At its foundation, nutrient timing is the idea that certain macro nutrients are better utilized by the body at certain times (specifically in relation to exercise.) That means if we want to optimize our body comp and performance (and who doesn’t?), what we consume around our workout is important. But we have to be careful. Like all matters of the metabolism, we have to get the big picture right before we focus on the details. For rockstar health, nutrient timing absolutely matters, but we can think of it as the final expression of a kick-ass nutrition plan, the last leg of our food journey, the end game of our meal methodology, the coup de grâce of our- okay that’s enough. So if nutrient timing is at the tip of the pyramid, what’s at the base?  

When it comes to nutrition, our first and most primary concern should be what we’re eating. In other words, initially, we should focus more on the nutrients and less on the timing.  

Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables. 
– Michael Pollan

Image-1Vegetables are basically the raddest things we can consume. These natural, from-the-earth superfoods are nutrient dense and calorie poor, which means we give our body a lot of love without the love handles. For gagillions of years, humans have evolved to run off of these lil’ vitamin and mineral power packets. So eat them. Better yet – enjoy them. GEEK OUT about them. Make some carrot fries, roast some brussels sprouts, grill some zucchini, sauté some squash. Get to know how powerful and effective herbs and spices can be. Have you ever tried cumin and cauliflower, basil and tomato, thyme and carrots, rosemary and pretty much anything?

Now obviously vegetables aren’t the only thing we need to consume, BUT simply adding two fists of vegetables every time you eat will go a long way towards improving your relationship with food. 

Step 2) How Much Should I Eat?

If food quality is our first concern (what we eat), food quantity is our next mission. The beauty of quality food choices is that our food quantity starts to work itself out. The body has a remarkable ability to balance its energy influx (and hormones) when you feed it natural, minimally processed food (it’s the heavily processed stuff that throws us outta whack.) That said, it’s nice to have a gauge of how much we’re consuming so we can make adjustments based on progress. 

How should we measure how much we’re eating?   

Understanding calories is cool. Counting them on reg is not. It reduces food to a math equation and is a very inexact science (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.) Plus, most awesome foods don’t come with nutrition labels so we’re left guestimating. Instead of the calorie hustle, I prefer to use my hand as a gauge. It’s simple, it’s accurate, and I’ve never left home without it (was that a dad joke? Damnit, I’m pretty sure that qualifies as a dad joke.)

palmIf you’re interested in losing weight, a good starting point for women is 1 palm* of protein, 2 fists of vegetables, and 2 thumbs of fat at every meal. *A palm is the width and thickness of your actual palm (not your entire hand.)

If you’re interested in losing weight, a good starting point for men is 1.5-2 palms of protein, 2 fists of vegetables, and 3 thumbs of fat at every meal. 

These are starting points. Once you’ve established a baseline, you can make adjustments from there. For example, if you’re a dude and you start with 2, 2, & 3, and you’d like to increase your rate of weight loss, go to 2, 2, & 2 (thumbs of fat) per meal. Give it two weeks and you’ll start to notice to scales tipping in your favor. Boom. Progress.     

Step 3) How Often Should I Eat? 

Meal frequency is a tricky topic. It was not that long about that the blanket suggestion from all nutritionist used to be, “Eat 6 small servings per day to stoke the fire and keep your metabolism primed.” Then intermitted fasting came along and turned that suggestion on its head:

“Don’t eat for 12 hours.”
“Don’t eat for 16 hours.”
“Don’t eat for 24 hours.”

Here’s the reality: intermittent fasting works very well for some people and very poorly for others. Eating 6 small meals per day works very well for some people and very poorly for others. Most people fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes (because that’s how statistics work.) With the principles of bio-individuality at play, different meal frequencies work very well for some people and very poorly for others. That means a strong dose of self-experimentation is required.

Don’t confuse nutrient timing with meal frequency. Meal frequency is when we eat meals. Nutrient timing is when we eat macro nutrients in relation to exercise. There’s obviously some overlap, but they’re different nutrition concepts.

MIX IT UP…IT’S FUN!

