Nutrient Timing

If you are new to fitness you might be asking what the heck nutrient timing is, let alone how to do it. But if you’ve been around the gym a little while and seen someone frantically smash a banana in their face between swig of a protein shake before they even step out of the gym, you probably have some idea about nutrient timing.

Nutrient timing is simple in concept – all it is, is eating certain types and amounts of food in a scheduled way around you activities in order to maximize their effect on your goals. Actually, even that definition sounds complicated, I take it back. It’s complicated. But it boils down to “when should I eat for maximum effect?”.

Well you are going to have a heck of a hard time finding a simple answer to that questions, lots of people have different approaches including fasted cardio, carb only in the morning, stopping eating before 7pm etc. But there are a few approaches that most people can follow and improve their results dramatically. I’ll lay them out for you based on the goals you might have.

Goal: Get big muscles, fast!

– Eat many small meals a day to keep your body anabolic (storing calories).

– Eat the majority of your carb intake in the form of a moderate to slow acting carb 60 mins prior to working out (think fruit or a potato) – this should be 30-40% of your daily carb intake

– Eat a portion (10 – 20% of daily intake) of fast acting carb like a banana or even gatorade can work WITH a fast digesting protein like whey powder within 30 minutes post workout

Goal: Get Lean, keep muscle

– If you choose to, do 20-30 mins of steady state cardio before eating anything. Pre workout supplements and BCAAs can be taken prior to the cardio session to improve energy and recovery. This is a method that works well, but is not for everyone as it saps your energy pretty fast.

– Eat the majority of your carbs around your workout, but overall carb intake should be lower than maintenance levels.

– Eat a moderate acting carb 60 mins before your workout

– Eat a fast acting protein like whey within 30 mins post workout – carbs at this point are optional and can help recovery if you had a really tough workout, but if you are looking to lean out, leaving out the cars at this point is beneficial

Goal: Get really strong and/or fast

– Eat carbs… like all the time. But particularly eat carbs before a tough workout.

– Eat a large serving of carbs before bed the night before a hard workout

– Ensure that you are getting fast acting carbs before AND after a workout within 30 mins of each

– May be beneficial to supplement with carbs (sugar) during long workouts

– Eat a fast acting protein within 30 mins of a workout

The PWO meal

The PWO meal

You may have noticed the carbs are the main nutrient that is involved with nutrient timing, and protein is really only mentioned post workout. This is typical, but can be confusing. Many people get into the trouble because they take these guideline ON TOP of their existing diet. Well that’s NOT how this works. This is about timing only, you should be deciding you total calorie and macro intake separate from all this stuff and in line with your goals. After you have those number you should allocate the macros and calories to fit into the nutrient timing for the particular goal. For instance, I want to lean out slowly while maintaining muscle, first I should determine my calories and macros for that goal. Currently that is as follows:

Calories – 1800-2000

Protein – 130-150 grams

Carbs – 100 – 180 grams (varies depending on workout or rest day)

Fat – 50 – 100 grams

Now that I have those numbers, I take into consideration my nutrient timing. I don’t like fasted morning cardio, so I don’t worry about that. I usually workout after work so a typical day would looks like this:

Breakfast – Cals 300-400, P 20g, F-10g, C 25-40g

Snack – Cals 250, P 20g, F 5g, C 20g

Lunch – Cals 400-500, P 30g, F 5-15g, C10-40 g

Pre WO – (banana or other fruit) 100 cals, C 20-30g

Post WO – (protein shake) 150 cals, P 25g

Dinner – Cals 400-500, P 30-40g, F 10-20g, C 10-20g (mostly from veggies)

Of course there is lots of variability, but you can see I am within my calorie and macro targets as well as hitting my nutrient timing and that is the key. You should not be adding or subtracting anything in order to hit the timing goals, only moving things around within your existing framework. That’s where the magic happens! 🙂


Toronto Pro Supershow

Wow it’s been a long time since I posted. So quick update, I have been running more and lifting less with the warm weather and training for the Spartan race. I have also been eating some ice cream because it’s summer and I love ice cream. But I have maintained my weight and am still looking muscular, so I feel good about things right now.

This weekend was ribfest in Ajax, where I grew up and the Toronto Pro Supershow in Toronto. So essentially I went to ribfest and ate lots of bbq and then felt huge at the show… hah!

Let’s get to the pro show though. In a nutshell, it was awesome. Sunday, which was the only day I went, was the finals for the muscle mag, Reps, and Oxygen model searches. The people who won looked phenomenal! I was really pleased to see that the girls who won were rockin’ a full behind! Maybe it’s just because I’m part of that camp, but I always feel a little nervous about how large my legs and rear end are. So seeing both the bikini and fitness winners having booties that clearly are familiar with some squats was fabulous! Don’t get me wrong, these girls were lean as anything, but there was nothing flat about them.

