Masters Core Fitness
The Dose Makes the Poison

Nutrient Timing for Everyone

The Dose Makes the Poison

Posted on December 22, 2014 at 06:00 AM

My new obsession is maintaining an optimal energy balance throughout the day.

For the past week, I’ve been keeping a food and activity diary by the hour in a new app I’ve discovered, which I’ll cover later. If you think keeping such a diary is tedious, it’s not all that bad, but it’s important to be mindful of entering the data for an accurate picture of your energy balance profile. There is some preprogrammed information, however.

The point of all this is to maintain a within-day energy balance that neither creates a surplus of foods eaten or severe deficit. This type of eating is known as nutrient timing, an evolving field in sports nutrition. You may have read that eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day is better than consuming three big ones, with the biggest landing at the end of the day. Many studies on eating frequency have come to the same conclusion: More frequent eating lowers body fat and increases lean muscle mass.

If you eat a lot more than your body can, er, stomach, that excess food will be stored as fat, whether you’ve eaten any of the primary macronutrients — protein, carbohydrates or fat. I’m leaving off alcohol because it isn’t a macronutrient, meaning it isn’t essential to our survival (unless you have children; just kidding, kinda).

The flip side: If you consume less than your body needs, one of two things will happen. If it is a subtle deficit, you will be on your way to losing those extra pounds you’ve been struggling to lose, and you will lose them in a way that would promote long-term weight loss. [I say would because there are many variables that combine to determine weight-loss and management success.] However, if you starve yourself for an extended period of time, yes, you will lose weight, but you will also lose muscle mass, which is never a good thing.

Maintaining your energy balance throughout the day is dynamic and related to blood sugar levels. The key to stabilizing blood sugar levels during a day is associated with staying within a 400-calorie range, either up or down, Dr. Dan Benardot writes in Advanced Sports Nutrition. Dr. Benardot is director of the Laboratory for Elite Athlete Performance at Georgia State University and is this season’s sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Falcons.

“Weight and lean-mass stability are the best indicators that energy intake matches need,” according to Dr. Benardot in his book.

Depending on how much is eaten and burned will determine whether you’re in a surplus or deficit. For example, if I’m rowing intensely on the erg for, say, 45 minutes, it’s going to take a lot more food to keep me out of an energy deficit because I’m burning a lot more calories than if I’m sitting at a desk. That means I can eat more than if I were sedentary. When I’m not doing much of anything, my strategy changes: I would need to reduce my energy intake (food) to keep myself out of a potential energy surplus.

The benefit of nutrient timing is that you can optimally manage your energy and maximize your performance, presumably whether you’re running a marathon, or defending a court case. By tracking your within-day energy balance in real time, you are able to make strategic interventions on what and how much to eat throughout the day.

Nutrient timing has additional benefits for athletes, such as making macronutrient choices to promote carbohydrate availability to fuel endurance performance, optimize recovery and improve body composition. I think we could also take advantage of these benefits as recreational athletes. Here are some other benefits: Nutrient timing can also delay fatigue, boost immunity and reduce the risk of illness.

In using this strategy, I don’t feel psychologically bound to eat at a specific time in the morning with a lunch break at around noon and dinner between 5 pm and 6 pm, which is the mealtime pattern I grew up with.

Now, I look at the line graph on my app and either say, I still want to eat, but if I do I’ll put myself in an energy surplus. So, I pose this question to myself: Am I really hungry, or is there something going on emotionally that makes me want to eat? Then again, I may have eaten too fast and not given my digestive system enough time to tell me I feel full.

On the other hand, I say to myself, Oh, I’m 100 calories from being thrown into an energy deficit. I am kind of hungry and am going to dinner in a couple of hours. If I don’t eat something now, I’ll be ravenous by the time I get to the restaurant and put myself at risk for eating white bread and butter. Better to eat an apple or something to tie me over until I arrive at the restaurant. Basically, I’ll eat a source of carbohydrate that is high in fiber, which means it generally comes “from the ground.”

Now, for the app. It’s called NutriTiming, which was invented by Dr. Benardot. I bought the 99-cent app. There are also a fee-based version that links to a web interface so that you can export and analyze data.

Overall, NutriTiming is a great app. You can input a recipe and search for foods. For some reason, a lot of baby foods turned up when I searched for foods, not that that’s a bad thing, but I’m way past that stage and won’t be eating strained carrots anytime soon.

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