Tag Archives: nutrient timing

An Ode to Nutrient Timing


By Jose Antonio PhD FISSN FNSCA CSCS.  A few weeks back, one of my students asked me about a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.  It was a well-written piece authored primarily by Brad Schoenfeld who is perhaps better known for his Lookgreatnaked.com website.  I mean who wouldn’t want to look frickin’ great naked, right?  Like the old Seinfeld comedy TV show demonstrated so poignantly, there’s ‘good naked’ and ‘bad naked.’  I’m a big fan of ‘good naked.’  Anyhow, the student posited the following:  “I read that nutrient timing doesn’t work according to that study published in the JISSN.”  JISSN is aka the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.  It’s an awesome scientific journal.  Besides, I’m the Editor in Chief.  And that’s reason enough to read it. :-)  Anyhow, getting back to my student’s query.  So much to learn, so little time.  Without delving into the minutae of different types of studies, I replied “that was a meta-analysis, not an original investigation.”  Mainstream journalists don’t realize that a meta-analysis does not provide new data.  It is merely a statistical analysis of existing data.  This is a huge difference.  The gold standard of scientific inquriy is the randomized controlled trial.   Either way.  This Millennial generation seems to believe everything they read; until of course they read something contrary.  No wonder they can’t make up their minds.

Bruce Lee says, "Timing is everything.  Especially when kicking someone's ass."

Bruce Lee says, “Timing is everything. Especially when kicking someone’s ass.”

So what gives?  What’s the devil in the details?  First, to summarize that meta-analysis, it stated in essence: “These results refute the commonly held belief that the timing of protein intake in and around a training session is critical to muscular adaptations and indicate that consuming adequate protein in combination with resistance exercise is the key factor for maximizing muscle protein accretion.[1]  In English, that means that protein timing is of no benefit and that the key factor is total protein intake.  Interestingly, in their Discussion, it is also stated that they “must acknowledge the possibility that protein timing was in fact responsible for producing a positive effect and that the associated increase in protein intake is merely coincidental.”  It makes sense that both timing and total protein intake are important.

Take the hypothetical scenario of a 180 pound man who consumes 180 grams of protein daily (to meet his athletic needs etc).  Would consuming all 180 grams at breakfast be as effective as spreading it out over 6 meals (30 grams every 3 hours)?  Uh hell no. What fool would eat like that? So when you eat (i.e. timing) is a critical factor.

Please note the distinction between protein timing with the sole purpose of promoting skeletal muscle hypertrophy and nutrient timing, which encompasses a variety of strategies that are related to performance and recovery.  I’ll get to what constitutes nutrient timing later.  But first let me shed some light on the issue of protein timing specifically.nutrient timing photo

In reality, there are only two studies, using resistance-trained subjects, whose protein intake was sufficiently high (1.8-1.9 g per kg per day) and matched, that employed a ‘protein timing’ strategy.  Please note however that most studies, for reasons that are too detailed to be covered here, typically compared protein to carbohydrate.  Those studies are quite important for historical reasons.  One day I’ll explain why over some beer and sushi.

Nevertheless, these two ‘protein timing’ studies were done by Paul Cribb PhD FISSN and Jay Hoffman PhD FISSN, respectively.  These were ‘apples to apples’ comparisons.  Not aardvark to orangutan comparisons (which in reality is most of what is called ‘protein timing’).  The Cribb study did indeed show a significant effect of immediate PRE and POST training supplementation working quite well (i.e. increased lean body mass and type IIA and IIX muscle fiber cross-sectional areas) in comparison to a Morning and Evening consumption strategy.  So in this case, timing matters.  Dr. Cribb concluded that “supplement timing represents a simple but effective strategy that enhances the adaptations desired from RE-training.[2]”  On the other hand, Dr. Hoffman basically replicated this study design and found that the “time of protein-supplement ingestion in resistance-trained athletes during a 10-wk training program does not provide any added benefit to strength, power, or body-composition changes.[3]”  So it either helps or has no effect, right? If you answered yes, you get 5 extra credit points on your final exam.

