Nutrient Timing (NT) Theory

Masters Level Exercise Scientist and Kinetica Sports Ambassador Jon Denoris has put together an informative article based on research by Ivy and Portman on The Nutrient Timing (NT) Theory. For those of you who are not yet familiar with this theory, you can read over Jon’s piece which will give you a little insight to the latest in cutting-edge nutrition theory, for maximising strength and performance gains earned in the gym.  Learn why WHEN you eat may be even more important than WHAT you eat…

If you take your training seriously, and want to get lean, it’s all about timing….

 We have all experienced ‘plateau’s’ in fitness… are training harder, trying to eat healthier, maybe even taking supplements, but you just don’t seem to be getting leaner or progressing the way you feel you should.  For the last 10 years nutrition and diet research has been primarily concerned with what to eat – think Atkins, Zone, GI, South Beach etc. Now assuming (and it’s a big assumption) that your fitness programme is spot on, perhaps it’s time to consider whether the timing of your foods is optimal.  Leading research now shows that when you eat may be even more important than what…..

 Enter the “Nutrient Timing” theory (NT) proposed by the authors Ivy and Portman (2004).  I have been impressed; both by the science and with the results this approach has had on my own clients, and will in this article explain the basics of NT.  This is not intended to constitute a complete nutritional programme and I would recommend discussing the approaches with a Dietician.

 What is Nutrient Timing?

Basically during a 24-hour period your muscle can either be working, ‘the energy phase’ recovering, ‘the anabolic phase’, or growing, ‘the growth phase’. Nutrient timing states that during the 3 time phases above, requirements for muscle may differ.  Let’s look at the 3 phases in more detail…

The Energy Phase

This phase lasts from 10 minutes prior to working out and finishes at the end of your workout.  When you train, particularly strength train, you deplete muscle glycogen, stimulate your acute inflammatory response, increase protein breakdown and causes muscle damage.  So, the objective here is to release sufficient energy to your muscles, and the authors encourage you to consume a prepared drink both high GI carbohydrates and protein as well as containing vitamins and minerals at this time.  This, say Ivy and Portman, will blunt the rise of cortisol, and set the stage for faster recovery after training.

 The Anabolic Phase

This is the 45-minute period following training – most Personal Trainers realise the importance of this time period, it’s like your muscles have little gates (called glut 4 receptors) that open and allow increased uptake of nutrients. They are also more sensitive to insulin, after this time period there ability declines rapidly.  The aim here is to switch the body’s metabolic machinery from a catabolic to an anabolic state.  A liquid supplement at this time is very important, it should ideally combine whey protein (13-15g), high GI carbohydrate (such as glucose, sucrose or maltodextrin) and glutamine 1-2g.

 The Growth Phase

This extends from the end of the anabolic phase to the beginning of the next workout.  During this time there is an increase in contractile protein, and muscle fibres, as well as replenishing muscle glycogen depleted during your workout (energy phase), basically you are rebuilding.  The authors recommend maintaining a high protein diet along with high protein/low GI carbohydrate snacks to achieve optimal results.

 Pre and post exercise snacks that combine carbs and protein:

  • Energy bar and sports drink such as Kinetica (
  • 2 slices of wholegrain toast and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • Orange and ½ cup of low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of cooked oatmeal and ¼ cup raisins
  • 2 egg omelette with 1 cup fresh veggies 1 whole-wheat muffin
  • ¼ cup of nuts and a medium apple
  • Hard boiled egg and ½ whole-wheat bagel
  • Pita bread and ½ can of tuna

 The take – home

In a nutshell this approach tries to get you to integrate 3 nutrient interventions (one before/during, one immediately after and one 2 hours after) in the form of liquid supplements preferably whilst maintaining a healthy, balanced diet.

 The theory of Nutrient timing represents the next generation of nutrition theory for athletes and serious gym users.  This article is meant to act as a catalyst for further reading and hopefully you can apply the snack ideas into your training routine easily.

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