right time relative to your workout. By fueling properly before, during, and after their training session, nutrient timing can help all athletes, whatever their discipline may be, with their performance, and recovery.
Pre-workout Nutrient Needs
Focus, endurance, and energy hinge on pre-workout fuel—help your clients perform at their best by helping them plan strategically how they’ll fuel before their workouts. If your client is training with you later in the day, they have time to consume a meal 1 to 3 hours prior to their session. They will want to consume a small meal consisting of all the macronutrients; carbohydrates, fats and protein. Ideally, this meal would satiate them but be easy enough to digest that they will have digested most, if not all of it, by the time they meet with you. A simple suggestion for a pre-workout meal is a natural nut butter and banana sandwich on sprouted whole grain toast, or hummus and vegetables.
20 to 30 minutes before your clients meet you to train, encourage them to eat a light carbohydrate-based snack (Kerksick et al., 2008). This is also helpful for clients who like to work out in the morning. It’s best to stick with simple carbohydrates like a piece of fruit, such as a banana, which is easy to digest and will offer the immediate energy required for the workout. If they don’t have time, or don’t feel like eating beforehand, they may benefit from a drink with a blend of low and high GI carbohydrates for immediate and sustained energy, such as a 100% fruit juice depending on the duration and intensity of the workout.
Mid-workout Nutrient Needs
If your client’s workout is longer than one hour, they need to refuel with carbohydrates to maintain their energy. Consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour is recommended, depending on the intensity of the activity and the fitness of the athlete (Kerksick et al., 2008).
If they have time—and solid foods agree with their digestive constitution mid-workout—it’s best to consume whole foods, such as a medium-sized piece of fruit (e.g., an apple or banana), and a piece of whole grain spouted toast. If they don’t have time to consume that type of food (or can’t tolerate solid fare on-the-go), a whole food-based endurance gel is another option that can offer ~25 grams of carbohydrates. Depending on their workout and personal preference, they may prefer food or a gel with a blend of low and high GI carbohydrates for quick and sustained energy (Kerksick et al., 2008).
It is also important to replenish fluids during exercise; especially in high temperature or longer duration activities—skip down to the hydration section to learn more.
Post-workout Nutrient Needs
Research supports that a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the most effective combination of macronutrients to support glycogen replenishment immediately post-workout (NCSF, n.d.). This meal or snack is best consumed within 20 minutes of the workout. An example of a snack that meets this ratio to share with your clients could be 1/4 cup nut butter with a medium-sized apple, or 3/4 cup berries.
45 to 90 minutes after a workout, have your clients consume a higher protein meal. I recommend whole food, plant-based protein options, such as quinoa, seeds, and beans. It is important to include multiple sources of plant-based proteins to ensure a balanced amino acid profile. An example of a high protein, plant-based meal to enjoy 45 to 90 minutes after a workout is a spinach quinoa salad topped with hemp seeds.
After training, consuming or supplementing with BCAAs can help support protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair. Five grams of BCAAs is considered the ideal dose to replenish energy lost during training and support efficient recovery (NCSF, n.d.). BCAAs can be found in plant-based foods, such as alfalfa seeds.
Mindful post-workout nutrition can support faster recovery. And the faster and more completely your clients recover, the sooner they can do it all over again.
Water accounts for ~60% of our total body weight. That makes maintaining hydration important not only in supporting overall health, but also in athletic performance, regardless of sport or intensity (Isachsen & Luke, 2002). We lose more than just water in perspiration—we also lose important electrolytes which must be replenished though food and or beverages. Electrolytes are important for many functions in the body, including regulating the efficiency of metabolic functions. The more efficient your body is, the better it will perform in all activities—especially athletic pursuits.
The amount of fluids and electrolytes to consume will vary based on many factors, such as intensity of workout, personal body composition, and diet, as well as environmental factors like temperature and humidity. Fluid intake is important for optimal performance, not only after, but before and during exercise as well. Timing when to consume these fluids is an important aspect of training because a great deal of minerals, such as sodium, are lost during physical activity.
While proper hydration is important throughout the day, any physical activity that exceeds one hour will require electrolytes and fluid replenishment. Using sodium as an example, an athlete training intensely in a hot climate can lose up to 2.5L of sweat in only one hour of activity. A loss of 2.5L of sweat/hour equates to a loss of over 7 grams of sodium in that hour! (Benardot, 2011). It is necessary to replenish sodium and other minerals to maintain hydration (and electrolyte balance), as well as to support muscle recovery and adequate fluid balance in the body.
Emphasize Nutrient Timing to Boost Performance
As fitness professionals, you can help coach your clients through the nutrient timing options that will improve their performance. Incorporating nutrient timing education as part of training can benefit the performance of not only the competitive athletes you work with but everyday exercisers as well.
Ultimately, it’s up to your client what, why, and how they choose to refuel. If your clients would like to learn more about nutrient timing, encourage them to register for Thrive Forward and explore the Sport Edition chapters. Thrive Forward is free, personalized online wellness program and resource for anyone looking to eat and feel better—both in life and in athletic activities.
Kerksick et al. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient Timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 5(17). Accessed 9/20/13 from http://www.jissn.com/content/5/1/17
National Council of Strength and Fitness. Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplementation. Accessed 9/20/13 from http://www.ncsf.org/enew/articles/articles-branchedchainaminoacidsupplementation.aspx
Isachsen, S., & Luke, B. (2002). Fitness theory manual. British Columbia, Canada: Hemlock Rinters Ltd. Print.
Benardot, D. (2011). Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition. Windsor, ON: Human Kinetics Publishers.