A simple maxim that I teach my students to follow vis a vis sports nutrition strategies is as follows:  “If it helps or has a neutral effect, try it.” Or better yet, do it.  So if you go beyond the mere dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, you’d ask yourself the following questions.  1)  Is there any advantage to NOT utilizing a protein timing strategy?  Answer: No.  2) Is there a potential benefit to using a protein timing strategy? If you answered ‘yes,’ then go to the head of the class.  There is no downside to protein timing as a strategy.  In fact, take the common scenario of eating every three hours.  Let’s say meal 1, 2, and 3 are at 6am, 9am and 12noon.  Then you train at 3pm-4pm.  Wouldn’t it make sense to consume a protein-containing meal immediately after training?  That would make your fourth meal of the day consumed at 4pm.  Not quite every three hours.  However imagine waiting four hours post-training?  Why on Earth would anyone do that?  Hence, follow my advice and consume your meal immediately post-training at 4pm.  Then eat your regular dinner (i.e. meal #5) around 6-7pm.  Then around 9-10pm, have another small casein-based protein meal.

To give the ‘advice’ that it is useless or ineffective is a bit of an untruth (that’s Washington DC political-speak if you get my drift).  Even if something is marginally helpful, it is still helpful.  If one’s goal is to promote muscle hypertrophy, why wouldn’t you employ every possible tactic to get to your goal?  From a purely pragmatic standpoint, you should employ protein timing.

Now getting back to ‘nutrient timing.’   Folks have summarily dismissed nutrient timing because of their confusion with protein timing as it relates to skeletal muscle hypertrophy.  Nutrient timing is a very effective strategy.  To wit:

Consuming caffeine (in the form of a chewing gum) enhances cycling performance when administered immediately prior to, but not 1 or 2 hours before cycling.[4]

A 20 gram bolus of whey protein consumed every three hours is superior to other temporal patterns of feeding for the purpose of stimulating muscle protein synthesis and thus “has the potential to maximize outcomes of resistance training for attaining peak muscle mass.[5]”whey-protein-drinks-06

Consuming a sports drink 30 minutes before exercise improved performance better than consuming it 120 minutes prior. “This study provides new evidence to suggest that timing of carbohydrate intake is important in short duration high-intensity exercise tasks, but a concentration effect requires further exploration.[6]”  Certainly, it is well known that consuming a sports drink during exercise is better than drinking water. Thus, a “carbohydrate-electrolyte drink can increase endurance performance as well as enhance lactate removal and thereby delaying the onset of fatigue.[7]”

Another study showed that casein “protein ingested immediately before sleep is effectively digested and absorbed, thereby stimulating muscle protein synthesis and improving whole-body protein balance during postexercise overnight recovery.[8]”

In overweight individuals, shifting more of your calories towards breakfast versus later in the day is better for weight loss.[9]

Heck, common sense tells you that drinking water during a half-marathon run in the heat is better for performance than drinking after the run.  That’s a simple example of nutrient timing.

Thus, it is virtually impossible to escape the fact that nutrient timing plays an important role in many circumstances vis a vis the acute and chronic response to exercise.

I’d posit that not eating is the worst thing you can do.  Let’s face, there is nothing anabolic about not eating for 4 hours after training.  When in doubt, consume a protein-containing meal.  A meal doesn’t have to be a Thanksgiving-size portion.  A protein shake of 200 kcals or so constitutes a meal.  In essence, nutrient timing incorporates the use of methodical planning and eating of whole foods, beverages and supplements with the express purpose of enhancing recovery, performance, or body composition.[10]

One last note.  Science often reminds me of the tale of the six blind men and the elephant.  The tale goes like this.  One blind man feels the trunk and says it’s a snake.  Another touches the tail and says it’s a rope.  Another touches the legs and says it’s a tree. Another touches the ear and says it’s a fan.  Another touches the side of the animal and says it’s a wall.  While another grabs the tusks and says it’s a spear.  All of them are right…and wrong.  Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Our field is ultimately one governed by pragmatism.  Having done quite a bit of basic science (animal work particularly) research in my day, I can attest to its importance in understanding the underlying mechanisms that govern why things work the way they do.  However, our field is, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, an advice-driven one.  As scientists, we can argue over crossing t’s and dotting i’s, but in the end, we have to give the best advice we know based on the current data of the time.

If it helps or has a neutral effect, do it.


1.           Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW: The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2013, 10:53.

2.           Cribb PJ, Hayes A: Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2006, 38:1918-1925.

3.           Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Tranchina CP, Rashti SL, Kang J, Faigenbaum AD: Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2009, 19:172-185.

4.           Ryan EJ, Kim CH, Fickes EJ, Williamson M, Muller MD, Barkley JE, Gunstad J, Glickman EL: Caffeine gum and cycling performance: a timing study. J Strength Cond Res 2013, 27:259-264.

5.           Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, et al: Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol 2013, 591:2319-2331.

6.           Galloway SD, Lott MJ, Toulouse LC: Pre-Exercise Carbohydrate Feeding and High-Intensity Exercise Capacity: Effects of Timing of Intake and Carbohydrate Concentration. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2013.

