Science of Nutrition: Part 2

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UNDERSTANDING NUTRITION PART 2: NUTRIENT TIMING AND FOOD COMPOSITION

Last week I discussed the bottom two blocks of the nutrition pyramid: calorie balance and macronutrient percentages. Before we start to talk about the nitty-gritty details, it’s important that first we must master the bottom two blocks of the pyramid.

As we climb up this pyramid, we get into nutrient timing and food composition. What exactly does this look like?


Nutrient Timing

This topic is about WHEN you should be taking in specific macronutrients based on your goals. The “when” can be broken down into the amount of meals you have per day and the time before/after training.

What’s interesting is that our muscle tissue constantly grows and “shrinks” throughout the day. Ever notice a big pump after you lift? Well, temporarily, your muscle tissue has expanded. Our muscle tissue goes through peaks of protein synthesis and degradation throughout the day, so constantly feeding them with amino acids will benefit you!

The key to fat loss and muscle growth is to always keep your muscles in protein synthesis. But, how do we do this? We can look at different protein types and digestion rates.

  • Whey protein is absorbed quickly by the small intestines and can be used right away to replenish your muscle cells. Most of the time this will be consumed in supplement form
  • Whole food proteins don’t digest as fast, but you will get a greater array of amino acids in your digestive system. This is probably your best bet, in my opinion, because the slow digestion rate allows for a multitude of amino acids to be poured into the bloodstream so that your muscles are constantly being fed!
  • Casein is THE slowest in line, and this is usually taken in supplement form as well. This is good because, again, amino acids are constantly being poured into your blood stream.

So, you’re probably wondering, “well, great, but now when do I eat THESE proteins?” (so much protein talk, I know).

Your best bet is to use all three of these sources as many times as possible throughout the day. I think whey protein should be used FIRST THING in the morning to account for your body’s increased metabolism throughout the night.

Eat as many solid forms of protein as possible throughout the day, and your fast-digesting proteins should be taken before and after your lift. Eat your slow digesting proteins at night before you hit the hay.


When it comes to carbohydrates, frequency is not as important as timing. However, let’s consider that glycogen synthesis is CAPPED at 0.75g/lb of carbohydrate per hour. Anything above this amount will be stored as fat tissue. In that case, your best bet is to spread out your carbohydrate feedings throughout the day.

Eating a carbohydrate source before a training session will supply your muscles with energy for contractions and prime your nervous system for full function. It’s also important to have it immediately after a hard training session because this is when your muscles absorb any nutrient like a vacuum.

According to the Renaissance Diet: light, moderate, and hard lift sessions require a Carb-to-Protein ratio of 1:1, 1.5:1, and 2:1, respectively.

There is some research on intra-session carbohydrate consumption that gave interesting results, but it is mostly applicable for endurance and physique athletes (unless you want to look good too, I’ll talk about that research!).

However, after your training session, it’s important to have a Carb-to-Protein ratio with light, moderate, and hard sessions with a 2:1, 3:1, and 4:1 ratio, respectively.

On non-training days, you can decrease the amount of carbs that you consume and increase the amount of fat (remember the protein-fulcrum). When you supply the muscle with carbohydrates after a training session, they tend to stay for a few days to account for muscle-protein synthesis. Any additional carbohydrate intake may turn into fat storage.


Fat intake should be taken with slight consideration to your training session. Your best bet is to have a higher fat intake hour before your training session, and a little less if you plan on training within an hour to account for it’s slow digestion rate.

Another concern with fat-timing is that it can interfere with carbohydrate consumption in the muscle, in some cases. Therefore, it is important to have most of your fat content hours before your training session.

I usually have most of my fat content in the morning so that my body can better utilize carbohydrate stores for my training session later on in the day.


Food Composition

Just because this part of the pyramid is towards the top does not mean that it is less important. Simply put, it is just a detail that needs to be considered when trying to reach your goals.

A protein molecule is built with 20 amino acids. Of these 20, only 9 are considered “essential” because our body cannot produce them naturally, leaving us with 11 non-essential amino acids.

The most important essential amino acid is leucine, which is basically the key indicator of protein synthesis. Research shows that 3g of leucine begins the muscle-building process.

Here is a list of protein sources that can all be consumed to get a “complete” protein:

  • Eggs
  • Meats
  • Poultry
  • Fish/Seafood
  • Whey Isolate
  • Nuts and Legumes
  • Beans, rice, and quinoa

When looking deeper into carbohydrate consumption, we need to consider the glycemic index of the source. Glycemic Index is a measurement of how fast blood glucose is elevated and how much insulin levels increase (aims to decrease blood glucose).

Fast-absorbing carbohydrates include dextrose, baked potatoes, white bread, and fruit. These should be consumed immediately before and after your training session. Slow/slower absorbing carbohydrates include honey, whole-grains, vegetables, and peanuts. These should be consumed further away from your training session.


Fats can be split into being either saturated or unsaturated. The saturation comes from the bond between carbon atoms. Unsaturated fats have a double-carbon bond that alters their shape.

Within the unsaturated category, these fats should take up most of your intake. They include:

  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Nuts
  • Avocado

Saturated fat is not ALL that bad. As long as you’re getting it from your meat (grass-fed sources) and dairy sources, that is all okay. Make sure they are just in small amounts!


We can talk about nutrition for days on end, but the purpose of this Part 2 article is to give as much general information as possible as we climb up the real food pyramid.

To sum it all up, when it comes to timing:

  • Fast digesting proteins should be consumed in the morning and directly before and after your training session
  • Slower digesting proteins should be consumed throughout the day and before you go to sleep at night
  • Have a pre-workout carb with your protein source around 1-2 hours before training (depending on your rate of digestion)
  • Most of your fats should be consumed in the morning, as research shows metabolism will stay elevated throughout the day in some individuals

Now, when it comes to food quality:

  • Your most important protein sources will come from eggs, meats, poultry, and fish
  • We need to consider the Glycemic Index of the carbohydrate source that we consume. Higher GI carbs should be taken around your training session
  • Fat is NOT bad. Most of your fats should come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources

 

Keep eating, keep training,

Jarad Vollkommer, CSCS

 

 


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