What Is Nutrient Timing?

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 02, 2021

Nutrient timing is exactly what it sounds like. You eat certain foods at particular times to reach your performance goals. Drinking a protein shake after sweating in a gym, for example, is a part of nutrient timing.

Athletes who use this strategy, which has been around for decades, believe it is helpful in improving sports performance, enhancing weight loss, and building muscle. 

However, research does not entirely support nutrient timing as an effective approach. 

Experts who have studied the research surrounding nutrient timing say that it has two limitations: 

Short-term markers. Blood markers are certain compounds that are released in the body as a response to something. They can be used to determine if something is effective or not. Studies around nutrient timing only focus on short-term markers rather than long-term benefits of nutrient timing. 

Athletes as study subjects. Another limitation of these studies is that most of them had athletes as participants. Since athletes have strict routines, their results cannot be used to apply to non-athletes. ‌

The most notable aspect of timed nutrition is the anabolic window, which is called the window of opportunity to benefit from workout nutrition. It is based on the concept that your body absorbs nutrients perfectly within 15-60 minutes of exercising. 

This theory is based on two principles: 

Carb replenishment. After exercising, your body needs energy. When you provide carbohydrates to the body after a workout, its absorption is quicker. Thus, the body makes more stores of carbs, called glycogen, and improves recovery. 

Protein intake. When you are working out, proteins break down in your body. Eating protein after a workout makes up for this loss and stimulates the production of proteins in the body. 

While both these principles might make sense, human metabolism is more complicated. A lot more is going on that extends beyond the anabolic window. 

Ideally, you should eat one to four hours before a workout. Find the timeframe that works for your body by trying different durations for pre-workout meals‌. 

After a workout, you should eat protein-rich and carb-containing foods to replace the glycogen you lost. The protein will help your body repair and rebuild the muscles. Some good examples of carb and protein-rich post-workout meals include‌: 

  • Low-fat chocolate milk 
  • Low-fat yogurt with berries
  • Turkey with veggies on a whole-grain wrap 

Show Sources


Ace Fitness: "What You Need to Know About Nutrient Timing."

‌Antioxidants in Sport Nutrition: "Acute and Chronic Effects of Antioxidant Supplementation on Exercise Performance."

‌Current Sports Medicine Reports: "The role of protein and amino acid supplements in the athlete's diet: does type or timing of ingestion matter?"

eat right: "Timing Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition."

‌Journal of Applied Physiology: "Improvements in exercise performance: effects of carbohydrate feedings and diet."

‌Nutrition & Metabolism: "Ingesting a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, B-vitamins, amino acids, creatine, and beta-alanine before exercise delays fatigue while improving reaction time and muscular endurance."

‌PLoS One: "Acute post-exercise myofibrillar protein synthesis is not correlated with resistance training-induced muscle hypertrophy in young men."

‌‌Sports Medicine: "Determinants of post-exercise glycogen synthesis during short-term recovery."

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