Nutrient timing remains one of the most hotly debated topics in sports nutrition. The term sounds important (and it can be to a certain extent), but how much does meal timing actually impact muscle growth?
Let’s start by briefly defining what nutrient timing (meal timing) is...
What is Meal Timing?
Meal timing (nutrient timing) is the targeted intake of specific nutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) in specific amounts at specific times to achieve a certain outcome.
With respect to hypertrophy, the focus is on consuming nutrients before, during, and/or after the workout to improve resistance-training performance and muscle recovery, with the end goal being better muscle growth compared to just eating whatever and whenever you feel like it.
Traditionally, meal timing, in the context of hypertrophy, recommends that an individual:
- Eat at least every 3-4 hours
- Sip amino acid supplements during training (as well as possibly throughout the day to prevent the body from going “catabolic”)
- Have a serving of protein right before bed (again to prevent catabolism while you sleep)
Is Meal Timing Important for Hypertrophy?
To a certain extent, yes.
Meal timing is important, but it’s not everything.
For instance, you can time your meals down to the nano-second, but if you’re not getting enough sleep or creating progressive overload in your workouts, then whether you eat every 3.5 hours vs every 5 hours is largely irrelevant.
Far too many lifters (especially noobs) get fixated on peri-workout nutrition (what’s the best pre workout?, do I need an intra workout, chugging a protein shake immediately after training is over, etc.), and they fail miserably at the “big picture” items like:
- Consuming enough total calories
- Consuming enough protein
- Getting enough quality sleep each night
- Progressively overloading their training sessions
- Mitigating stress
If, and only if, you have these pillars of hypertrophy in place should you then start to be concerned about meal timing.
Provided that you’ve taken care of the “basics” you can then start to “refine” your dietary habits to optimize performance, recovery, and growth.
For instance, evenly spacing out your protein feedings through the day is an excellent place to start.
“Meeting the total daily intake of protein, preferably with evenly spaced protein feedings (approximately every 3 h during the day), should be viewed as a primary area of emphasis for exercising individuals.”
“Pre- and/or post-exercise nutritional interventions (carbohydrate + protein or protein alone) may operate as an effective strategy to support increases in strength and improvements in body composition. However, the size and timing of a pre-exercise meal may impact the extent to which post-exercise protein feeding is required.”
Other research notes that individuals who evenly distribute their protein intake over the day have significantly greater 24-h muscle protein synthesis than those who bias their protein intake toward evening meals, even though the diets contained the same amount of calories and protein.
Still some other studies note that it may be more beneficial to consume higher amounts of protein in the morning time as consuming a similar amount at night doesn’t result in the same spike in muscle protein synthesis.
Meal timing likely isn’t necessary for the average fitness enthusiast looking to build muscle and improve their health. Greater importance should be placed on consuming the right amount of calories and protein, training hard, and getting enough sleep.
If you can do those things consistently for 6-12 months, then you can start worrying about meal timing.
At the very least, evenly distribute your protein throughout the day, ideally with a meal on either side of your training session, and consume enough quality carbohydrates and fat to hit your calorie needs.
To get the most out of each meal you consume (especially carb heavy ones) be sure to take our nutrient partitioner SlinMax 10 to 15 minutes prior