Make The Most Of Your Meal Timing: Fat Loss

Up until fairly recently people thought that they had to chug a protein shake withing 15 minutes of their workout for their workout to count or that you have to have a meal every 3-4 hours to keep your metabolism running. 

Now, we have a lot of people on the other end of the spectrum saying that nutrient timing doesn’t matter so long as your total calorie intake is taken care of.

So who do we believe?

Well, both of these are accurate and both of them are right and wrong at the same time.

If I were to choose one path to follow I would definitely pick the Calories side of the argument because calories are king in determining whether or not you will lose or gain fat.

Think about it, if you’re eating 1000 more calories than you’re supposed to, you’ll end up gaining weight regardless of when you time all of your meals. 

That’s why Calories are the foundation of the Nutrition Hierarchy and Nutrient Timing is further up.

Now, this isn’t to say that Nutrient Timing doesn’t play a role – because it does – but if your calories and macros aren’t in check you won’t benefit much from it.

This is a blog about Nutrient Timing though, so let’s break it down so we can understand what works best for you!

How Many Meals Per Day

This is a question that I get asked at least once a week. This really boils down to your meal prep strategy and schedule. We’ll take the path of least resistance here because there’s no reason to overcomplicate this. It really is pretty simple and straightforward once we really get into it. So what is the perfect meal timing plan?

Well, it depends…

Now if you’ve read around the internet or been around the gym long enough you’ve probably heard about eating 5-6 meals per day 3-4 hours apart as being the best strategy to keep your metabolic rate running as high as possible, and we all know a fast metabolism allows for faster fat loss and a longer life span. 

This idea has been disproved several times over now, though. Our metabolic rate has so little to do with how many meals you consume on a daily basis and more so with:

  • Total caloric intake
  • Activity levels and Type of activity 
  • Recoverability 
  • Current amount of muscle tissue
  • Individual hormone profile.

The best way to approach how many meals you should consume revolves around you, your schedule, and your preferences. 

If your schedule only allows for 3 meals in the day and you can get all of your calories and macros in those 3 meals, then do that. 

If you can’t eat that much in one sitting and want to spread it out across the day into 5 meals, that’s fine too. As long as you are getting your prescribed calories and macros, you are golden. 

It’s important to note that consistency is key here, so whether you eat 3 or 7 meals per day make a choice and commit to it. Mimic your meal pattern from day to day as closely as possible.

Even though there isn’t a case to be made for boosting your metabolism, there has been significant evidence that spacing out your protein throughout the day will help promote more muscle-protein synthesis.

This is the process of your body creating lean muscle tissue from your consumed protein. Evenly spacing out your protein throughout the day has been shown to improve muscle protein synthesis as opposed to lumping all of your protein in a couple meals.

We can use Nutrient Timing to maximize aesthetic and performance by planning meals around your training time. Whatever calories and nutrients are left over after consumption of these nutrient timed strategies can be rationed throughout the day at your discretion, but let’s start with our pre-workout meal.

The best way to approach how many meals you should consume revolves around you, your schedule, and your preferences. 

Pre-workout Meal

There is a lot of mixed evidence as to what works best in this situation, but at the end of the day, it is completely individually based. Some people thrive on having carbs before their workout while others might crash or feel more lethargic. 

The main idea behind a pre-training meal is about blood sugar control and nervous system function. So this requires a little experimentation on your part to see what your body reacts most favorably to, but let’s see what else needs to be considered in this meal.

  • Timing- I typically recommend that your pre-training meal be about 90-120 minutes before your training session. Having your meal too far away from your training time will result in you training with your blood sugar levels on a decline, limiting your maximal performance potential. Having your meal too close to training time will really just make you too full to move and possibly throwing up. Keeping your meal at that 90-120 minute pre training sweet spot is key.
  • Protein – Protein prior to your training allows you to have the right amino acids in store to avoid excessive breakdown and aid proper recovery. Ideally, you want to choose a fast digesting protein from a leucine rich source that doesn’t mess with your gut.
  • Carbs- Again, this will depend on what your preferred fuel source is but I find that carbs work best in this situation. Having a fast digesting pure carb source (i.e. fruits, white rice, etc.) can be eaten much closer to training and can even provide with you some glycogen replenishment. Carbs also help create a proper spike in blood sugar so that you can maximize your training.  One thing you should try to avoid in this 90-120 minute window is any fiber dense carbohydrate source. This will stimulate your gut/digestive system and once that happens your body will begin to send blood and nutrients to your gut so that it can work on digestion instead of your workout. If we are training, we want the body to focus on training so that we can focus on having the best training session we possibly can.
  • Fats- Fats don’t really play a role here. They are important to keep in mind from a daily intake perspective and if you want to throw in some fat pre or post workout to reach your macro targets, then by all means, please do. However, the effect of fats on training are minimal, so they don’t have to be prioritised. Having too much, however, can slow down digestion and give us a similar effect to what fiber causes.

