Nutrient Timing: Fad or Science

March 3, 2016

Andrew Walters

Nutrient Timing: Fad or Science

When it comes to sports, it’s no surprise that proper nutrition is one of the defining factors behind an athlete’s performance. We’ve all seen the results of performing after a hard night out versus a healthy night in. (Cheeseburger-fueled games aren’t nearly as successful as chicken and broccoli ones…). But, staying on top of the nutrition game can be no easy task. To make it worse, everyone’s got his or her opinion about what the “best” nutrition plan is. From low-carb to high fat and G.I. to Paleo... the types of nutrition plans are endless. Plus, there’s always something new popping up.

So, let’s stay ahead of the game and talk about this trendy new thing called nutrient timing. Is it just a new fandangle fad, or is there some actual science behind it all?



Well, in the words of a couple of docs over at the University of New Mexico, “nutrient timing is the application of knowing when to eat and what to eat before, during and after exercise.” Well, that sounds pretty straightforward if you ask me. You’ve got to eat before your workout to give you energy, and then eat something during your workout when you’re running low on energy, and then eat something after to help rebuild your muscles. How is this a new concept?


Well, those snazzy doctors have dug a little deeper into the science of this nutrient timing business, and claim there are specific times (down to the minute) at which one should eat before, during and after their workout. These specific times, or “phases” of nutrient timing are:

  • The Energy Phase

  • The Anabolic Phase

  • The Growth Phase


During these phases, different hormones in the body are stimulated by exercise. Catabolic hormones help to breakdown nutrients in the body and convert them to energy. Anabolic hormones then help to buildup nutrients within the body and promote growth and tissue repair.


Why you should care about nutrient timing

Well, it seems that there is quite a bit of scientific evidence behind nutrient timing. This “fad” may soon become the new “norm” for many athletes. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have explored the true effects of using nutrient timing to increase athletic performance. The benefits of nutrient timing have proven to be especially effective for athletes and body-builders looking to “push through a plateau.” By just tweaking the exact timing of when they are eating, and of course what they are eating, athletes were better able to “improve endurance, reduce muscle damage, maintain immune function, and jumpstart a much quicker recovery.”

That doesn’t sound all bad. By just tweaking your nutrition and the times you’re eating, you’ll have a healthier, cheaper and safer method for gaining muscle and improving performance. Much better than those chemical-filled supplements and plant steroids I see in those glossy men’s magazines…


What about the opposition?

When it comes to nutrition plans, athletic performance and “proven results,” there’s always naysayers somewhere. So let’s check out the opposition’s point of view. What’s wrong with nutrient timing?

Well, if you check out some of the critique on nutrient timing such as published on Authority Nutrition, you’ll learn that many studies of nutrient timing only focused on short-term results and high-endurance athletes. So, if you’re not a marathon-runner or competitive athlete, nutrient timing won’t work for you? Hmm… it’s not that simple. Nutrient timing of course focuses on those three phases we talked about before. The trouble comes when closely examining the effects of those phases on the average person. For the average person that is working out to lose some weight and gain a bit of energy – replenishing nutrients during the anabolic phase could have little to no effect. It’s the same with the energy and growth phases. If you’re not an elite athlete, a classic approach to fitness and weight loss (i.e. calories-in vs. calories-out) may be your best bet.


The sum-up: NUTRIENT timing is for me!

If you’re super athletic and aiming to improve your performance and break-through a workout plateau… then giving nutrient timing a go couldn’t hurt. If you’re just an Average Joe gym-goer with a relaxed workout plan… it’s probably not necessary to time your nutrient intake down to the minute. But realistically, anyone can apply some of the science behind nutrient timing to help improve his or her personal performance. With just a few new pointers on nutrition and a little thought to when you’re eating, you may inadvertently improve your performance.



Even if you’re not an Olympian, Science wins over “Fad” when it comes to nutrient timing.

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