Ever wonder what’s the best time to eat carbs, protein, and fats? Should you have a protein shake before or after working out? What types of carbs are recommended after exercise? Meal timing and macronutrient ratios can be confusing. Many gym goers end up making costly mistakes, such as eating fats post workout or simple carbs at night. These things can ruin your gains and stop you from getting ripped. Without a proper nutrition plan, your muscle gains will be dead in the water.
Meal Timing for Maximum Muscle and Performance
With so many foods and supplements available, it’s hard to figure out what and when to eat based on your fitness goals. Most people have no idea when it’s the best time to drink protein shakes or eat simple sugars. There’s a lot of conflicting research about meal timing, so you should stick to the basics and adjust your diet along the way. To keep things simple, follow these rules:
What to Eat in the Morning
Breakfast (or the first meal of the day) should consist of:
- Protein and complex carbs (example: boiled eggs and brown rice, omelette with veggies, or lean meat and whole pasta/whole rice/veggies) – this option works best pre-workout.
- Protein and healthy fats (fatty fish or lean meat/eggs and avocado, coconut oil, olive oil), nuts, seeds)
- Protein only (protein shakes, lean meat, egg whites, or fish)
As a rule of thumb, you should never eat simple carbs and fats at the same meal. When you eat simple sugars, your insulin levels increase. This hormone signals the body to store fat. If your body doesn’t need the carbs for energy, they get stored as fat. Your best bet is to eat fats and protein or fats and veggies at the same meal. Green leafy vegetables are high in fiber, so they won’t cause weight gain.
What to Eat for Lunch
Lunch or the second meal of the day can consist of:
- Protein and complex carbs/green veggies (works great pre workout)
- Protein and healthy fats
If you want to build lean muscle and lose fat, stick to protein and leafy greens or healthy fats.
What to Eat for Dinner:
Dinner should consist of:
- Protein only
- Protein and complex carbs with a low glycemic index (green veggies)
Avoid simple carbs in the evening.
What to Eat Before Bedtime
At bedtime, have a casein shake, cottage cheese or other foods containing slow digesting protein. Many bodybuilders eat cottage cheese and peanut butter or coconut oil in the evening. Fats slow down protein absorption, so your muscles will receive a constant supply of protein during sleep. This will help them grow and recover faster.
- Slow digesting protein
- Protein and healthy fats
What to Eat between Meals
Your snacks can consist of protein, protein and complex carbs, or high-fat foods such as a handful of nuts or an avocado. What to eat between meals depends on your goals and daily macros as well as on when you work out.
What to Eat Before a Workout
Pre-workout nutrition plays a major role in muscle growth and overall performance. The right foods will boost your energy and stamina, accelerate fat loss, and improve mental focus. They can also reduce muscle loss and keep your body and in an anabolic state. Steer clear of high-sugar products, junk food, and fatty foods before exercise. Always for opt for:
- Protein and complex carbs or
- Protein only
- Pre-workout formulas, BCAAs, amino acids, etc.
The perfect pre-workout meal should include protein and complex carbs. Avoid simple sugars because they may cause insulin spikes followed by crashes. We published a detailed post on what to eat before a workout, so make sure you check it out.
What to Eat Post Workout for Muscle Growth and Repair
Old school bodybuilders prefer fast digesting protein and simple carbs (plus amino acids, BCAAs, creatine, etc.) post workout. So, you can have a whey protein shake with or without dextrose, a post workout shake, or even a full meal. Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body, making it perfect after exercise. The protein in food takes longer to digest.
- Protein (preferably hydrolyzed whey) or
- Protein and simple carbs
- Protein with or without simple carbs + BCAAs, amino acids, glutamine, creatine, etc.
Post workout nutrition depends on your goals. Some athletes and bodybuilders avoid carbs immediately after exercise. When working out, your HGH (human growth hormone) levels increase. Carbohydrates may inhibit HGH release and fat burning post exercise. Studies also indicate than the body doesn’t need more than 30 grams of carbs post workout anyway.
This means that you can skip carbs and stick to whey protein and amino acids (including glutamine and BCAAs) post workout. However, you can have a meal consisting of protein and complex carbs 1-2 hours after exercise.
It’s extremely important to avoid fats post workout. Dietary fats can slow the digestion and absorption of carbs and protein, affecting muscle recovery time. Do not exceed five grams of fat pre and post workout.
These rules should help you build muscle and keep your body fat levels to a minimum. Remember that diet accounts for 80% of your results. Not even the best workout routine can compensate for bad eating habits.