There’s always going to be a battle going on about when you should take your pre-workout and post-workout meals. Some people get so worked up on the idea that they have a tiny window of timing to get all the nutrition into their system, that they lose focus on the bigger picture. No, you don’t have to overdose yourselves on carbs to produce the most optimal workout, and no you don’t have to start working out straight after you eat. The most important thing about nutrient timing is to firstly make sure you are hitting your daily macronutrient needs. After that, it comes down to the precise timing of those nutrients. Athletes, strength trainers, and people trying to lose weight usually have a proper diet that includes multiple meals a day.
- Are you hitting your micronutrients?
- Are you eating enough times during the day?
- Are you allowing enough time after eating to workout?
That being said, the majority of our days are spent in a fed state, rather than a fasted state. Since there’s a constant overlap of meal digestion and nutrient absorption throughout the day, the precision in nutrient timing goes down. Even your pre-workout meal will carry over nutrients into your post-workout state.
Power’s (2009) study showed us that 45g of whey protein, granted fast absorbing, will take about 50 minutes to cause the amino acid levels in our blood to peak. The insulin levels peaked 40 minutes after ingestion, and remained high enough to break down muscle protein for 2 hours after ingestion. It took a total of 3 hours for the amino acid and insulin levels to return to normal. The study also showed that adding carbohydrates to this will cause amino acid and insulin levels to peak higher and stay elevated for longer.
Now, don’t take this and just pack in tons of carbs before you train, it will be counterproductive. Unless you are doing some sort of intensive endurance training, only a small dose of carbs are needed. Substantial doses of carbohydrates added to whey protein are not able to properly increase post-workout muscle gains, compared to a low carbohydrate dosage.
The window of timing is much greater than most people think because we don’t give the body enough credit. We’re so worried on micromanaging our nutrient timings that we aren’t seeing just how long the anabolic effects are of a typical meal. Personally, I say don’t worry so much for nutrient timings – just make sure there is enough time for your body to get the effects of the food you are eating. For an average meal, it will take a good 1 and a half hours for your blood levels to peak, and a good 4 hours for everything to drop back down to baseline.