There is a vast amount of varying information as to what should be the key focus of a person’s nutrient breakdown. Most focus on total daily calories and macros, and understand the importance of meeting daily intake. However there is a general lack of understanding on how nutrient breakdown across the day influences not only training, but also recovery and body composition change.
So this article will provide the basic breakdown of how to determine what a person needs. Now please be aware – every person is different and this is for the general population, not all.
To understand how nutrient timing works you will need to find your total calories first and work out the macronutrient numbers. Once you know these we work out the timing.
Studies have shown a variety in the protein quantity required for muscle mass growth – showing a range from 25-40g. This variance has been shown across the training age of the athlete and physical age. Those over the age of 50 have shown the need for a higher amount of protein due to lack of uptake through the gut. There is also a difference in younger athletes who have shown greater increases in LM as a result of the 40g lots. Regardless, all evidence still shows that consuming a whey protein source every 3 hours and a casein protein before bed assist maintaining muscle mass overnight assists. The quantity for each meal will depend upon the person’s calorie budget for the day.
Recent studies have shown that muscles are sensitive to protein ingestion for 24 hours after training; which has started to debunk ‘the 30 minute window’ for muscle mass synthesis. However from the perspective of allowing enough time between meals, it is recommended eating as soon as possible after training to allow the next source of protein to be consumed later in the day if required.
Casein protein consumed 20-30 minutes before bed and a couple hours post your last meal has shown to help increase LM and also aid muscle recovery and increase metabolism. For men it has been shown also if you add an additional 30-40g of carbs to this meal it aids in increasing LM overnight as well; alongside resting metabolic rate.
So the aim of 25-40g of protein every 3-4 hours seems to be the most favourable of increasing lean mass; with a dose of 30-40g casein protein and if possible with 30-40g of carbs before bed.
When it comes down to carbohydrates it is important to understand the role they play in exercise. To keep this simple; carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) which is then processed into glycogen which can be found in the liver; brain and skeletal muscle. It is well understood that glycogen stores are limited and need to be continually topped up. During any form of exercise that increases your heart rate over 65% of your VO2max (HR Max), your liver can not break fat down fast enough to give your body the energy to exercise. This is where it primarily uses glycogen instead. If the body does not have access to the skeletal or liver glycogen stores because they are depleted, your liver then taps into your lean mass for energy instead.
There are many things to discuss surrounding carbohydrate intake throughout the day so the following subcategories have been created. It is important to look at both the qualitative and quantitative data. Now what I mean by this is even though you may have worked out the exact grams per kg or numbers per meal you do not have to stick to it. These are guidelines! So using your qualitative data can help you determine if you are under eating carbohydrates. If you are overeating you will generally see a fat mass gain.
Qualitative data in regards to this include
Energy levels –
when waking up in the morning
stability throughout the day
sleeping well overnight
Recovery and muscle soreness post training
Cravings and extreme hunger
Not being satisfied with your post training meal – still looking for more food
Struggling to concentrate or focus during the day
If you are answering yes to these or most of these; then the timing of your carbohydrates isn’t quite right. This is also why just eating the total amount of carbs in a day in one or two meals is not adequate. If you backlog the carbs to one time of the day or over two meals, your energy levels will waiver or your training will not be at its full potential. So to give you a guide on how to distribute it; firstly you need to distinguish your training time and plan your food around this to start.
Pre training ~ generally around 1 hour pre training:
Generally aim for 0.5-0.75g/kg/bw pre training – if this is too big of a meal so close to training; aim for around 2 hours before and then have a small snack 30-45 minutes out. This will aid in providing energy for either a shorter small training or enough until the intra nutrition comes into play
For something as short as 40 minutes of resistance exercise; intra carbs are not necessary; however sessions that tend to go for over an hour or up to 2-3 hours require some kind of fueling.
30-60g/hour of carbohydrate should be consumed; however be realistic on how much you are actually moving in that time frame. From my clinical perspective; I like athletes to consume a good portion during their first-second heavy movement for powerlifting and then whatever is left over for the remainder of the training session.
Post training I aim for 0.75-1.2g/kg/BW (depending upon fat mass) which is also dependent upon the training style, intensity and duration. This assists with refueling any glycogen stores and also helps fuel the muscle repair process. Post training carbs should have a combination of high glycemic carbs for quick absorption alongside low GI carbs for stabilising energy for a couple hours post training. Usually aiming for anywhere between a 50-50 split up to 70-30 depending upon the athlete.
