Nutrient timing is a highly effective approach to losing fat. By only eating carbohydrates at certain times, you can maximize your fat loss without having to reduce overall calories.
Why Nutrient Timing Works
At certain times during the day your muscles are more receptive to absorbing carbohydrates. During these time periods, your insulin sensitivity is at its highest. This means it will take less insulin to store the glucose that is produced from carbohydrates. How does this help you lose fat?
When your insulin is elevated, your body is less able to mobilize fatty acids. Insulin takes the glucose in your bloodstream and shuttles it to the cells that need it.
If your muscles and liver are full of glycogen, they will not be able to store any additional glucose. During this scenario, insulin takes this glucose, converts it to fat, and stores it in various places on your body so that it can be used later .
Should I Just Cut Carbs Then?
It would be natural to take this info and assume carbohydrates are the cause of weight gain. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Carbohydrates influence your metabolism, but total calories and energy balance are the primary determinants of your weight. If you eat 5,000 calories per day, it doesn’t matter if you have zero carbs in your diet – you’re going to gain weight.
The real magic of nutrient timing comes when you’re working around the “margins” of weight loss calories. That’s when a simple restructuring of your calories can produce weight loss without a reduction in overall calories.
Your weight loss progression strategy should look like this:
- Behavioral change – implement specific mental and physical habits.
- Adjust your calorie intake – raise or lower total calories.
- Modify your macronutrient ratio – influence weight loss by manipulating fat, carb, and protein percentages.
- Nutrient timing strategies – refeeds/cheat days, carbohydrate timing, or calorie cycling.
If implementing #1 results in weight loss, you don’t need to work your way down any further. The same goes for numbers 2 and 3. But if you work down the tiers and you still aren’t seeing any progress, that’s when nutrient timing can really shine.
Carbohydrate Nutrient Timing Case Study
Let’s illustrate this concept using a personal coaching client of mine.
Over the first 6 weeks of her program she struggled to lose any weight even though we implemented a couple of calorie cuts. But then look at the highlighted area (weeks 7-15).
During this period we implemented a nutrient timing strategy and she started to lose a significant amount of weight even though we didn’t change her overall calorie intake or macronutrient ratio.
What did we do? We moved 80% of her carb intake, a total of 150 grams of carbs, to her pre and post-workout meals. The rest of her meals she ate lean protein, healthy fats, and fruits and veggies.
If you want a better visual of this carbohydrate timing strategy in action you can download a free one week meal plan by clicking here. It will show you how to structure your macros meal to meal for optimal fat loss.
When Should You Eat Carbs?
If you can limit your carbohydrates so that you are only eating them during the time periods when your insulin sensitivity is at its highest, you will make your goal of losing fat a lot easier. When are these time periods?
- Your first meal of the day – After a night of fasting, your insulin sensitivity is higher than normal. This is because your body has been using the glucose in your blood and the glycogen stored in your liver to maintain body functions throughout the night. Upon waking, your body’s stores of glycogen are lower – resulting in a lower amount of insulin needed to store the carbohydrates you’re about to eat.
- Your pre-workout meal – Most people don’t think of insulin sensitivity being high just before your workout. And really, it isn’t. However, during exercise, your insulin response is muted. Your pre-workout meal is a great time to get in some carbohydrates and some much needed energy for your workout.
- Your post-workout meal – Your post-workout meal is the time when your insulin sensitivity is at its highest. While you work out your muscles use glycogen to fuel your exercise. After your workout your muscles soak up the glucose in your blood. Your muscles are so starved for glucose that they are able to take the carbohydrates you eat and convert it into glycogen without a huge need for insulin .
Knowing that these 3 time periods are preferred for carbohydrate intake, we can then start to formulate a meal plan. Depending on your carbohydrate demand, your goals, and whether you’ve exhausted the weight loss progression strategies explained above, I would prioritize my carbohydrate intake like this:
- Carbs post-workout only
- Carbs post-workout and first meal of the day
- Carbs pre and post-workout, and the first meal of the day
Eat the majority of your carbohydrates during these times. The remaining meals should consist of protein, healthy fats, veggies, and possibly some fruit.
By eating your carbohydrates at specific times of the day, you can create a more favorable metabolic environment for fat loss, and you can do it without having to further reduce your calories.