The dilemma of what and when you should be eating is one that stumps many health, fitness and sport enthusiasts and professionals alike. Although it’s important, this business of eating certain foods at very precise times is grossly over played if you ask me. The subject is made to seem more complicated and daunting than it actually is thanks in no small part to the scare mongers out there. Those who state ‘you MUST avoid carbs at night’ or ‘you HAVE to have protein within 30mins after training or you lose all gains’. OK so these are just a few examples, but I feel the message is clear…we are told as a society to do things to the ‘T’ in order to do it right, and if we don’t then God help us! Nutrition is NOT an exact science, and those who try to make it so will either trip up, or go stir crazy through the seeking of perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you shouldn’t weigh food and do your best to consume the right foods at the right times, but being regimented and structured can quickly overflow into obsessiveness…and this is where unrealistic expectations, and disappointment are born!
So how can you get your nutritional timing right?
You can follow a very effective nutrition plan by ensuring you follow a few rules of thumb. Include a starchy carb (oats, rice, potato, sweet potato, pasta) at least 3 times a day, and no more than 4 (depending on your activity levels), be sure to consume quality sources of protein at regular intervals over the day. So the key message regarding timing for protein is to not leave more than 2 hours between having a protein source if possible. A protein source might include a food source such as chicken, eggs, beef, fish, nuts or beans, peas and pulses. You might also wish to consider a supplement that delivers amino acids, in particular the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), good options include a whey protein or any other form of protein such as pea, rice, soy, or hemp protein. As a rule of thumb, have a protein and starchy carb source when you wake up, followed by a protein source mid- morning, a protein and carb at lunch time, a protein source mid- afternoon, and a protein and carb source in the evening.
So you may be saying that the above recommendations are not nutritional balanced, and you’d be right, however it goes without saying that you should include 7 portions of fruit and veg (as cliché as it is) over the course of the day. Aim to have fruit with your mid- morning protein source, be sure to have mixed veg with your main meal, look to consume a portion of fruit with your mid- afternoon protein source, and definitely consume at least 3 varieties of veg with your evening meal. The addition of fruit and veg is integral to you consuming your non- starch polysaccharides (NSPs) aka fibre, the inclusion of soluble fibre from your oats at breakfast, and the insoluble fibre throughout the day is key to healthy digestion and nutrient absorption.
You see then, short of preparing for a bodybuilding competition where nutrition can become very deliberate and precise, nutrition timing is more straight forward than many like to think. You can achieve nutritional harmony by ensuring you include all of the major food groups at regular intervals throughout the day. What you have and when is important to the consistent flow of energy (glucose and glycogen stores), and ‘not eating carbs at night’ (for example) because it may lead to fat storage is both over cautious and counter intuitive if you’re training regularly. Portion control is key, but carbs in the evening may be as integral to a body builder’s regime as protein…after all, you can’t expect to lift heavy things with no energy, right!?
These hard and fast rules regarding diet can often do more harm than good, do not get yourself intertwined in the intricacies of ‘protein immediately after training’ because your body can still utilise protein effectively up to 24 hours after exercise, and the body can easily store carbs in the form of glycogen late at night, provided there isn’t a surplus to requirements which would then result in fat storage. Be sensible with nutrition and adopt common sense as much as anything, it most definitely isn’t a precise science. A small portion of carbs at night is fine, just like a serving of protein 2 hours after exercise will replenish the muscle the same as it would 30mins after. The body is a miraculous thing, just stick to the above rules of thumb and you’ll be absolutely fine.