Throughout the day
Once these meals have been determined; you can look at the breakdown for the rest of the day. The aim is to spread it evenly across the day and when you are consuming your protein component add the carb based food to it. Carbohydrate intake must be stable across the day; if you start for a meal or two during the day and then stop for the remainder or only consume very minimal, it will cause your blood glucose (sugar) levels to drop which can lead to nausea; lethargy; light headed and dizzy and in extreme cases to black out. Also once a carbohydrate has been consumed and it has been quite a number of hours; some people will find the meal quantity was not enough and will either look for more foods or continue to overeat over the course of the afternoon or evening. This can lead to overeating which can affect body composition levels.
Consistent eating across the day generally prevents this.
The main aim with fats is to evenly distribute them across the day; the only time it should be any different is pre and post training. Fat takes a longer period of time for the body to digest, slows down digestion and delays gastric (stomach) emptying. This is not a bad thing for using fat as an appetite suppressant or for increased satiety. However as specified above carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source during training – so loading up on fat based calories is preferable. Furthermore post training, protein is necessary for muscle repair and carbs for restoring muscle glycogen as well as recovery; so fat will slow down the digestion of the recovery foods.
Let’s consider a well-trained athlete who is training a heavy session at 5pm.
We have a 100kg male who has 85kg of Lean Mass (LM) (BF% of 12%) – determined by the body composition analysis via DEXA.
The equation used to determine total calories is (22*85(LM)) + 500 = 2370 calories.
This then needs to be multiplied by his activity factor for a heavy training day which will be 1.7-1.8; which equates to 4000-4100 calories.
Now how to work out the protein intake for resistance training I would times his LM by 2-2.2; equaling; p170-187g of protein per day.
Carbohydrates = 85kg x 6g/kg/LBW = 510g
Fat – remainder of calories = ~108-120g
7am P:30g C: 65g F: 20-25g
10am P:30g C: 65g F: 20-25g
1pm P:30g C: 65g F: 20-25g
4pm P 25g; C: 90g; F: 10-15g
Intra C: 60g
Post: P: 40g; C 130g F: 10-15g
Before bed – 30g protein; 40g of carbs F:20-25
On a non-training day: drop back the carbs and increase the fats to balance out the calories.
If you are a person that is far off this target range – then slowly add more food in. Don’t go straight to what you should be eating. Each week add 100-200 cals in and slowly bump it up ☺
Fuel your training and you will fuel your performance!
Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, et al. International Society Of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:17.
Sherman WM, Costill DI, Fink WJ, Miller JM. Effect Of Exercise-Diet Manipulation On Muscle Glycogen And Its Subsequent Utilization During Performance. Int J Sports Med. 1981;2(2):114–8
Cermak NM, Res PT, De Groot LC, Saris WH, Van Loon LJ. Protein Supplementation Augments The Adaptive Response Of Skeletal Muscle To Resistance-Type Exercise Training: A Meta-Analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012; 96(6):1454–64.
Candow DG, Chilibeck PD, Facci M, Abeysekara S, Zello GA. Protein Supplementation Before And After Resistance Training In Older Men. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006;97(5):548–56
Coyle EF, Coggan AR, Hemmert MK, Ivy JL. Muscle Glycogen Utilization During Prolonged Strenuous Exercise When Fed Carbohydrate. J Appl Physiol. 1986;61(1):165–72.
Coyle EF, Coggan AR, Hemmert MK, Lowe RC, Walters TJ. Substrate Usage During Prolonged Exercise Following A Preexercise Meal. J Appl Physiol. 1985;59(2):429–33.
Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala M, Jeukendrup AE, Phillips SM. Nutritional Needs Of Elite Endurance Athletes. Part I: Carbohydrate And Fluid Requirements. Eur J Sport Sci. 2005;5(1):3–14.
Escobar KA, Vandusseldorp TA, Kerksick CM: Carbohydrate Intake And Resistance-Based Exercise: Are Current Recommendations Reflective Of Actual Need. Brit J Nutr 2016;In Press
Hulmi JJ, Laakso M, Mero AA, Hakkinen K, Ahtiainen JP, Peltonen H. The Effects Of Whey Protein With Or Without Carbohydrates On Resistance Training Adaptations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:48.
Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW. The Effect Of Protein Timing On Muscle Strength And Hypertrophy: A Meta-Analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10(1):53.
Trommelen J, Van Loon LJ. Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion To Improve The Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response To Exercise Training. Nutrients. 2016; 8(12):E763.
Res P, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, Vanl LJ. Protein Ingestion Before Sleep Improves Postexercise Overnight Recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012;44(8):1560–9.