If you’re new to healthy eating or you’ve had a troubled relationship with food in the past, stick with balanced and consistent meal frequency (every 3-4 hours.) You can make some incredible progress AND it’ll give you someplace to go down the road. If you’ve got a whacky schedule or you’re looking for some more aggressive weight loss options, get a little more extreme with your meal frequency. Low level fasting protocols are a great place to start. Try making your first meal an early lunch – so you’re not eating anything until noon (for example.) You effectively close the window in which you consume food, ergo you consume less food. Plus, your hunger hormones can be trained (like anything else.) The more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

Only after we get the big stuff right can we begin to focus on the fun, awesome, science-y details of nutrition, like nutrient timing. So first focus on quality food choices, then focus on portions, then figure out a meal frequency plan that works well for you. With that in the bag, your nutrition is in an excellent place. Then, and only then, can you start to experiment with the timing of specific macronutrients. 

Step 4) Nutrient Timing

The goal is to move the bulk of your carbs to your post workout window. Yes, that means no carbs before your workout. Start by adding a handful of carbs (woman) or 2 handfuls of carbs (men) to your first meal post workout. Fruit, rice, or potatoes are all excellent options. The goal is to replenish hungry muscles when your body is most receptive to an influx of fuel. Your first post workout meal is a nice starting point, then again, make adjustments from there. This stuff is fun because it’s an ongoing experiment in badassery. Adjust your eating plan and see how your body adapts.  

Moral of the story: don’t put the carb before the horse (knee slap.) Get the big stuff right then start to pay attention to the details. Don’t get OCD about food because that shit ain’t healthy. That’s the nuts and blots of nutrient timing. Go get ‘em slugger.

Question/comment with the hashtag #BandanaArmy for a chance to win a free copy of Shred Kitchen – which covers all of this (and more!) in much greater detail.

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  • onlytemporary

    This is really helpful — nutrition is something I def don’t focus on enough and this helps break it down. Thanks. #BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff. Thanks for reading and let me know if I can be of any help.

  • Olly

    #bandanaarmy. Interesting article not read one quite like this before. The carbs after workout reinforced other thoughts I’d heard about so great way to switch things up.

    Tried the odd bit of intermittent fasting/coffee and butter as a breakfast and not only does it make you appreciate good food, it inspires you to cook more.

    As far as spices go Cumin is a rockstar spice with loads of hidden benefits… Great with chilli’s or meatballs too!

    • BandanaTraining

      Heck yea. Awesome suggestion.

  • David Atwell

    I loved bio individual, is that trademarked by #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      No, but I’ll look into it. =) #BandanaArmy

  • Hugh Liftsalot

    #BanadaArmy… I just want free shred kitchen…pretty please…

    • BandanaTraining

      I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.

  • Gregory Louis

    But what if you workout out in the morning? Push the fasting back?

    And obvi #BANDANAARMY

    • BandanaTraining

      Not a fan of fasting immediately after your workout so if you have to workout in the morning, fasting probably isn’t your ideal meal strategy. #BandanaArmy

  • Jesse Rogers

    Rob, what about small amount of carbs prior to an intense weight training workout? I know that you should be getting a healthy chunk o carbs and moderate protein immediately following the said intense weight training but with no energy to burn, would you be stripping muscle glycogen from your muscles?
    -JESSE
    #BANDANAARMY

    • BandanaTraining

      Yo Jesse. There’s no one right answer. It really depends on your overall nutrition, your goals, the type of training, and meal timing (how soon before the workout?) I’m certainly not anti-carb, but this idea that we have to “carb up” immediately before a workout is short sighted and for most people (who are trying to lose weight), it’s simply unnecessary. Does that make sense? #BandanaArmy

  • Tiara

    Thank you for the article ! I usually don’t measure vegetables and probably eat more than 2 fists of em (especially Brussels sprouts !) . Will this hinder fat loss? #BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      No. I almost never would recommend limiting vegetable intake. Think of it more as a min than a max. Keep up the good work. #BandanaArmy

  • Sonny Miller

    Thank you Rob for all the awesome advice, I am excited to try everything i have read in trying to get myself in top shape for the first time in my life.
    #bandanaarmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Awesome to hear Sonny. Lemme know if I can be of any help. #BandanaArmy

