When to eat and when to eat carbohydrates, fats and proteins

 Nutrient sharing (also called nutrient scheduling or meal times) is the careful planning of macronutrient intake to support weight loss, fat loss, or strength training goals.1 Athletes who use this plan eating strategy exactly when they eat carbohydrates, proteins and fats to reap the full nutritional benefits of each.

People trying to lose weight can use meal timing strategies to help them stick to their diet. Not all experts agree on the value of timing nutrients for fat loss or muscle gain. In fact, the research is promising but also shows mixed results.

Nutrient timing and exercise

If you’re a regular gym goer, you may have noticed some weightlifters grab a protein shake within minutes of finishing their workout. Many times the shakes include supplements (like herbal compounds) or other ingredients to increase the benefits of sharing the macronutrients.

The word « partitioning » is used to describe this practice of timing food because planning your protein and carbohydrate intake can influence how nutrients are used or « distributed » in the body.

People who practice nutrient timing believe that consuming certain nutrients at specific times helps regulate insulin for fat loss and muscle building. For example, you can eat a meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates and protein just before exercise or immediately after exercise to increase insulin production.

The theory is that by increasing insulin levels, you increase the absorption of glucose into the muscles, which builds and repairs muscles that are damaged during your workout. While some research supports your macronutrient intake timing, other studies have found no benefit at mealtime.

A large review of studies concluded that there is evidence to support the consumption of protein within a certain time frame, but not carbohydrate.2 The researchers stated that “high quality protein at 0.4-0, 5 g / kg lean body mass both before and after exercise is a simple and relatively safe general guideline. « 

They added that the timing of carbohydrate intake is less important, as long as you meet your daily needs.

Nutrient Timing vs. Nutrient Balance

Carefully monitoring of what and when you eat can be a lot of work. For many people, simply eating a balanced diet is difficult enough. Is it really necessary to practice nutrient timing as well? The answer depends on your goals. Many experts say that getting a proper balance of nutrients is more important than food timing practices. As a result, macronutrient partitioning may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Leisan Echols, MS, RDN, CSSD, CSCS, advises that the timing of specific nutrient intake should be reserved for only those who are serious about their fitness level. « As a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, the majority of my clients range from avid exercisers to elite athletes. Achieving optimal body composition, modifying weight (loss or gain), and/or improving performance are typical goals, » she says.

« With that said, » she continues, « for my clients, I feel that timing and absolute daily intake of nutrients are equally important. For inactive individuals, I believe absolute daily intake of nutrients is more important than meal timing. »

Avid exercisers, performance athletes, and bodybuilders may benefit from the benefits of nutrient timing. For these individuals, investing more time and effort into their athletic endeavors makes sense.

For many of us, however, scheduling the intake of each nutrient is more work than we need to put into our diets. Simply getting the right balance of nutrients at mealtimes is enough of a challenge. We may be able, however, to benefit from scheduled meal timing if weight loss or healthy weight management is a goal.

Meal Timing for Weight Management

If you’re trying to lose weight and following a calorie-controlled diet, timing your food intake may provide additional benefits. In fact, research has suggested that scheduling your food intake to eat more in the morning may offer a small boost in your results.3

One 2013 study of 93 sedentary overweight and obese women with metabolic syndrome found that front-loading calories by eating a larger breakfast, followed by a smaller dinner, was more effective for weight loss than doing the reverse (eating a smaller breakfast and larger dinner).3

Women who took part in the study ate 1,400 calories per day and maintained a sedentary lifestyle for the duration of the trial. The study authors concluded that « high-calorie breakfast with reduced intake at dinner is beneficial and might be a useful alternative for the management of obesity and metabolic syndrome. »

Echols has also seen benefits with her weight loss clients who use meal timing. She says that when she creates a specific meal and snack schedule for her clients, it provides the guidance they need to be successful.

« Having the structure of a meal plan makes eating well less stressful. Not only do [clients] know when to eat, they also know how much and what types of foods to eat to get the right balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. »

Echols adds that there is no perfect meal timing schedule for everyone. Your perfect food schedule may be unique to you. « It depends on the individual and many additional factors, » she says. Factors that can come into play include your physical activity level, the type of exercise you participate in, the duration of your physical activity, and even genetics.

A Word From Verywell

Specific nutrient timing has the potential to provide benefits for weight loss and athletic performance. However, these benefits are probably minimal for the average person. If your goal is weight loss, eating certain foods at specific times won’t compensate for a diet that is unbalanced or too high in calories.

If your goal is to improve your athletic performance, nutrient partitioning can’t take the place of a consistent, well-designed training program, but it may prove some benefit. In short, food timing helps you fine-tune good nutrition, but it doesn’t take the place of a balanced eating and exercise plan.

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