7.           Khanna GL, Manna I: Supplementary effect of carbohydrate-electrolyte drink on sports performance, lactate removal & cardiovascular response of athletes. Indian J Med Res 2005, 121:665-669.

8.           Res PT, Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, LJ VANL: Protein ingestion before sleep improves postexercise overnight recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2012, 44:1560-1569.

9.           Jakubowicz D, Barnea M, Wainstein J, Froy O: High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2013, 21:2504-2512.

10.         Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, et al: International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2008, 5:17.

About the Author – Jose Antonio is the CEO and Co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and the Editor-in-Chief of the JISSN (www.jissn.com).  Check out the latest ISSN Conferences at www.theissn.org. If you’re ever in South Florida, he’d be happy to take you outrigger paddling.




Should You “Spike” This Hormone?

By Brian St. Pierre, CSCS, CISSN.

Well Everybody Knows – Everybody knows that the first rule of a post-training shake is that it has to be fast. You must drink it as soon as you are done or you won’t get lean. You must drink the fastest protein on earth with only the fastest carbs, no fiber or fat allowed! This usually entails people drinking whey protein, either in the form of isolates or hydrolysates, because concentrates are just too darn slow. The carbs are usually from maltodextrin or dextrose, and maybe even that fancy defense-against-the-backlash-on-protein-powders_anew waxy maize starch. Anything with fiber , fat or fructose is terrible and will decrease absorption time. Right? We know all of this because that is what we have always been told. No one denies that this is effective, as it has worked for millions of people, but does effective equal optimal? What are we actually trying to accomplish with this shake?  I do want to preface all this with the fact that there isn’t one perfect pre-and-post-training feeding for everyone. It is always context specific. The protein/carbohydrate/fat/fluid/micronutrition requirements for a 155lb endurance athlete in the midst of marathon training vs. a 225lb bodybuilder recovering from a heavy resistance-training session are quite different. Times of training year will also dictate different needs in the post-exercise recovery period. That same bodybuilder will need a different approach when they start to diet in preparation for a show. In reality proper pre-training nutrition also alters the needs of the post-training period. Having said all that, these recommendations are appropriate for the average gym-goer, looking to gain (or retain) some lean mass while trying to stay relatively lean and healthy. Your actual needs may vary.

Hierarchy of Needs – There is a distinct hierarchy of needs for pre-and-post-training recovery. The goal of pre-training nutrition is to fuel the upcoming training session, maintain hydration, boost training performance, increase muscle protein synthesis, decrease muscle protein breakdown, and spare muscle and liver glycogen. The goal of post-training nutrition is not at all dissimilar: recover from the completed training session, maintain hydration, increase muscle protein synthesis, decrease muscle protein breakdown, and replenish muscle and liver glycogen. Does 40g of whey hydrolysate with 80g grams of maltodextrin and/or dextrose optimally achieve the desired result? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.

Do We Really Need to “Spike” Insulin? – Contrary to popular belief it is not necessary to use refined carbohydrates and sugars to “spike” insulin levels and restore muscle and liver glycogen as rapidly as possible. In fact research has shown that unrefined carbohydrates and fructose (preferably from fruit, to protect and restore liver glycogen), is every bit the equal of those high-GI carbs. This combination restores glycogen as effectively over a 24 hour time period as the high-GI carbs, and might (I emphasize might) actually lead to better next-day performance. While it is clear that unrefined carbs are just as effective as refined high-GI carbs at enhancing recovery and restoring glycogen levels over a 24 hour period, there are certainly times when a simple high-GI shake is warranted. In particular when endurance athletes have two glycogen depleting sessions within eight hours of each other, as the speed of glycogen replenishment is imperative in this scenario. In addition to that there are times when convenience and portability are deciding factors, and pre-made high-GI powders still allow people to get in some quality nutrition before and/or after they train.

In that same vein, research has also shown that muscle protein breakdown is maximally inhibited when insulin is only 2-3 times above fasting levels. This is easily accomplished by a mixed meal or shake an hour or two before training. In reality, proper pre-training nutrition is at the very least equal, if not superior to post-training nutrition for maximal results. It sets the stage for recovery and provides fuel for the session, allowing for potentially better training; without this you are definitely not getting the most out of your sessions.

