What and When To Eat - Is Meal Timing That Important

Many people have a relatively good idea of which foods are healthy and which are not, or at least what foods are healthier than others.  But what most people are not aware of is the particulars of timing what you eat.  What I am talking about is, eating certain things at certain times.

By manipulating exactly WHAT you eat at certain times, you are able to an extent, enhance certain processes, such as muscle building, or blunt other processes like fat storage.

Now there are many opinions on the actual effectiveness of ‘meal timing,’ but I really believe that it can make a significant difference.  But, the other very important factor that you HAVE to control when wanting to lose or gain weight is the total number of calories that you take in.

Now first and foremost, you need to try and consume some protein at each meal.  By combining protein with other foods, you slow down the digestion of the meal, thus ensuring your blood sugar levels remain more or less constant, and do not jump too high and then crash.  You can also achieve this by adding foods high in fiber to your meals, such as vegetable like broccoli, green beans, spinach etc.

One of the most important points to remember is to not consume carbohydrates alone and after not eating for a long period of time, especially the fast acting carbohydrates which have little nutrients and fiber, such as sugar, sweets, fruit juices, soft drinks etc.  When you do consume these types of carbohydrates your blood sugar levels rise quite rapidly and then can come crashing down leaving you tired and lethargic.  Another effect which can take place when eating these foods alone is fat storage.  If the body’s carbohydrate stores are full it can end up storing those calories as fat, especially since these sugary foods cause the body to digest them very quickly forcing the body to actually do something with the calories quite rapidly.

This will still depend on a few other factors like your metabolism and how much carbohydrates you have had within the past few days.

For example, if we take a bodybuilder who has been restricting his carbohydrate intake for the past few days, he could be quite depleted, so when he starts to increase his carbohydrate intake, and only eat carbs, instead of gaining fat his muscles will actually use those carbohydrates to fill up, since your body stores carbohydrates within your muscles as muscle glycogen.  That’s why so many bodybuilders a few days before a show restrict their carbohydrate intake and then start to eat A LOT of carbohydrates on the day before or on the day of the show.  This really helps to give their muscles a full rounded and pumped look.  So we can see here that by manipulating what you eat really can make a difference.

Now the three times of the day when you really want to maximize the effects of the food which you eat are:

  • Breakfast.
  • Before your weight workout.
  • After your weight workout.

Healthy Breakfast

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and far too many people eat the wrong things here or just skip it altogether.  By eating a good balanced breakfast you provide your body with the nutrients it needs, to provide you with energy for the rest of the day and since you have not eaten anything in eight or so hours by eating breakfast you can put your body into an anabolic state and get the muscle repair process started.

Anabolic state: A state of muscle building.
Catabolic state: A state of muscle breakdown.

An ideal breakfast would consist of a small piece of fruit, a large glass of chilled water, a few eggs and some form of carbohydrates, e.g. oats.  What I have just suggested contains all the different macronutrients, protein, fat and carbohydrates.  Now the portion sizes will depend on each person and on how active each of us is, but be sure to include a bit of everything.  Personally I have found that when I remove the carbohydrates (oats) from my breakfast (particularly when restricting my calories to lose fat) I have very little energy throughout the day and I feel very flat and lethargic.

But again it must work for you.

Nutrition before your workout can be manipulated in many ways.  Its probably not as important as breakfast and your post workout meal, but it can definitely help.  For instance if you workout long and hard you will need some carbohydrates to fuel your training, and as always you will need some protein to go with it.  But there are many people who just cannot eat a meal and then go train due to tension in their stomach even after two hours after eating.  So be sure to have a small meal at least one and a half to two hours before you train consisting of protein and carbohydrates. Some chicken and rice could do just fine.

Post Workout.

If you have read many fitness magazines out there I’m sure you will have read that after training you need simple carbohydrates like sugar or glucose to spike your insulin in order to refill your muscles and get as much nutrients in them as possible in that 30 minute ‘magic’ window after you train.  Now I do not dispute these claims, but you really don’t need to worry too much about the exact type of carbohydrates to use.

These days there are certain supplements out there which are made specifically to use straight after gym for these exact reasons, but one look at the ingredients and you will find you are just paying for sugar in fancy packaging.

So, yes, your muscles will be fatigued and naturally will need some nutrients to repair them.  The sooner you can get to them the better.  What to eat?  What I would suggest is initially a protein shake with some milk and a banana followed by a whole meal after about an hour or two consisting of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates, such as sweet potato, green beans and chicken.  The reason for all of this is that the protein shake in liquid form digests much quicker than actual food so it can get to work immediately to repair your muscles.  Then once the process is started and you have something in your system you can move onto a decent meal.  You could always just skip the shake and consume the meal straight away as well.

Lastly eating at night, or before bed.  There are a lot of different opinions on eating at night and just before your sleep saying it will cause excessive weight gain since you are not doing anything physical so therefore you will end up storing what you eat as body fat, especially if you eat carbohydrates at night.  I do disagree with most of this.  If you are working out almost every day relatively intensely, you are going to be hungry at night.  So then what do you do?  What do you eat?  Well, go for a high protein snack.

It would be a wise idea to stay away from carbohydrates before bed since when you sleep you naturally release growth hormone, which helps repair your muscles and various tissues within your body as well as help you recover from your day to day activities.  Now when you eat carbohydrates (especially simple carbohydrates like sugar, and sweets) your body releases insulin which to an extent blunts the release of growth hormone.

This is a process which you really do not want to intentionally stop as you should try to maximize it while you can since as you age you naturally produce less and less growth hormone.  So at night try to stick to meals containing protein and maybe some good fats.  The good fats can be found in nuts, olives, avocados etc.

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