  • Helena

    With a new focus on nutrition and body composition, I found this article really helpful. Thanks, Rob! #BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Heck yea. Thanks for checking it out, Helena. #BandanaArmy

  • Jessica

    Great post! I’m not a big eater in the morning and I was always told I had to eat a breakfast within an hour of getting up. It’s awesome to know I can actually work my lack of desire to eat in the morning to my advantage! Thank you!! #BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Bandana Training – where weakness becomes strength. =) Thanks for reading Jessica. #BandanaArmy

  • Christopher Kerr

    Great post.

    My best physical results (and I mean energy, vitality and ability to pull off the Batman costume) came after eating carbs post rather than pre-workout. I have type 1 diabetes and the advice is top carb load before training. I actually found that my bloodsugars were stabilised as a result of eating carbs post rather than pre workout. Warning: I am NOT a doctor! #BANDANAARMY

    • BandanaTraining

      The science supports your results – replenish glycogen when our bodies are best able to utilize it. Awesome to hear about your self-experimentation though, that’s the name of the game. Keep crushing. #BandanaArmy

  • Ellen Mathewson

    Thanks #bandanaarmy!!!
    You’re my favorite superhero guru!!

    • BandanaTraining

      You’re sweet. Thanks Ellen. Stay awesome. #BandanaArmy

  • Jamie

    #bandanaarmy, great post full of information, as usual. I am interested in intermittent fasting and carb cycling, I think you’re right, the best bet is to experiment to find what works.

    • BandanaTraining

      Amen. Keep crushing Jamie. #BandanaArmy

  • Alejandro Minero

    #bandanaarmy Just an excelent piece of information, perfect timing as I’m getting back into fitness after an injury. Keep up the amazing work and may the fitness be with you!

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff Alejandro. Injuries are a real buzz kill, but ain’t nothing better than getting back to the grind afterwards. All the best. #BandanaArmy

  • Mac Thomas

    This is the blueprint for living awesome I was looking forward to after my online coaching with you, Rob. Dreams do come true!
    P.S. I hope a launch bonus will be your Ode to Organic Brussels Sprouts, complete with sheet music 🙂
    #BandanaArmy

    • BandanaTraining

      Wow. That’s love.

      Glad you’re excited Mac. I’m pretty proud of this one. A lot of the information in Shred Kitchen was created organically from years of working with awesome peeps like you and the thousands of emails back and forth chatting about this stuff. Which is to say, thank you, my man!! =) #BandanaArmy

  • Brad

    Hey Rob,

    I bought shred kitchen, and it’s great! But I have one question: if I am someone who is looking to decrease body fat and increase lean mass simultaneously, exactly how many meals should I be eating a day? While I understand it’s not impossible to do both at the same time, I also don’t have a trainer to accomplish the planning of that. Could you help a broski out?

    Thank you!

    • BandanaTraining

      Yo Brad. Glad you enjoy. Have you read chapter 3 yet? It discusses this exact question and gives you a few different options based around your schedule.

  • Gina Radewan

    Love love love reading stuff like this. I follow the 21 day fix nutrition plan because it’s easy and visual but am ALWAYS looking to be an even BETTER version of myself (aka less cottage-cheesy thighs) and I know nutrition is where’s it’s at. Can’t wait to read this!

    • BandanaTraining

      Good stuff Gina. Sounds like you geek out about nutrition as much as I do. LOVE that. Keep crushing and let me know if I can be of any help.

      • Gina Radewan

        You totally could! I’m looking to lean out a little more but seem to have hit a plateau. I’m 29 y/o, 5’5″, weigh 142 and have 22% BF. I carry most of my weight in my hips and thighs. I eat clean for the most part and exercise daily for 30 mins at home with beachbody DVDs. 2 days of cardio, 3 of weight training and 2 active recovery days (yoga/Pilates). I have a goal of 125-130# and a BF% of 18%. I would LOVE To hear any suggestions you might have for me!

