#19: Nutrient Timing
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Welcome to the Coach’s Blog powered by Dillman Coaching. I’ve been training and racing for over a decade and have learned a lot along the way. As a coach I want to share this knowledge with the athletes I coach to help them achieve their goals. This blog is one of the platforms I use to accomplish that goal.
We’ve been going through the Racing Weight plan by Matt Fitzgerald. The biggest improvement an athlete can make for their nutrition is improving diet quality. In this blog we’ll tackle Step #5, timing your nutrition. Here are the 6 steps of the Racing Weight plan:
Improve your diet quality.
Manage your appetite.
Balance your energy sources.
Time your nutrition.
What is it?
Here recently there’s been a lot of uproar about a fancy new concept called nutrient partitioning, or nutrient timing. Sounds pretty complex. Maybe even something that only the “pro’s” do. But it’s my goal in this blog to break down the concept of nutrient timing into layman’s terms and to help you implement it into your own training program. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, I promise.
So far in the Racing Weight plan we’ve covered a lot on the topic of what your body needs to perform at its optimal level. Nutrient timing is all about the when behind the what. When is the best time to eat certain foods for certain training purposes. It can be summed up as giving your body what it needs when it needs it for top performance. Don’t forget that the entire racing weight plan is all about performance. It’s the name of the game.
One of the key components in nutrient timing is figuring out the best times to eat your meals for rides, workouts and races. It’s as simple as that. And yet it’s something often over-looked by even the most experienced racers. We’ve all made the mistake of downing a sandwich 10 or 20 minutes before the start of a race or hard workout and then regretting that decision when we get a 2nd helping in the middle of our effort. Nutrient timing is the prevention of the mid-race mini-barf. Trust me, it never tastes better the 2nd time around.
One of the biggest concepts that we’ve seen emphasized throughout the racing weight plan is that maximizing our training performance will ultimately lead to optimum body composition. We should always do what helps us perform the best and trust that it will lead to racing weight.
Matt Fitzgerald has 7 helpful steps for mastering nutrient timing. And they are all very simple and easy to implement into your own training and programming. One of the great things about the Racing Weight plan is the simplicity. People don’t want complicated algorithms they have to follow to achieve optimum body weight. Keep it simple. That’s the key to success.
The 7 Steps of Nutrient Timing
1. Eat Early
Several studies have shown that people who eat early in the morning end up consuming less overall calories by the end of the day versus people who skip breakfast. But we’ve all heard the pro’s and con’s of eating breakfast. Some people say it’s the most important meal of the day. Other people say you can skip it and lose weight by fasting. But remember what we are concerned with: PERFORMANCE. And eating an early breakfast almost always maximizes training and performance. Eating early gives your body time to digest the nutrients you’ve consumed before your workout so those calories can be used for fuel and you won’t have stomach cramps or GI distress.
The only time you may consider skipping breakfast is when your goal is more focused on losing weight than it is on performance. Which, by the way, you should not try to lose weight and improve performance at the same time. Your body can’t handle it and performance will decline.
2. Eat carbs early and protein late
Give your body what it needs when it needs it. In the morning your body needs carbs because glycogen stores have been depleted and need to be replenished. And if you plan on doing a hard workout later in the day then you’ll want to fill up those glycogen stores since carbs will be the primary fuel during a hard workout.
In the evening your body needs protein because it transitions from energy supply mode to tissue rebuilding mode and protein is the raw material your body uses to rebuild that tissue. It’s especially important to consume protein in the evening if you’ve had a hard workout or race that day because you’ve just torn down your muscles and they need to recover. Protein is what aids this recovery. This is doubly important if you have another race the next day.
3. Eat on a consistent schedule
A lot of people get worked up about whether you should eat 3 big meals a day or 7 small meals a day. And really it doesn’t matter how often you eat, but that you eat in a consistent manner each day. Your body likes a regular routine. Try to prevent an erratic eating schedule that changes drastically day-to-day.
4. Eat before exercise
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s worth talking about. Eating before a workout will enhance that workout and thus enhance the effects from that workout as well. Fuel for top performance, even in training. This was something I messed up for years. I thought I could eat whatever I wanted for training and then eat “clean” before racing. I was losing out on improved workouts and improved results.
Meals before workouts are going to be focused on high-quality carbohydrates. This is the primary fuel you’ll be using during the ride. Another interesting fact that Fitzgerald mentions is that “when muscles burn more carbohydrate during a workout they tend to burn more fat after the workout.”
5. Eat during exercise
This is definitely something I see cyclists struggle with often: not eating or not eating enough during their rides. Again, by consuming carb-rich, easily digestible foods and drinks during workouts you will enhance your performance during that workout and therefore enhance the effects of that workout as well. It’s all about performance. Starving yourself during a workout means low-quality intervals. Low quality intervals aren’t going to improve fitness.
Find what your body likes during hard workouts or long rides and give it those foods. If you don’t like the dryness of Clif bars, don’t eat Clif bars. If your stomach doesn’t like Gu gels, then don’t eat Gu gels. The best thing to do is try a variety of foods during training so you can find out what works best with your system so you don’t have to worry about it on important training days or on race-day. Check out a little book called "Feed Zone Portables" by Thomas & Lim for some tasty ideas. I'm a big fan of the Coconut Blueberry Rice Bars. And never try something new on race day. It’s not worth the risk.
6. Eat after exercise
Another no-brainer, but worth talking about. After a workout you’ll want to focus on high-quality carbohydrate and protein sources. Sometimes I think people get too focused on protein and forget about carbohydrate. If you just went really hard, the primary nutrient you just expended and depleted was carbohydrate so it makes sense that you’ll want to replenish those glycogen stores. Especially if you have another hard effort the next day.
There’s also this magical 2-hour window when your body is “wide open” for nutrient intake. This means your body is ready to digest carbs and protein very quickly if you get it in during this window. After a hard workout or race I plan for a recovery shake within 30 minutes of completion and an actual meal within 2 hours.
7. Minimize eating after dark
This ones probably the hardest of all. Like a lot of people, I struggle with those late-night sweet-tooth cravings. Almost every night I find myself craving ice-cream or a bowl of cereal. The bad thing about this is that most of those carbs will be stored as fat instead of used as fuel, which isn’t a very good thing for body composition. Fitzgerald suggests that you go to bed mildly hungry.
Our circadian rhythm and metabolism are linked. Depending on the time of day our body will metabolize the same foods in different ways. And unfortunately, this means late-night carbs are stored as fat.
Nutrient timing is all about giving your body what it needs when it needs it. These 7 Steps may seem like a lot, but as you can see they are all very simple and easy to implement. In fact, you were probably already doing a lot of them without even knowing it.
Now that you have a deeper awareness of nutrient timing, it is my challenge to you to dial it in and get it down to a system. Know what foods work and when you should be eating them. A lot of times you’ll rely on routine and patterns because you know those work for your body. Nutrient timing is just another part of the Racing Weight plan that will lead you to the path of improved performance.