Sports Nutrition – Nutrient Timing

Nutrient Timing

Current scientific research into sports nutrition suggest that the timing of nutrients maybe more important than what is eaten. This research is aimed to help athletes break through plateaus and achieve higher levels of strength and power.

By following the principles of nutrient timing you will be able to provide the right type protein and other essential nutrients at the right time to maximise muscle growth, aide recovery and replenish glycogen stores.

During a muscle’s twenty-four hour growth cycle, there are periods when the muscle is actively involved in producing energy, periods when it is recovering and periods when it is growing. For this reason it is important to supply the muscle with the type of nutrients at the right times. The main functions that we are interested in are:

  • Glycogen replenishment
  • And protein synthesis

After a workout there is a metabolic window called “window of opportunity”. This is a period of 45 minutes after training/workout that is the time frame where there is maximum capacity to shift metabolic machinery from catabolic state to an anabolic state.

3 Phases of Timing

  • Energy Phase: Just before (10 minutes) and during exercise
  • Anabolic Phase: The 45 minutes window following a training session
  • Growth Phase: From the end of the anabolic phase to the start of the next session. 2 segments: Rapid Segment (the first 4 hours after workout) & Sustained Segment (the next 16-18 hours after a workout).

Energy Phase

Without going into too much detail during this phase research suggests that adding protein to a carbohydrate (CHO) drink can increase protein synthesis and glycogen repletion afterwards as well as potentially increasing endurance performance.

Immune suppression associated with intensive exercise is highly associated with cortisol elevations. CHO supplementation during exercise has been shown to suppress cortisol elevations. Antioxidant nutrients such as vitamin C and E decrease phosphocreatine kinase (CPK-marker for muscle damage) levels 24 hours after a marathon.

Another reason to take antioxidants. Ideally during this phase the ratio of CHO- protein would be 4-1. Apart from eating healthy snacks such as a nut/seed bar with whole fruits a whey protein smoothy could be an ideal pre workout drink.

Whey protein is important because its biological value is high meaning it is well absorbed and used by the body. Other quality protein sources for those not tolerating whey would be hemps seed protein, soy isolate, pea protein and egg whites.

See below for some pre and post training snack ideas.

Anabolic Phase

Via the mechanism of insulin, consumption of a CHO/protein supplement immediately after exercise is effective at increasing muscle glycogen storage. This is also associated with increased protein synthesis and replenishment of glutamine stores. Using a CHO/protein/glutamine (in whey)/antioxidant supplement has been associated with reduced free-radical build-up and CPK levels. Ideal ratio of CHO-protein is 3-1 or 4-1.

It may be more practical to take a drink based nutrient supplement, as after heavy training it may not be comfortable to digest a load of food. Whey based products or other protein powders depending on tolerance provide practicality here.

These can easily be mixed with some glucose powder (available at health stores) and perhaps some fruits such as mango/banana and/or berries for antioxidant properties.  There is a time for refined carbohydrates this may be best utilised just before a work out or just after where insulin sensitivity is increased. See notes below for some more information.

An excellent example of nutrient activation is the addition of simple (high-glycemic) sugars to protein. This can dramatically enhance protein synthesis %38 more effective than a conventional protein alone drink.

The high GI carbs following exercise stimulates insulin, one of the most important regulators of protein synthesis following exercise.

Delaying nutrient intake after exercise has a negative impact on muscle cells key anabolic activities.

Carbohydrate, protein supplement taken immediately after exercise versus waiting up to 3 hours can result in % 600 improvements in protein synthesis and %100 improvement in muscle glycogen replenishment.

Growth Phase

This is basically the rest of the day after training. Maintain insulin sensitivity and maintain positive nitrogen balance and stimulate protein synthesis. Apart from the window of opportunity in the anabolic phase providing a high CHO supplement immediately after exercise and at 2hr intervals can maintain elevated blood insulin levels up to 6 hrs.

During the sustained segment of the growth phase (16-18 hrs post workout) consuming protein-rich meals and consuming protein-containing snacks in between meals is recommended. Small amounts of CHO are recommended to maintain insulin sensitivity.

Quality protein: Find below representation of protein portion sizes and incorporate this into daily meal plans to ensure adequate protein intake.

Examples of protein portions

  • A chicken breast apx 20gr protein depending on size
  • 3 eggs 20gr protein
  • Cottage cheese 150 gr, 18gr protein
  • Whole milk yoghurt 150 gr 8.55gr protein
  • Hummus 100 grs (half a 200gr tub) 7.6 grs of protein
  • Lentils green, brown whole dried and boiled in water 100gr is 8.8 gr protein
  • Red kidney beans 200 gr is 16.8 gr protein
  • Tofu half a block of coldron tofu (396gr) 10 grs of protein
  • 25 gr almonds is 5.2 gr protein
  • 20 gr of smooth peanut butter is 4.5 gr protein
  • 10 gr of tahini roughly a dessert spoon is 1.8gr protein
Nutritional therapy fordingbridge hampshireAbout The Author 

Susan Davis is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist located in the New Forest, Hampshire. Susan typically sees from the surrounding areas of Cranbourne, Damerham, Verwood and Three Legged Cross.

Find out more about Susan’s work by visiting her GoToSee profile page here


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