This high quality mixed meal or shake has been shown to elevate insulin levels well above those needed for maximal anabolic and anti-catabolic effects for at least 5 hours, and it remains elevated even after a training session. This tells us that worrying about spiking our insulin immediately after training with tremendous amounts of high-GI carbs is not necessary, as our insulin is already above the threshold for exerting its maximal benefit. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have carbs after training, you should, but you should worry more about the quality of the source, rather than exact timing or the speed of its digestion.

Protein – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – Well what about protein you ask? There has been a lot of recent hype over whey and casein hydrolysate, and their alleged ability to drastically improve your results. However, research has shown that large doses of whey hydrolysate are actually too fast. It is in and out of the blood stream too rapidly to maximally stimulate protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown. In addition to failure of whey hydrolysate to showcase its superiority, casein hydrolysate has failed to live up to its billing. It has been found to be preferentially taken up by the splanchnic bed, so unless your goal is to get jacked organs it probably isn’t the way to go either. A blend of low-temperature processed whey proteins, especially pre-training where it can get into your bloodstream rapidly, is superior to either whey or casein hydrolysates, as it also contains the ever-important biologically active fractions.

The Glory of Fat – On top of protein and carbohydrates, it is often recommended that fat and fiber be restricted from the pre or post training period, again because of the idea that it would limit speed of absorption and decrease results. Research has found that consuming as much as 55 grams of fat post-training and in two subsequent meals did not inhibit glycogen replenishment. As well it has been found that whole milk was superior to skim milk post-training, even when skim milk was calorically matched. The skim milk actually contained more protein (14g to 8g) and yet the whole milk, with 8g of fat to skim’s 0g, was more anabolic. While this is just one study, clearly fat does not inhibit maximal results, even if it does decrease speed of absorption. In reality post-training fat consumption may potentially improve results!

The Finish – The best pre-and-post-training meals will contain a combination of high quality proteins, high quality carbohydrates, healthy fats and some fruit and/or vegetables. These whole foods provide a plethora of nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and phytonutrients that supply energy, decrease inflammation, boost recovery, maximally stimulate protein synthesis and maximally inhibit protein breakdown. However as noted above, if you have two glycogen depleting sessions within 8 hours of each other, or are a time-crunched individual who requires highly portable and convenient pre and/or post-training nutrition, a pre-made high-GI powder will work best for you.

These meals can come in the form of solid food or shakes, and the amounts of each macronutrient can vary depending on your needs as well as personal preferences and tolerances. I have personally found that liquid meals pre-training seem to be ideal because they supply rapid uptake while minimizing the volume of food in your stomach. This will make it easier to consume closer to training so that the substrates are available to your body as you train and after, rather than having to consume a solid food meal several hours before training. Post-training I have found a solid meal to be top-notch, but this can also depend on personal preference and tolerance. Many trainees do not have an appetite post-training, or are seeking to pack in as many calories as possible, and liquid meals are more feasible in these situations.


Erith S, et al. The effect of high carbohydrate meals with different glycemic indices on recovery of performance during prolonged intermittent high-intensity shuttle running. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Aug;16(4):393-404.

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Jentjens RL, et al. Oxidation of exogenous glucose, sucrose and maltose during prolonged cycling exercise. J Apply Physiol. 2004 Apr;96(4):1285-91.

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Tipton KD, et al. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Jan;292(1):E71-6.

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Fox AK, et al. Adding fat calories to meals after exercise does not alter glucose tolerance. J Appl Physiol. 2004 Jul;97(1):11-6.

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Interview – Paul Cribb PhD FISSN

SNI:  What is the single MOST important dietary/supplement strategy that you would recommend to clients interested in improving body composition?

Dr. Cribb: A lot of my research focused on nutrition timing and in particular, supplement combinations close to resistance training workouts. For people looking to optimize body composition changes, the combination of whey protein with carbs and creatine just immediately before and after resistance exercise, is a strategy that seems to amplify the molecular mechanisms responsible for anabolism and recovery.  Even better, in the work we completed, the lifters experienced much greater improvements in strength and body composition – more muscle, less body fat!  For athletes using supplements such as proteins and creatine, taking at least one dose in the immediate pre-post workout phase is a good way to ensure more of it gets delivered to muscle. For instance, in one nutrient timing study we completed, the group taking creatine close to workouts finished the study with significantly higher muscle creatine and glycogen along side significantly greater muscle hypertrophy.

protein_memeSNI: Is there a finite amount of protein that you can/should consume in one meal?