Erica Willick and Brianna Mogg

Erica Willick and Brianna Mogg

I also met up with a bunch of girls I have met online, know through work or through shows. Many of the girls I met up with were through Sister’s in Shape. If you aren’t familiar with Sister’s in Shape go check it out either on their website here or facebook here (and yes that is me flexing on the cover pic in one of the Sister’s in Shape tanks). It is a phenomenal resource for any girls looking to get into competing. It’s run by a sister team (of course) and one of the sisters is Erica Willick who you may have seen in the pages of Oxygen magazine. She is also a personal idol of mine since we have a lot of commonalities. We went to the same business school (Richard Ivey School of Business), both became chartered accountants and are both huge promoters of fitness and healthy lifestyles while maintaining a career and family life. Essentially this woman rocks.

One of the other girls I met up with is a girl I work with, apparently the accounting world abounds with fitness competitors!  Her first ever competition is coming up and she was a little nervous today, but after seeing the show I think she realized that she is in a good position to compete and will do really well (if you are reading this, know that I think you will rock that stage!). I really want to point out for anyone who is on the fence about competing, you are probably in better shape than you think. The girls who win, no doubt are in unbelievable shape, and if you aren’t sure about your physique, then maybe you won’t be placing among these top girls, but maybe you will. But there are always girls with weak spots, or who needed a couple more weeks to lean out, or who aren’t as muscular as they thought. And this is not to say that those girls are not beautiful and in amazing shape. My point is that people usually only see pictures of the winners or the top 3-5. But that is not the whole line up and many of the girls are up there to get experience and improve for next time. So give it a go!

Lastly, I of course spend too much money on fitness goodies, though I held out and did not buy a 6 pack bag, which I secretly covet! I bought some Whey concentrate in Chocolate Banana and “Kick” from Revolution Nutrition, 2 different whey proteins from Progressive nutrition, a water alkalizer and PrOATein bars. I’ll let your guys know how they all taste and perform in the next couple of weeks. The one I’m most interested in is Kick. It’s a stimulant for pre workout (or whenever really) and I’ll be starting morning workouts again this week, so I have a feeling I’ll need a little kick…. pun intended 😉


Why I eat many small meals

There is a pretty standard aspect of a fitness competition diet that requires you to eat a small meal every 2-3 hours instead of going longer periods of time and eating larger meals. But do you know why?

A lot of people believe that eating small meals more frequently increases their metabolism and this is the main reason that eating many small meals is touted as effective for weight loss.


English: Myth Logo

English: Myth Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This myth has been disproved many times, but the reason it exists in the first place is because of research about the thermic effect of food… the WHAAAAA?! you say. The thermic effect of food is basically the fact that it takes a certain amount of energy in order to process the food we eat (which gives us energy). The fitness community took the information and assumed that if you are always eating a small amount of food, you are always having to digest and therefore you will always be burning calories. That’s a pretty solid argument. Unfortunately the thermic effect of food is only related to the quantity of the food you eat and the type of food, not how often you are eating.

On average about 15% of the calories that you get from food are required just to digest that food. Certain foods are much higher than that which is where the whole “negative” calorie foods come in. Meat is generally a bit harder to digest and has a thermic effect of around 30%, but is also calorie dense. Complex carbs take a lot of energy to be processed into glycogen that can be used for energy and are also thermic at around 10% -30% depending on the source. The EASIEST foods to digest and the lowest thermic effect is… guess…

Go on guess…

That’s right, sugar and fat. Simple carbs are very easily processed by your body into fuel, as is fat. Both these food sources have a thermic effect of a measly 3%.

No wonder high protein diets work right?

So if the whole eating frequently to boost metabolism thing is a myth… why do I do it?

There are some really great reasons to eat frequently and the main reasons are:

  1. I really like eating! I’m serious, I really like that I can look forward to another snack or meal in just a couple of hours. This is probably a psychological issue on my part, but hey, I like it and it works for me, so why not.
  2. It helps you get the right macros. Personally, I don’t really have a problem with this because I’m fine with eating a 12 oz steak in one go 😉 but I know a lot of people can’t eat that much meat at one time. Eating 4-6 oz portions, 5 times during the day will get you well above you 1g / pound of body weight goal for protein
  3. It helps regulate blood sugar. This has 2 sides… on the plus side it keeps your insulin level steady which helps spare muscle (yay!) and improves satiety. On the other hand, you almost always have insulin present which means you are “anabolic” (gaining mode) and this can be detrimental to fat loss. However, this side effect can be improved by reducing or excluding carbs from some of the meals. Many people do this by excluding carbs from their evening meals. This keeps insulin levels low and allows your body to access fat stores for fuel.
  4. It helps you put on lean muscle. This ties into point 3, by keeping insulin present the body is in an anabolic mode. If you are sitting on the coach that is going to mean fat, BUT if you are lifting heavy in the gym that means those calories are going to go straight into your muscles! This is also why simple carbs are recommended right after a workout if you are trying to gain muscle… they increase insulin levels and insulin helps shuttle the glycogen into the muscles and repair them.

