Nutrition Timing and Anxiety
For about two months as I was training for the trans bodybuilding competition, I tracked my macros very accurately, very consistently. In most cases I would plan them out so that I wouldn’t have any big surprises at the end of the day. I would input my big meals first. I’d already prepped my meals so I knew what was coming. I would put a protein shake in there, make sure my breakfast was logged accurately. And whatever else was left in there, then id do a quick scan of what I might want to eat. Maybe there’s a treat that I could fit into my macros, maybe I’m craving peanut butter, maybe I haven’t eaten fruit in awhile and our fig tree is producing, maybe we’d just bought something interesting at the grocery store. Whatever that was, I would fit that in. And then I knew that I would end up with a certain amount of calories at the end of the day. And I couldn’t get to any point at the end of the day where I wanted to eat something but realized it wouldn’t fit into my plan.
Now if you want to know the science behind nutrition timing, I would suggest you check out Jeff Nipard’s youtube channel, specifically the video he did on the post-workout anabolic window myth. This article is going to be more focused on the intuitive nature of meal timing, or listening to your body in terms of what it needs based on the activities you are asking it to perform.
So my “always plan-ahead” method was great and it worked really well. I met my goal of preparing for the bodybuilding show. But I did have a lot of anxiety or fear around the possibility of being hungry. I feel like I had to intake so many carbs and so many electrolytes (which usually have sugars built-in) to get through my intense workouts, and then I’ve got to eat enough protein right after workouts to recover properly. And I was constantly thinking “Oh my gosh, I’m just not going to have enough calories left by the end of the day”” Or “Oh no, I’m going to be hungry in between my last two meals of the day!” And for that period of time it really was an anxiety-ridden thing, but I just went with it and stuck to the plan and told myself “its going to be what its going to be” because these are the calories that are on my plan that are going to get me towards my goals.
Then during my trip to Atlanta for my bodybuilding show, I ate according to more-or-less the same rubric, but I didn’t track my macros very closely, actually I didn’t track them at all for four days. And then when I came back to town, I didn’t track but only held a loose idea of my macros in my mind. But I didn’t track. And I actually found that I wasn’t very hungry after 3 or 4pm. After I’d eaten my first and second of my three daily prepared meals (not including breakfast), I was pretty content for the rest of the afternoon. I didn’t need a lot of snacking. Sometime it would even be to the point that come 7pm, when it’s time for that last meal, I was a bit ambivalent about eating it. I mean, I did eat it, because it was in the plan! But I wasn’t that hungry at 7pm. If I had to skip a meal, I would feel fine skipping that one.
It didn’t dawn on me until after the competition, when a lot of the stress was off, I didn’t feel the need to track everything so carefully, it really did dawn on me that I wasn’t using my body physically so much in the later parts of the day. I would burn some energy treating patients, sure, my job is moderately physical, but compared to my morning workouts, I wasn’t burning nearly as much energy, and I realized that maybe it’s ok that I front load my day with my proteins and my carbs and my calories. I mean, if that’s what I need to get through my workouts and to recover from them, then why the heck not?!
So what I’m trying this month is I’m still going to plan my day out so that I meet my required calories, I’m still trying to eat at a slight deficit to get leaner, but I’m not going to worry about whether Ive eaten 70% of my calories before 2pm or not, because it probably doesn’t matter in the long run. As I understand Nippard’s summary of the post-workout anabolic window nutrition timing, the research shows that there is some benefit in intaking protein within a thirty (or so) minute window, but not a huge benefit. And he stated that carb intake during that window was irrelevant to muscle building assuming a person had an adequate overall protein intake. Specifically, the anabolic window doesn’t open/shut as fast as a light switch flicking on/off, but there there is some benefit to intaking protein sooner rather than later. He didn’t list exact percentages of performance or recovery benefit associated with intaking protein ASAP versus a few hours later. But I honestly think I would get a 10% improvement if I could just shake the stress and the anxiety that comes with worrying about whether I had eaten a certain amount of calories by a certain hour. To feel good, to feel relaxed, to feel energized, and well fed, well fueled, well nourished. Thats where its at for me right now!
If you are looking for help setting up your own nutrition plan, please feel free to contact me. I offer customized nutrition planning to help you eat towards your goals!