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Nutrient Timing by Dr Liz Broad

Coach:
Dr Liz Broad

Category:
Nutrition
Articles

Do you get confused regarding whether you should eat before or after training? How often have you gone to training in the afternoon after work and found your motivation levels to be low and you get frustrated because you don’t get everything out of the session. Or done a long training run in the morning before breakfast and found you’re just a bit clumsy and roll your ankle or trip over things?

It’s hardly surprising that athletes get the timing of nutrition wrong. There are a lot of considerations you have to factor in, including the time of day, type of session, time since last meal, phase of training, need to alter body composition, and number of training sessions in one day. When athletes don’t eat at the right times around training and the result is usually a less than optimal session – although you may not even know it! Paying attention to timing of intake can ensure that you actually achieve the goals of each session, time after time – and by doing so, optimize the adaptations to training (i.e. getting fitter, faster, stronger), remain in good health, and will manage body composition more effectively. Timing nutrition effectively doesn’t mean eating more in the day – it’s about shifting the food so that it supports training (or conversely shifting the time of training so that it fits around your eating times).

The table below provides an indication as to the physiological need to eat / drink something other than water before, during or after exercise, according to various types of sessions. The information is based on research evidence regarding OPTIMISING training performance and health. Some considerations are also provided to help guide your decisions around eating.

Why are the considerations important?

1. Breakfast is THE MOST important meal of the day. It restores blood glucose for your nervous system and brain so that they’re able to work 100% effectively, picks up your metabolism and energy levels early in the day, and helps manage your appetite over the day (making it easier to control body composition).

2. Eating regularly throughout the day (especially more earlier in the day) is better for maintaining energy levels, promoting recovery between training sessions, controlling your appetite and achieving your body composition goals. A lot of athletes undo their good training work by eating too much at night, when they’re tired and hungry.

3. Although physiologically you may not need to eat for that session, sometimes it’s still useful to do so, especially if you’re in a hard training phase. Otherwise you end up with less time to get all the fuel you need in.

Sometimes it can be useful to NOT eat before a session:

There is evidence that training ‘fasted’ or in a relatively low glycogen (stored fuel) state can actually help drive adaptations to training. The trick is picking the sessions and the time of the season to do this, and which training sessions in the week to specifically target (as it will usually only be 1-3 sessions over the week). The best time of the season is base phase training, where the goals of training are around building fitness and endurance capacity rather than specific race / competition preparation. This can be undertaken by either training in the morning without eating beforehand, OR limiting your carbohydrate intake between 2 consecutive training sessions in the day. If you are interested in trying this strategy, discuss it with your coach and seek the advice of an experienced sports dietitian/ nutritionist who can work out the timing, type of session and how to approach this without compromising your health and/or the quality of other training sessions.

TYPE OF TRAINING SESSION

EAT BEFORE?

MORE THAN WATER DURING?

IMMEDIATELY AFTER

*CONSIDERATIONS

Easy

(Recovery / low intensity)

NO

*see considerations

NO

NO

*see considerations

If morning session starts after 9am you still need to have had breakfast!!

Skill-focused

(low intensity)

YES

Carbohydrate

MAYBE

If session > 90min

NO

Timing not essential

Limit gap between eating occasions under 4-5 hr

Hill reps, track sessions, overspeed

(Intermittent high intensity)

YES

Carbohydrate*

MAYBE

If session > 90min

YES

Full recovery plan

Can be useful to eat if you have more than 1 session in the day or it’s a heavy training phase

Endurance, continuous exercise/output

(Moderate intensity)

MAYBE

Carbohydrate *see considerations

YES

If session >90 minutes, or >60 min and you didn’t eat before

YES

Full recovery plan


Gym (weights)

YES

Carbohydrate with or without protein

MAYBE

If session > 60 min

YES

Full recovery plan


Stretch, yoga, or pilates

NO

*see consideration

NO

NO

*see consideration


Carbohydrate: This doesn’t need to be a large meal. Some fruit, a slice of toast, a small bowl of cereal or oatmeal or a tub of yoghurt will be sufficient, although eating more is usually better.

Carbohydrate + protein: Examples include a fruit smoothie made with milk and / or yoghurt, eggs on toast, flavored yogurt, a piece of fruit and a glass of milk, or a bowl of cereal with milk.

More than water during training: For example PowerBar, Lucozade sport, Powerade or Gatorade, some fruit, a cereal bar, or a gel.







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