Nutrient Timing: WHAT you eat & WHEN you eat it matters!

Nutrient Timing: WHAT you eat & WHEN you eat it matters!

Peaches & yogurt, yum!
Peaches and yogurt, yum!

Here’s an amazing statement:  “The effectiveness of any protein product is largely dependent on when you take it.”-Len Kravitz, sports scientist from the University of New Mexico. I want you to know that I’m quite conservative when it comes to nutrition, but these well-researched findings from the sports medicine world are very convincing!!! What if you only had to tweak your diet a little to boost your muscle growth and enhance recovery from all that good strength training for strong muscles & bones that you’re doing? Give it a try! Here’s the short version on nutrient timing.

General meal guidelines: Please, make sure that you aren’t hungry or too full when you strength train! The Mayo Clinic gives these guidelines for meal sizes prior to exercising:

  • Eat large meals at least 3-4 hours before exercise
  • Have small meals 2-3 hours before a workout
  • Snacks: Around an hour before exercising.

You’ll have to experiment to see what works best for you, such as how long it take your body to digest certain foods and how you feel during and after exercise.

Nutrient Timing: If you can time it right, eating or drinking a pre-workout snack and a post workout snack in just the right proportions at the right time can help you get stronger and recover quicker from the good stress of exercise.

Pre-Workout snack: If it’s solid food, follow the guideline of eating around an hour before exercise. If it’s a sports drink or smoothie, you can have it closer to the workout. Again, see what works best for you. I emphasize, don’t exercise hungry! If muscles are low in glycogen (carbs) during exercise, that can actually inhibit muscle growth!

Here are the proportions recommended by Dr. Kravitz for the pre-workout snack:

20-26 grams of carbohydrate to 5-6 grams of protein; carb/ protein ratio of 4:1 or 5:1, which is not a lot of food!


  • Sports drink or bar, check proportions
  • Smoothie of  ½ to 3/4  cup non-fat, unsweetened yogurt (~5-6 g. protein + 7 carbs), 1 peach (10 g. carbs), 1/3 banana (8 g. carbs), total: 5-6 g. protein & 25 g. carbs
  • 1 slice whole grain bread (3 g. protein + 20 g. carbs), 1 tbs. peanut butter (4 g. protein + 3 g. carbs), 1/3 apple (7 g. carbs), total: 7 g. protein & 30 g. carbs
  • 3/4 cup vanilla soymilk (5 g. protein + 7 g. carbs), 2 tbs. almonds (3 g. protein + 3 g. carbs), 2 tbs. raisins (18 g. carbs), for a total of 8 g. protein and 28 g. carbs
Post-workout smoothie

Post-Workout snack: Dr. Kravitz emphasizes that there is a 45-minute window post-workout in which nutrients, especially protein, is absorbed at a much higher rate than 2 hours later.

Nutrient proportions for the post-workout snack:

  • 40-50 grams carbohydrate to 13-15 grams protein; carb/protein ratio of 3:1 or 4:1
  • See above pre-workout examples, but double the amounts and add a little more protein. 

Sound complicated? Here’s how I make it simple. I love to have a liquid drink after a workout. It helps with hydration and is digested more rapidly than solid food. My favorite is to blend 2 cups of yogurt and fruit in the morning, drinking 1/3 of it prior to my strength training and 2/3 afterwards. I do my best to keep my meals at appropriate sizes so that I’m a little hungry for that smoothie! Piling food on top of an already full stomach is counterproductive to a healthy body.

Remember that the proportions are important, as well as the timing. Good luck tweaking your food around exercise time. Don’t fret over the exact proportions. Incorporate the pre and post workout snacks into your total daily diet and don’t add calories unless you’re underweight.  Have fun with it! Let me know what recipes you come up with!

Resources: Ivy, J. & Portman, R. (2004). Nutrient Timing. Basic Health Publications, Inc., Kleiner, S.M. (2001). Power Eating 4th Edition. Human Kinetics Publishers

Comments (Scroll to the bottom to leave your comment)

  1. Great article Susie and you did make it easy to think about how to eat before and after a workout. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow in the morning for the first workout for me in a long time. Hurray! Patti

  2. Thanks Susie. Just now catching up with mail and this article. Sounds reasonable but I’m curious about whether this research has been duplicated, accepted, and promoted by other nutrition and sports science experts.

  3. Oh, yes. At the Northland meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Fargo last week, there was plenty of acknowledgement of the benefits of nutrient timing before and after resistance training. Research subjects in many different studies showed increased lean body mass (muscle) with the proper ratio and timing of carbs and protein after strength (resistance) training. See the Nutrient Timing blog post.

  4. Hi Susie, Just want to back up your information about nutrient timing. My nutrition supplement company, Herbalife, recently incorporated all these principles in their Herbalife 24 sports products. You can even customize a nutrient timing plan on and learn about the specific proportions you mentioned. Thanks for all your great info!