It has just recently been put forth by the scientific community that nutrient timing can play an even larger role in body composition than overall daily caloric intake. More than one study has now been published that has shown that by changing when we eat our protein, carbs and fats, we can shift the body from fat storage to fat loss, with no change at all in the actual foods nor the amounts eaten. This discovery comes on the heels of some recently conducted research regarding the body’s circadian rhythm (your body’s natural 24 hour clock). Researchers have now learned that not only does your body adhere to an overall circadian cycle, but individual organs have a clock of their own. This includes the stomach, liver, intestines, pancreas, and others. Much of this timing is deep-rooted, but we can also adjust these clocks by following a repetitive daily activity pattern. What this basically means is that different organs function in entirely different ways according to where they are in their daily cycle (what time of day it is). What this means to your diet plan is that if we can time our macronutrients, not just our meals, according to these body clocks, and also assist it by setting a normal activity pattern each day (wake/ sleep/ workouts at consistent times each day)we can take our bodies to another level. Different processes within the body are responsible for handling and utilizing the fat, protein and carbohydrates that we eat. By optimizing not just what and how much protein, fat and carbohydrates we eat, but when we eat each individually, and in what combination, we can produce results beyond what we could simply by counting our calories and macronutrients.
While the exact timing of macros can get pretty complicated as each individual has a unique body clock, there are timing principles we can adhere to that will put us well on our way to optimal macronutrient timing. So what is the best timing program to follow? Each macro nutrient is listed below with the optimal time to eat them.
Protein: This is the one nutrient that should be eaten steadily throughout the day. The body has very little ability to store protein/amino acids and as such, a constant supply is needed to keep our bloodstream stocked with this muscle building superhero. Protein also has very little effect on insulin levels and other hormones that can negatively affect us if mistimed, so eating it won’t cause a problem in this respect. A steady flow of protein from waking straight through until we go to bed is ideal. It is also important to note that never do we ever really need exorbitantly large amounts of protein at any given time (like post-workout) as the goal is to keep the levels constant. A spike in protein or amino acids does not necessarily mean we are going to build more muscle, rather, it often means the opposite, as the additional load placed on the liver and kidneys to process the overabundance of amino acids creates strain on the body and can throw our PH balance off, creating a less than ideal environment within our bodies.
Fats: Fats and fatty acids are uber-important to us as they are the building blocks of the very hormones we are setting out to manipulate with timing our nutrients. Something to be considered with fats is that they are a solid energy source and also are very slow to digest and, likewise, slow the digestion of other foods eaten alongside with them. Also, fats are slow to process and disseminate as compared to protein and carbohydrates, so a constant flow of fats is not a necessity. For this reason, it is counterproductive to have fats anytime around your workout. They will impede the digestion and utilization of pre-workout carbs and slow the uptake of post-workout protein just the same. Eating a good serving of fats with breakfast is a great way to stabilize blood sugar levels and gives your body all it needs to carry your through that day. Fats are also great to have before bed for the same reasons. They will stabilize blood sugar before bed so, in the unlikely event you have excess carbs floating around your system at that time, it is less likely to be stored as adipose tissue. In addition to that, the fact that fats slow digestion means that when we take them with our protein source before bed, that protein digestion will slow, creating a longer and steadier release of aminos into the blood stream as we sleep.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are our main energy source. They have a massive impact on insulin levels and can trigger either favorable or negative reactions from the body. Mistiming carbohydrates can lead to disaster with regards to body fat storage. Historical wisdom will tell you to eat your carbohydrates early in the day, then none later in the day. This holds some water; however, what’s more important is to focus them around your peak activity time (workouts). Eating a boatload of carbs at 7am, and then sitting around idly in your cubicle until 4pm doesn’t make a lot of sense from an energy utilization standpoint. Rather, the bulk of carbohydrates should be focused around your training. Before (2 hours or less beforehand) and then just after training are the ideal times to have carbs. When we train, we burn carbs. The more energy (carbs) we have available, the better workouts we will have. As we train we deplete these energy stores, so post-workout carbs are important to replenish these supplies. It is important to note that carbohydrates slow the absorption of protein, so it is best to have a quick absorbing protein immediately after training (like an Isoflex whey-isolate shake), then eat your carb meal 30-45 minutes afterwards. Further, this is not to say the only time to eat carbs is pre and post workout. Carbs can be eaten earlier in the day as well (or later), however the amount eaten should be in line with your weight gain or weight loss goals and the activity level of the next 2-3 hours after you eat.
Macronutrient timing plays a huge role in how our body utilizes the foods we eat. The same foods at different times lead to different results. Optimizing this timing and aligning your meals with your body clock can mean less body fat, more muscle, more energy, and better energy utilization.