Post Workout Nutrition

 A Post workout meal has three main purposes or functions in your training and nutrition regimen. Having a consistent post workout meal plan will allow you to take advantage of these functions. The first of which being glycogen replenishment.

Glycogen replenishment is the process of restoring the carb/energy storages in your muscle post training. Now, with that being said, of the three functions we will be discussing, this probably is the least relatable to you. In most cases, glycogen replenishment after training is not something that needs to be considered unless you are taking part in extreme glycolytic training, which is typically done by a high-level crossfit athlete, Iron-man competitors, extreme endurance athletes, and those who are performing multiple high intensity training sessions a day. 

The second purpose of a post workout meal is something I do take into account when mapping meals with my nutrition and training clients: insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity refers to our body’s ability to take in calories and carbohydrates. When we’re in an insulin sensitive state, we absorb nutrients more easily into the muscle, rather than resorting to storing those as fat. Your body tends to be much more insulin sensitive around training times – specifically resistance training and full body strength training. This means training our muscles – the more the better – allows our body to store nutrients more easily. Which is why it is advantageous to consume most of your carbs around your training session.

The third purpose is to manage your hormonal response. When we train, our insides are going through a hormonal whirlwind. This is because training breaks homeostasis and forces our bodies to adapt to serious and what your body believes to be life threatening stimuli. It sounds a bit unsettling, but our body needs to experience this in order to adapt and build a more efficient physique.

How can we take advantage of all of these? By feeding our bodies the nutrients it needs to promote the positive hormones and negate the negative ones. 

Eating a high protein meal will do both of these things. In order to manage your cortisol response (specifically those that train with high intensity frequently) carbs are put in place to help negate the effects that result from it.

The timing with your post workout meal is going to be similar across the board (unless you’re a high intensity athlete in which case you would need to intake carbs immediately after your session). There’s nothing wrong with having a protein shake right after your workout but for optimal results you have about 0.5-2 hours after you finish training for your post workout meal.

Post-Post Workout Nutrition

This takes place 2-5 hours after your post workout meal. Your pre and post workout meal have avoided fiber and added fats so that it can maximize muscle and hormonal recovery. Now that we’re well past our training window we can add in allllllll the things so that you can promote your recovery a step further!

Your post workout meal should include:

  • Protein
  • Carbs
  • Fiber
  • Fats

The more variety in color the better, we want to really get into an anabolic state here and recover fully from your training session. The amount of food here depends on how many calories you have left for the day, we still want an even distribution of protein in every meal but as far as all the other nutrients they depend on your individual prescription.

Intra-workout

Intra-workout refers to your nutrition while working out. This is only applicable to those that are doing 2+ hours of high intensity exercise in a row or 3+hours of moderate exercise activity in a row. In these cases, you need supplemental fuel beyond your daily caloric prescription so that you are not putting your body in excessive catabolism. 

There are a ton of individualized approaches I use with my clientele to make sure they are receiving optimal recovery for their body and optimizing their performance. A general rule of thumb to follow, though, is to consume 15g of protein and 30g of carbs between each hour of high intensity training past one hour, or between each additional hour of moderate exercise past two hours. 

Morning Trainees

You should have been taking notes and trying to map out how to apply this to your current situation so that you can get the best results for yourself possible. A good number of you probably train first thing in the morning though, which just begs the question: when do I have my pre workout meal? Well the best opportunity to have a pre-workout when you train first thing in the morning is before you go to bed! 

In fact, you want to consume roughly 20-30% of your daily carbohydrate intake within four hours of going to bed so that your blood sugar levels are at optimal performance levels when you wake up.

Carb consumption before bed has also been shown to help with sleep quality as well, so not only will you be fueling your morning workout properly but you’ll also be sleeping better and recovering more efficiently!

Wrap Up

So, the main takeaways here are simply this:

  • Calories are king: Focus on calories and macros first and foremost
  • Once you can do that consistently THEN you can worry about meal timing

That’s pretty much it, not sure what your calories or macros should look like or what Meal Timing fits your schedule best? Follow this link to schedule a FREE Strategy Call so I can help troubleshoot your goals so that you can get the results you’re looking for!

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