Some downsides to eating frequently:

  1. It trains your body to be hungry. This is frequently touted as a positive because it means your metabolism is revving, but the real reason for this is the small spike in insulin and cortisol after every meal. If you are training hard you are probably pretty insulin sensitive (that’s a good thing) which means that a drop in blood sugar will make you feel hungry, and not surprisingly, you blood sugar tends to drop about 2-3 hours after a meal. That hunger is temporary because your blood sugar will naturally level off as your insulin levels decrease, but if you always respond to that hunger with food, you won’t realize that and the cycle will continue.
  2. It can inhibit fat loss. Fat is utilized very effectively during fasting periods like overnight, but throughout the day there is a stead supply of calories (if you are eating enough which I hope you are) so the body uses those calories instead of fat. This is also to do with the insulin that is constantly present when eating frequently.

So what am I trying to say here?

There are good reasons to eat small frequent meals, but the most common reason is not valid. You should analyze whether it’s really helping you achieve your goals. If you prefer eating fewer, larger meals you are not at a disadvantage for losing weight, though you may have a harder time gaining or retaining muscle. There are 3 things that are paramount to eating for fitness and body composition at the end of the day:

  • Calories are still king – you can’t eat 4000 calories a day and expect to lose weight (unless you are Jay Cutler and actually need that many calories), alternatively you can’t eat 1200 calories a day and expect to not crash your metabolism. You need to find a happy medium where your metabolism is happy, you can actually operate with good energy levels and still maintain the body composition you want, I’m trying to work my way to about 2000 cals per day.
  • Nutrient timing is key – even if you choose to only eat 3 meals a day, you need to make sure that your pre and post workout nutrition is solid and supporting your goals. Get your carbs in around your workout and make sure you are eating protein that is easily absorbed right after a workout (whey powder is great).
  • Macros count – Regardless of whether you are eating 1 meal or 9 meals, your protein, fat and carb intake should still match your goals, so if you don’t think you can manage eating a large amount of a particular macro at one point… split it up and eat smaller more frequent meals 😉

All or nothing?

Yesterday in the gym I met a lovely lady who was doing what looked like a very fun, but very hard workout with a trainer. We were stretching near each other (always stretch after workouts please) and we got to chatting a bit. She mentioned that when it comes to dieting and exercise she has an “all or nothing” attitude. Now that sounds familiar!

I don’t know about you but I have definitely applied that attitude in the past, and as recently as a few weeks ago when I tried the sugar detox. While that style of diet can work for a short time, for a specified goal… health is so much more than that. Health is a lifestyle, and all or nothing does not work for life.

Let me walk you through what happens to me, and from what I’ve heard, happens to most people too.

Step 1: You decide you need to change and you set a goal. “I need to lose 10 pounds” for example.

Step 2: You set a timeline. “I will start next week” or maybe if you are ambitious “I will start tomorrow”

Step 3: You start to plan… this entails setting rules, limitations, regimes, measurements, and the dreaded restrictions!

Step 4: you freak the hell out because you can no longer have foods that you rarely eat anyways and your days will be occupied with cardio and weights so you eat a bag of popcorn, a mug of hot chocolate, and a bowl or 3 of ice cream and sit on the couch until 4am watching the entire third season of big bang theory because you can’t sleep from all the sugar.

Step 5: You may or may not start you diet and be successful but you have introduced a bunch of sugar right beforehand that you will now crave and will make the diet all the harder.

Sound familiar?

Well I’ve tried that approach, I’m not a fan. You know what I am a fan of? Things that work long-term. And yes I fall off the wagon, but it’s about a lifetime of fitness.

So what works for me?

Well I find the exercise part of fitness pretty easy. I like exercise, it makes me feel happy and accomplished. So I start there. I start with what I find easiest and most enjoyable. I get that on track and some things come with it.

The PWO meal

The PWO meal

Once I start exercising I like to get my nutrition timing in check. I hate feeling like I’m not getting the most out of a gruelling workout so I make sure that (depending on my goal) I have a simple carb (like fruit) and a protein shake with extra glutamine right after a workout. I might even include some BCAAs during the workout.

Then I might do some more cardio to go with my workouts because it helps me warm up the muscles and get a better stretch.

And if I’m putting in the effort to do cardio there is NO WAY I am going to waste that effort by eating a bunch of ice cream right after.

