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What is Nutrient Timing?

D. Messmer
D. Messmer

Nutrient timing is a dieting concept that enables athletes to recover from workouts more quickly and thus work out more often. This, in turn, increases overall muscular development. Nutrient timing requires the athlete to eat certain types of foods, especially proteins and carbohydrates, at specific times relative to the athlete's workout in order to minimize recovery time.

Muscular development occurs through the body's reaction to strain. The more weight an athlete lifts within a certain period of time, the more the body will react to that strain and generate new muscle tissue to accommodate the demands that the athlete is making of the muscles. For that reason, recovering from a workout quickly is important to an athlete's overall muscular development because it will allow the athlete to work out again sooner. This enables the athlete to put more strain on the muscles and thus stimulate greater muscle growth.

Sports drinks may help replenish body electrolytes after exercise.
Sports drinks may help replenish body electrolytes after exercise.

Nutrient timing is a form of sport dieting that aims to speed the recovery process. When an athlete works out, especially when lifting large amounts of weight, the muscles begin to break down. This process is what causes the "burn" during a lift, and it continues even after a lift is complete, resulting in the soreness that an athlete feels the next day and, sometimes, for several days after a workout. This soreness prevents the athlete from working out again in the following days.

Through a careful process of nutrient timing, though, an athlete can reduce the breakdown of the muscles during a workout. When lifting weights, the body consumes massive amounts of carbohydrates. When the body uses its supply of carbohydrates it begins to burn a combination of fat and protein. Protein is the primary nutrient necessary for muscular development, so burning protein during and immediately after a workout is detrimental to muscle growth.

One of the crucial principles of nutrient timing, then, is that the athlete consumes large amounts of carbohydrates both immediately before, during and after a workout so that the body can minimize its consumption of protein. In order for the body to be able to take in this amount of carbohydrate quickly, an athlete usually drinks sports drinks or carb-heavy workout shakes before and during a workout. Then, within a few hours of working out, the athlete will eat a meal that is high in carbohydrates.

Nutrient timing also places a high importance on the consumption of protein. Meals that occur close to the workout are high in carbohydrates, so most other meals tend to be very high in protein. Protein is necessary for the body to be able to produce new muscle tissue, so it is important to consume large quantities of it. So, on days that the athlete does not work out, he or she usually will have a meal with a lot of carbohydrates early in the day, then focus on protein in the other meals.

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    • Sports drinks may help replenish body electrolytes after exercise.
      By: James Phelps JR
      Sports drinks may help replenish body electrolytes after exercise.