With regards to nutrient timing, a lot of people talk about the “Golden Hour” after training and how you should consume the appropriate nutrients around this time to enhance your recovery. Unfortunately this is a very simplified approach, probably based on one or two studies that someone read. When you take a comprehensive look at all the information out there you start to see the whole picture and what you really need to do.
Early research focused only on total amounts of nutrients digested within a 24 hour period and how it affected an athletes development. Modern research is suggesting that the timing of nutrients around training is far more influential because of the recovery ability of the body during and after training. The most insightful studies have determined 4 important phases for nutrient timing around training.
- Immediate Pre-Workout
- During Workout
The Pre-Workout phase is a meal eaten anytime 1-4 hours before training. This meal should be whole foods containing a good combination of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats. If you are training first thing in the morning, this phase can be skipped without consequence. As far as the volume of food consumed is concerned, 4 hours before training you could eat whatever you wanted as you will have plenty of time for digestion. 1 hour before training you will need to limit the volume of food consumed and it would probably help to limit fats and fibre as these will take too long to leave the stomach.
The Pre-Workout meal will balance out muscle and liver glycogen, as well as blood glucose, which will prepare the body for optimal performance.
Immediate Pre-Workout nutrition is designed to optimise blood glucose levels and maximise protein synthesis.
Hydration is also an important factor within this phase too.
It has been shown that consuming nutrients that are rapidly absorbed immediately before training can improve protein synthesis in the muscles. A combination of whey protein and a carbohydrate like dextrose or sucrose will provide this result. Taking this in a liquid form will allow for fast emptying from the stomach into the blood stream thus providing the required nutrients in time for your training.
The primary role of nutrient timing during your workout is to maintain hydration, stabilise blood glucose levels and prevent muscle breakdown. Recent research has shown that proper nutrient timing during your workout can improve performance as well as enhancing recovery afterwards. The inclusion of a dilute solution of whey protein mixed with a simple carbohydrate will keep insulin levels high while lowering cortisol.
Maintaining this state during training decreases protein breakdown within the muscles being worked and will also improve performance at later training sessions. It is wise to use whey as the protein source as this leaves the stomach very quickly and the solution used during training should be very dilute anyway.
The final phase of correct nutrient timing is the 1-2 hours after finishing training. It’s important that nutrition is consumed immediately after training, again in the form of a liquid protein and carbohydrate mixture. The carbohydrates can be similar to what was consumed during training but the protein should be more of a slow release protein. Casein would be ideal for this.
There is a popular trend that whey should be taken after training because of its fast absorption. What many studies are showing, however, is that the longer it takes for nutrients to be digested, the more efficiently they are absorbed. If the pre-workout and during workout phases were followed correctly you will already have plenty of amino acids in your bloodstream. Now is the time to introduce a slower releasing protein to ensure long term absorption.
It is hard to find a protein powder that is pure casein, these days. What’s currently emerging on the market are blends that contain whey, casein and egg albumen. Finding one of these that has an appropriate amount of casein and egg albumen added to it will be suitable for immediately after your training session.
Within 1-2 hours of finishing training you also need to consume a whole food meal, similar to the pre-workout meal. Again, this meal ensures a slow release of required nutrients to ensure complete recovery from your workout.
As you can see, there is a lot more to nutrient timing than just talking about “golden hours” or “anabolic phases”.
If you time your meals right during the day, and then take a good mixture of protein and carbohydrate before your training, you will create the right anabolic environment for your body. This will maximise your performance while using a dilute mixture of nutrients during the session to stabilise your system and prevent muscle breakdown.
Feeding the body straight after you finish and then continuing with a regular meal plan for the rest of the day will ensure that you fully recover and improve before your next training session.