Omelette of 1 egg, 1/2 c. egg whites, 1 slice proscuitto, 1 oz. goat cheese, wilted spinach and fresh tomatoes

Omelette of 1 egg, 1/2 c. egg whites, 1 slice prosciutto, 1 oz. goat cheese, wilted spinach and fresh tomatoes

Slowly but surely the pieces fall into place and I have it together. My healthy lifestyle is back on track. My mornings get filled with beautiful omelettes, my sugar intake gets slashed and my protein intake goes way up.

Hello health… I missed you.Do you guys have this problem? What are your strategies for tackling the all of nothing approach?

Karma and getting sick

I have previously written a post about working out while you are sick and my stance is basically that if you are really sick then you should rest, if you are just using it as an excuse, then go to the gym! But I am 11 days away from my first ever competition and I am feeling oh so terrible. I don’t know if I’m actually sick or if my body has just had enough of the crazy workout regime and not enough food. I think it might be a bit of both: i.e. I am getting sick because my body does not have enough resources to fight off the infections I am exposed to… the joys of working in an office.

Mostly what I am feeling is extreme fatigue and nausea, particularly during cardio which is not fun. I would normally take nausea as a sign that I am too sick to work out. Things like sore throat, sinus issues and head colds don’t stop me, but stomach or lung issues I usually rest.

Yesterday I managed to do 1 hour on the stair mill feeling nauseous the whole time and planning to eat a good meal after and hope that helped. It did… a little. But I still wasn’t feeling great. I planned to workout after work as well (legs and some more cardio) but at 5 I decided that my body could use the rest more than the workout. I went home. On the bus about 100 feet from my door I had the sinking realization that I had forgotten my keys in the gym when I went in the tanning bed! Karma you sneaky devil! If I had gone to the gym after work I would have needed my keys to get into the gym, but nooooo I skipped it, so now I was stuck. I ended up having to scale the garage at the back of my building and crawl in through a window that had an AC unit in it (which has since been removed and the window is locked if anyone has thievery on their mind). But seriously, the universe has a way of telling you what it wants you to do, I swear, I have even talked about that before here. So I am taking the hint universe! No slacking!

This morning I woke up bright (it was actually dark) and early to work out with the uber-intense Max Shona who is training me a couple times leading up to the show at the Yonge & Eglinton Goodlife. He likes working with “athletes” because he can push them a lot harder, and oh boy does he push.

This morning he had me do 8 rounds of this workout:

Full body plyo workout

20 kettlebell swings with a 16 kg kettlebell

15 full burpees (i.e. actually jumping of the floor, not just standing up)

15 “knee-to-chin” crunches (balance on your butt and bring your upper body and knees up at the same time then extend.

That is a total of 160 kettlebell swings, 120 burpees and 120 knee/chins.

After every round I would just stop after the last extension and lay there panting until I could get up, take a few swigs on water and set up for the next round. I only broke 3 times during the burpees (broke the set into 10 then 5) and the rest of the sets were all straight, with some breathing time between the kb swings and the burpees.

As far as nutrition goes, I have been noticing my body is craving carbs…. like, a lot. So I have upped my carb intake to between 80-120 grams every day and feel much better. I try to time most of my carbs around workouts to use them most efficiently and to supply the much needed fuel to my muscles when I am asking so much of them.

In general, for muscular gains and well being you should consume some carbs before and after a workout and the type of carb (simple or complex) depends on the type of exercise… steady and long – opt for complex carbs like sweet potato; short and intense – opt for simple carbs (not straight sugar, think fruit). The ratio I like to follow is how ever many carbs you will need for your workout (30 grams is usually more than enough for the average woman and 40-50 grams for men) consume 2/3rds of the carbs before the workout to give your body energy (so 20 grams for women and 30 grams for men) and the rest after the workout to aid recovery.

Fat loss (note that I don’t say weight loss because that is NEVER the goal) is a little different and I usually stick to carbs and protein before only if I am really going to go hard and nothing if it’s a slower workout and straight protein with potentially some healthy fat after the workout. This morning I knew I would need the carbs so I whipped up a wicked protein shake that did the trick.



  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • ½ c. Frozen raspberries
  • 1 c. Pure coconut water (like coco samba)

Directions: Blend and drink while running around getting ready for the gym!

Nutritional Info:  Cals – 215    Carbs – 20 g   Fats – 3 g   Protein – 27 g (my protein powder is higher protein than most, so adjust if yours is different)

Then after the workout I had 1 oz of almonds and some more protein to refuel. This afternoon’s workout (yes today is a 2-a-day) I will have an apple before followed my protein sludge when I get home or just straight to dinner if I make it quick.

FYI there has been a baked goods cart coming desk to desk in my office for the last 2 days, it is pure torture. Stop the madness! I had few nibbles of a cookie and it tasted divine, I cannot wait to indulge a bit after the competition, but no gluten (or very little) because stomach aches are not fun!