Meal timing and post workout nutrition has been a hot topic for anyone that wants to take their physique to the “next level.” The notion of their being an “anabolic window” following a workout is still popular among beginners and advanced athletes and gym goers. But how important is meal timing?
Does Meal Timing Matter?
When it comes to the importance of meal timing, there is no “one-size-fits-all answer”. When to consume post-workout food will matter more for one fitness enthusiast compared to another, and will be based on the contextual differences of each person’s daily life.
The main goals of meal timing is to restore energy and nutrients in a small window of time; when the body can use them most. (For example, after a strenuous workout). During and following strenuous exercise, glycogen stores become depleted, hydration levels decrease, and muscles are in need of repair.
Therefore, eating after a workout will help with restoring what the body has lost, to improve energy levels and to support the process of recovery.
However, meal timing is never a black and white issue and should be approached from multiple points of view. Factors such as pre-workout nutrition, workout time frame, and fitness regimens can all play a crucial role in the importance of when to eat one’s meals.
When Meal Timing Does Matter:
There are two instances when meal timing will matter slightly MORE for some people.
- Fasted Workout Population: These are the people that enjoy working out in the morning on an empty stomach. In the morning, the body is in need of some form of nutrition and macronutrient; plus it just fasted for a full night. In the morning, the body has yet to receive any form of food to begin breaking down for energy, so after a fasted workout, macronutrients become more important in order to recover and replenish the body’s energy levels. It is usually important that these individuals consume a post-workout meal for daily energy levels.
- Athlete Population These people are athletes and are completing multiple strenuous workouts during a single day. Athletes doing two-a-days have a much higher need to obtain nutrients to replenish energy levels and to aid in recovery for their high energy demands.
When Meal Timing Doesn’t Really Matter:
Meal timing can and may be important for a couple populations, but for the vast majority of the population, meal timing isn’t incredibly important for overall success.
Meals eaten throughout one’s day take time to digest, which leaves the body in the constant process of breaking down macronutrients into fuel and tools for recovery. Thus, if one has eaten a meal pre-workout, then there’s a good chance that the same meal will still be broken down post-workout.
In this case, meal timing and post-workout nutrition are not as important due to the body already being in the process of utilizing food for recovery and fuel. Additionally, the body can only digest so much during one period, so the idea that more is not always the best case with post-workout nutrition.
As a general rule of thumb, a normal “anabolic window” is anywhere from 4-6 hours for the general population, so rushing for a snack post-workout is once again, not always crucial for success.
3 Steps to Structuring Post-Workout Meals
Once we understand that meal timing often is not a make or break factor for success, then post-workout nutrition can be built for our lifestyle.
There are multiple ways to structure post-workout meals, and most of the time, a post-workout meal’s composition will depend on our preference and the intensity of our workouts.
When it comes to pre-and post-workout meals, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind to ensure you are making the most of your nutritional choices. For starters, these meals should be structured around your body composition goals and workout needs.
1. Protein Intake Is Important:
Consume a quality protein source. More than likely, a pre-workout meal will still be in the process of being digested following a workout, so consuming a quality protein can be useful for recovery purposes.
Example: A great option for a pre-workout meal could be oatmeal with either egg whites or protein powder. This meal will deliver a slow-digesting carbohydrate with a protein rich in amino acids.
2. Consider How Often You Eat:
Spread your meals out. If you are part of the population that enjoys eating a meal before your workout, then spreading meals evenly throughout the day can be useful to provide your body with energy at all times, especially prior to a workout.
Example: An afternoon meal usually fares best when it contains a balance of nutrients based on one’s workout plans. For example, if you have already lifted during the day and want to consume less carbohydrates for the evening and more protein, then eating something like (chicken, tofu, turkey) with a good fat source (avocado, oil or nuts) would be a great option.
3. Incorporate Carbohydrates:
Plan carbohydrates around workouts and energy needs. Carbs are best thought of as energy, so considering their consumption heavily around pre- and post-workout can be useful to ensure you have enough energy for workouts.
Example: Let’s say the goal is to lose body fat and someone is only consuming carbs around their workout, then consuming something like oatmeal or a potato pre- or post-workout can be a useful way to ensure glycogen levels are being restored.
At the end of the day, meal timing is only truly important for a very small portion of the population. However, many enjoy catering their pre-and post-workout meals to support their body composition goals and energy needs.
If you choose to do this, then find meals that agree with your body best, and remember that the anabolic window is probably not as important as most tend to perceive it.