Nutrient Timing: When, What, and How Often You Should Eat

Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 23:44

When it comes to getting in shape, improving your performance, or changing your body composition, your nutrition is one of the major keys to your success.  There are a variety of approaches that one can take to alter their body composition or improve their performance. Conventionally, when one tries to “lose weight,” they often reduce their calorie intake while increasing their activity level. However, this oversimplified approach doesn’t take into account the concept of “body composition,” or rather how much fat and/or muscle is lost, gained, or maintained.


When scientists studied the effects of how food selection impacts body composition changes, they found that the quality of carbohydrates, proteins and fats also plays a major role in regulating your metabolism and how much fat and muscle you gain or lose while in a calorie surplus or deficit.


Furthermore, recent research has emerged to show that “nutrient timing,” or the science of when to eat, should be incorporated into a nutrition plan that is designed to improve body composition and athletic performance. Overall, certain types of food should be eaten at specific phases of the day, while other types should be avoided in order to support muscle gain, improve performance, and avoid muscle loss and/or fat gain. The Nutrient Timing approach focuses on three key phases which are named the Energy Phase, the Anabolic Phase and the Growth Phase.  Below is an overview and some guidelines each of these phases.




Meals 1-4

The Energy Phase

This phase occurs during your workout, when your body has the highest energy requirements. During the energy phase, your body experiences catabolic effects of exercise where it breaks down nutrients so that they can later assist with the anabolic muscle or tissue growth process. By consuming the proper nutrients at the right time, you can increase the anabolic effects of exercise while reducing the catabolic effects.


When & What to Eat: 

During your workout you should consume a diluted protein and carbohydrate supplement composed of high-glycemic, rapidly digested proteins.  The ratio of carbohydrate to protein should be 2:1.


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The Anabolic Phase

This phase occurs 1-2 hours after your workout when your muscles are continuing to break down and the cells are ready to begin muscle building.  With the proper nutritional intake and timing, muscle repair and gain can begin during and following exercise.


When & What to Eat:

Following your workout, during the Anabolic stage, consume a diluted protein and carbohydrate supplement composed of high-glycemic, rapidly digested proteins.  Again, the ratio of carbohydrate to protein should be 2:1.


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The Growth Phase

This phase occurs for up to six hours following your workout, when muscle growth and repair take place.


When & What To Eat:

Consume low glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, veggies, or fruits, along with slow digesting proteins such as meats or cottage cheese. Proteins and carbohydrates should be consumed at a ratio of 1:1 during the growth phase. If you train in the morning or afternoon, you will have time for two food meals. However, if you train in the evening you can either have one meal and a late night shake or skip the second growth phase meal.


Meals 5-7


Final Phase

The final phase is when your body returns to its normal physiology, after the growth and recovery process have been stimulated to their maximum potential.  This phase takes place over the final 8-9 hours of your day and three meals should be consumed.

When and What to Eat :

The majority of your carbohydrate intake should have already been consumed during the Energy, Anabolic and Growth phases, when fat metabolism and glycogen synthesis was at the highest rate.  The nutrient composition of the remaining three meals of the day should be relative to how your body tolerates carbohydrates and fats, and planned based on your body composition goals. For example, if you are looking to achieve or maintain a low body fat percentage, these final three meals should be composed of mainly proteins and fats, with some veggies.


Next Steps

Now that you have a better understanding of the importance of nutrient timing, it is time to apply it to your nutrition and training plan.  If you are ready to give nutrient timing a try and would like a personalized plan, check out the CrossFit 100 Starter Nutrition Package.   This program is designed to teach general nutrition, providing a simple approach to understanding how different elements, like macro- and micro-nutrients, play a vital role in meeting individual goals. This package will also include nutrient timing.  For more information or to schedule your initial consultation visit


Source: Berardi, John. “The Science of Nutrient Timing!” Web Blog Post. 10 Aug, 2015.