person deadlifting in the gym

Meal timing sounds like one of those impressive tactics Olympic athletes use to peak at the right moment and set world records.

But does the when matter that much, or are we better off sticking with the what and how much?

Let’s break it down.

What’s The Idea Behind Meal Timing?
The idea behind meal timing is simple:

Consume specific nutrients at unique times of day to maximise performance and achieve better results. Within that general umbrella, we can find many variations of meal timing, depending on who’s asking. For example, a powerlifter and runner might time their meals for entirely different reasons.

Does Meal Timing Matter For Strength Training?
Before we tackle this question, it’s important to note that countless researchers have run experiments on this very topic for decades. With many unique outcomes, it’s safe to say that it depends.

Here is a basic example of how one variable can make a difference:

John is currently in a calorie surplus because he wants to gain weight and add muscle mass, so he eats roughly 3,600 calories per day. On the other hand, Dave is in a deficit because he’s preparing for a powerlifting meet, and he needs to shed another three kilograms. He’s eating 2,500 calories per day.

I would be inclined to say that meal timing would matter a lot more for Dave than it would for John. Why? Because John is eating lots of food, he’s created an anabolic environment in his body, and he’s always an hour or two away from a meal. Dave is eating fewer calories than his body burns, and he’s created an environment that promotes tissue break. He needs to be more careful if he wants to perform optimally and hold onto as much muscle as possible.

Nutrient Timing Essentials For Strength Training
Most average trainees won’t see much of a difference if they began to time their meals better. But as you saw from the example above, it can also depend on the situation.

It’s always good to experiment for yourself and see what works for you. For example, if you’ve been dieting for a while and your performance is going down, eat a pre-workout meal two hours before training.

According to research by Brad Schoenfeld, we should divide our daily protein intake into four equal doses for optimal absorption and use. Other research by Schoenfeld and Aragon also suggests that post-workout nutrition isn’t that important, so long as you’ve had a solid pre-workout meal. This isn’t to say you don’t have to eat after training, but that you can wait a while without seeing your muscles melt off your body.

In any case, covering your basics is never a bad thing, especially if it doesn’t interfere with your daily life. For example, if you train at 6 PM, you can do the following:

Morning - breakfast

Noon - lunch meal

Afternoon - pre-workout meal

Evening - post-workout meal

So long as you cover the basics (adequate calorie intake and balanced macronutrients) and follow a somewhat typical meal schedule, timing likely won’t make that much of a difference.

August 23, 2021 — Daniel Felstein

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