Dr. Cribb: That’s quite a difficult question to answer accurately as protein digestion kinetics of various foods can be very different. For instance, we know that whey proteins; even when consumed in a mixed macro-nutrient meal are absorbed rapidly and flood the blood stream with essential amino acids. Whereas whole foods and other supplements can take longer, sometimes several hours for their amino acids to appear in the blood stream.  I think the exciting thing is, when you have knowledge of the digestion kinetics of various protein sources you have the ability to structure meal patterns that create and maintain high levels of essential amino acids in the blood. We know that this environment is a prerequisite for stimulating the mechanisms that underline muscle recovery and adaptation from exercise. Particularly as recent research has confirmed that muscle is in fact “sensitized” to protein for at least 24 hours after a workout, that means every protein-containing meal is an opportunity to enhance adaptations from training. This is what we look at in Metabolic Precision – using the science to structure meal and training patterns to optimize training adaptations.

SNI: What’s the most important ‘meal’ of the day?

Dr. Cribb: Probably the most interesting information that’s emerged recently is there are several key time points over the course of 24 hours that can influence adaptations. For instance, nutrient timing just before exercise enhances the anabolic response and so does post-workout supplementation. Outside this, we’re starting to gain insights on refractory periods – the re-activation of peak muscle protein synthesis rates that can occur with repeat meal consumption. This information wasn’t particularly clear until only recently. Another important finding this year is the confirmation that supplementation with a slower acting protein source (casein) prior to sleep will improve post-exercise overnight protein balance. That is, despite adequate post-exercise feeding, the consumption of a protein supplementation prior to sleep increased whole-body protein synthesis rates and protein balance over night.  In light of these recent developments, the window of opportunity to optimize the training response may in fact be “open” for at least 24 hours, particularly after a workout. ‘

SNI: What’s the best part of living in Australia? The worst part?

Dr. Cribb: The best? Definitely the lifestyle. Aussies are a laid-back bunch – we don’t seem to stress about too much, unless we lose in the cricket or Rugby – then things get serious!! I’ve travelled a lot and I definitely think our climate, the beaches and easily accessible great surf is the best in the world. Where I live, I have at least 4 world-class reef breaks literally at my doorstep.  The worst part about living in Australia? – we also have the worlds biggest sharks!

SNI:  Who do you think are the top 3 most influential scientists/industry experts in sports nutrition today?

Dr. Cribb: I think we can all be thankful for living at a time when there are so many wonderful advancements and contributors in the field of exercise science. It’s really tough to be selective. Firstly, I think all fitness professionals owe big Bill Kraemer immense gratitude for his perpetual contributions in such diverse and contemporary areas of strength training research. The guy’s energy and enthusiasm is inspirational. I definitely think Rick Kreider should be acknowledged not only for the volume of information he’s coordinated over the years, but also his pioneering abilities to bring industry and academia together to accelerate our knowledge base in sports nutrition research. The work that Stu Phillips and his team have been producing in recent years is fantastic – they’ve been proving data that helps answer the important questions we face daily as fitness professionals. Research by Stu and his team will shape the prescription of resistance training in the future.  Big Darryn Willoughby has been pivotal in bringing the molecular responses from training and nutrition to the forefront of sports nutrition research. The quality of his research designs is something I’ve always marveled at. Years ago, as a young sports scientist, Darryn was the one for me that made molecular biochemistry very cool and exciting, it really shaped the course I took with my research. The seminal work Darryn and his team have completed over the years on resistance training, creatine monohydrate, myostatin, creatine ethyl-ester etc. have added much needed depth to our knowledge base that contributes tremendously to the credibility of our industry.  

SNI: If a genie could grant you one wish to attain superhero powers, what powers would that be?

Dr. Cribb: The ability to control natures forces such as the weather; including of course surf conditions! When you’re out in a crowded line-up I think it would be cool to alter conditions to suit and have the capacity to summon the perfect wave delivered directly to you! I’m sure Anthony Almada would agree!

 Bio – Paul Cribb, PhD. CSCS. FTAS

In my doctorial studies, I examined extensively the physiological and biochemical aspects that underline adaptations (results)  – more importantly, how to influence results via intervention with nutrition and various types of exercise. I not only designed my own PhD program, my research has been published in top peer-reviewed journals and magazines such as New Scientist and received awards/fellowships from organizations such as The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (AATSE), The Australian Association for Exercise and Sports Science (AAESS) as well as the Australian Government through the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. I’ve been privileged to be an invited presenter or key speaker by organizations such as The American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM), The United States Dairy Export Council (USDEC) and The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). In 2006, I was honoured to be recognized as one of Australia’s leading scientists.  Dr Cribb also serves on the Advisory Board for the ISSN.  For more information, please check Dr. Cribb’s site: http://www.metabolicprecision.com/about-us