        • BandanaTraining

          Sounds like your exercise routine is pretty solid. Then again, sounds like your body is pretty solid too. First step, I’d recommend doing a food journal for a few days to see if there’s some opportunity to clean up your nutrition (the most common remark I get about food when I start working with clients is “I eat clean…for the most part.”) After a few weeks on that train, you can look towards tweaking your exercise routine (perhaps just extending your workouts a little longer to start?) Between the two, you should notice a gradual change in your body comp. Then, that’s the game…nutrition, training, nutrition, training…until you get to where you want to be. Remember, it’s calculated improvement that ultimately produce ridiculous results. Does that make sense??

          • Gina Radewan

            TOTAL sense. I’m going to get Shred Kitchen, keep a journal and a workout journal too. See overall where I can improve. Maybe do doubles 2x a week. Thanks Rob! Can I keep in touch and send you my journals for some eval?

          • BandanaTraining

            Of course. Would love that. rob at bandanatraining dot com. Keep crushing it Gina!

  • Previous to discovering your blog, I understood that breakfast (which I eat before working out) should be the most carb-heavy meal because if we don’t have some glucose in our system our bodies will cannibalize muscle tissue during the workout (fat cannot be turned into glucose but muscle tissue can). Is this wrong? I don’t mean to seem argumentative at all, I just really want to understand the science of metabolism. Thanks! 🙂

    • BandanaTraining

      Great question. This is exactly the myth I’m trying to debunk (and I get it…metabolic science can get confusing, especially with all the mis-information out there.) A few things to consider: 1) both fat AND protein can be turned into glucose through a process called glyconeogensis. 2) When we don’t have a lot of glucose in our system, our bodies can also run off of ketones, which are AWESOME and have a protein-sparing effect. Does that clarify?

  • Kathy Babers

    This helps me a lot and I really like the idea of not eating until noon. Even though we get up really early, I’m usually not hungry when I wake up anyway. The portion size using the hand is so helpful. I’m just looking into this plan and am excited to get back in the grind. #BandanaArmy.

  • Britny A

    I am a vegan and would love to try your diet strategy, but find that it’s hard not to consume carbs during almost every meal lol. It’s possible to avoid carbs, but is it possible while still getting all necessary nutrients? Do you have any advice or meal plans that help people who are on a plant based diet?

    Thanks !! You rock!

  • GeeJay Ohh

    Hi Rob, loving this article!!! Thanks for making it easier to understand!!! I first heard about intermittent fasting from your fitness peer, Von Blanco,and ever since, I’ve been loving it! Totally works with my schedule because I work graveyard shift. What I usually will do is have my first meal when I wake up, around 1pm or so, then have my post workout. Each meal is about 1000cals each, which adds up to 2k cals per day. I’m also following the anabolic fasting regimen, which totally satiates my appetite. Also, I’m surprised I actually have more energy now than I did in the past. Too early to tell if it’s making a difference but so far I’m all in! In the past I couldn’t follow any regimen long-term because it was too extreme (i.e. I had to cut my cals waaay down as much as 1250cal/day and I am 5’8″, 200lbs and 37yo). True that what I’m doing is also a bit extreme but this time my appetite is suppressed which def helps. What are your thoughts on AF? Keep up your stupendous work and thank you for your help! #BandanaArmy

  • Shaun

    Any help with for a soon to be 48 yr old woman that got slammed with 50lbs in 4 months due to a broken thyroid? I have never been this heavy and am exercising my ass off, meal prepping, eating healthy, no sugars or real carbs (only carbs from fruits and vegetables) and have only lost 1 lb in 2 weeks.

    With a thyroid issue it’s no longer as easy as healthy eating and exercise. Not that it was easy, I just mean to say nothing is working.

    • BandanaTraining

      I feel ya Shaun. Thyroid dysfunction can be extremely frustrating and is a good example of how powerful our hormones can be. Have you consulted an endocrinologist or naturopath?

  • Dan Stoa

    http://compostedbeginnings.com/2018/10/07/nutrient-timing-sifting-through-the-snake-oil-to-find-science/

    I find knowing I can fulfill a craving for simple carbs at the right time an essential mindset as opposed to a starvation mindset.