The Best Time of The Day To Eat Protein, Carbs, and Fat

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / The Best Time of The Day To Eat Protein, Carbs, and Fat

Does it matter what time of the day you eat carbs, protein and fat for muscle gain and weight loss? Is nighttime eating bad for you? This posts gives the answers to your nutrient timing questions.

Have you ever noticed that breakfast foods are really carb heavy (cereal or toast anyone?) and dinner foods have more protein?

Although many Americans are programmed to eat particular macros at certain times, it might not be right for everyone. Should the time of the day influence when you eat carbs, protein and fat? The answer may not be as simple as the numbers on the clock.

The time of exercise matters for nutrient timing

As with most things in the nutrition world, the timing of nutrients depends on the person. For instance, a marathon runner who works out first thing in the morning will likely need more carbs in the morning than a person who has a desk job and focuses on strength training after work.

what time of day should an athlete eat?

In other words, what you eat depends on when you eat.

It’s the position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) that timed ingestion of carbohydrate, protein, and fat may significantly affect how the body responds to exercise. In other words, timing nutrients properly can lead to significant training gains. But the question remains—when should you be eating protein, carbs and fat in relation to your workout?

When is the best time to eat carbs?

In general, athletes perform best with some carbohydrates in their system. The ISSN agrees and notes that a mixture of pre-workout carbohydrates and protein can increase muscle growth. They recommend eating a meal with 1-2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram and 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per kilogram three to four hours before a workout.

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For a 140-pound woman, that’s about 70-90 grams of carbs and 10-15 grams of protein prior to a workout. That could equate to a bowl of oatmeal with fruit & nut butter.

when should athletes eat carbs?

It’s good to know these recommendations, but many of us don’t want to break out our calculators at every meal. A good rule of thumb is to eat a well-balanced meal 2-3 hours before a workout, such as an egg sandwich on whole wheat bread with a side of fruit.

Or opt for carbs with a dash of protein one hour before a workout, such as fruit with yogurt or nut butter.

When should you eat protein?

The post-workout recovery meal differs based on the type of workout. Recovery after an intense endurance workout, like long distance running, swimming or cycling, requires primarily carbs with smaller portions of protein. That’s because the body uses up glycogen (stored carbs) during endurance workouts and needs to replace those carbs to help with muscle synthesis.

[Learn more about recovery needs and get examples of recovery foods here.]

Those who focus on strength training should eat more protein after a workout to help with muscle gains. Strength training doesn’t require as much glycogen, which is why protein is the primary nutrient needed after a resistance workout.

when should you eat protein for muscle gain?

The ISSN suggests ingesting essential amino acids within 3 hours of exercise to increase muscle synthesis, and adding carbs to protein may increase this response. Research has also found that including 0.1 grams of creatine per kilogram of body weight to a carb and protein recovery meal may further stimulate muscle growth.

The biggest misconception about eating after a workout is that you need to load up on protein, which isn’t necessarily the case. Your body can only absorb about 30 grams of protein after a workout, so there’s no need to overdo it.

For an everyday workout, small snacks, like crunchy chickpeas or cinnamon roasted almonds, will suffice. Or for a tougher workout, try this smoothie formula or turmeric egg sandwich.

The best times to eat for weight loss

Many many (many) studies find that eating protein at breakfast promotes weight loss. For example, this study suggests that eating 30 or 39 grams of protein at breakfast can help with appetite control throughout the day.

Participants in the study actually felt less hungry throughout the morning and ate less calories at lunch, therefore inducing weight loss. So, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds, opt for a protein-rich breakfast. Here are some of my favorite protein-filled breakfast recipes:

Should you eat before bed?

Let me set the record straight—the thought that eating after 8pm will make you fat is a MYTH. The research on nighttime eating is very limited, but the few studies on this topic demonstrate that this is not true.

One study actually found that consuming a caloric beverage prior to sleep, regardless of type, increased resting energy expenditure—aka the amount of calories your body naturally burns—the next morning.

Another review suggests that when training or competition occurs late in the evening or early in the morning, pre-sleep nutrition can help maximize athletic performance.

should you eat before bed?

That said, eating a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips before bed will likely cause weight gain. Your body is in a restful state while sleeping, meaning that it’s not active and stores calories as fat. But if you’re hungry before bed and want to eat a small snack, like a handful of nuts, some yogurt or a cheese stick, that will likely soothe your rumbling tummy and help you sleep better.

When is the best time to eat?

Above all else, the quality of your macros matters much more than the timing. This may sound like common sense, but if your carbs consist of donuts and your protein is bacon, it doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat—you won’t be able to achieve your athletic goals.

Opt for lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and fruits and vegetables to see the biggest gains, no matter when you eat.


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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