Why Nutrient Timing Matters for Body Composition

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By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

An overwhelming amount of nutrition information available can make it seem like it’s impossible to choose what foods are best to eat. While someone tells you to cut out carbohydrates, you’ve just read an article saying that carbs are essential. Professor Ormsbee suggests a different approach—nutrient timing.

Woman meal preping healthy food
Nutrient timing factors into planning your food intake throughout the day, deciding when and how many times you eat. Photo By Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Nutrition Advice Overwhelm

Before delving into nutrient timing, we need to understand why it’s important. In the field of performance nutrition, new science comes out daily, which is a good thing because it shows that the subject is progressive and dynamic. The constant new information can also be overwhelming because what you thought was best for you yesterday is probably contradicted today. Too often, media outlets leave out many of the details that are absolutely critical for understanding the outcomes of the research studies. 

“For example, I just read a research article where the average caloric intake of the participants in the study was right around 6,000 calories per day, and they all lost weight,” Professor Ormsbee said. “So what if the magazine headline read, ‘Eat 6,000 calories per day and lose weight!’ Sounds pretty good, right?”

As it turns out, the study was done on cyclists during just one day of the Tour de France where they expended that many calories or more. This shows that the details of the research matter. 

What Is Nutrient Timing?

To improve body composition, you should pay attention to when and how many times you should eat throughout the day, especially before and after exercise. Without even considering what you should be eating, the concept of nutrient timing—or quite simply when you should be eating—can seem pretty complex, but let’s start with the basics.

If someone asked you if you should drink water during a long, hot jog in the heat or wait to drink water until after your jog, you’d probably already know that nutrient timing is important. In this case, the timing of drinking your water would be most helpful. 

In fact, nutrient timing can be applied to many aspects of eating and drinking to achieve optimal body composition. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams (g) per kilogram (kg) of body weight to stave off disease. 

For the sake of making this easy, let’s round that 0.8 g per kg to 1.0 g per kg. Imagine you have a 75 kg man—or roughly 165 pound (lb)—and he consumes all of the recommended 75 g of protein on a daily basis. Now, what if he consumed all 75 g of that protein during his 6:00 AM breakfast? 

This scenario does not sound as ideal. The point is that we all intuitively know that when you eat—your nutrient timing—is an important factor.

One thing to keep in mind is that although common recommendations exist, nutrition itself is very individualized. What works for one person may not work for another person, and a person’s goals—like weight loss, an endurance race, or a bodybuilding competition—will alter optimal nutrient intake.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.
Dr. Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

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