The Optimal Time to Eat for a Great Performance

This article was originally published in the Massachusetts Senior Games Program Book 2019.

Forcing yourself to run, hating every minute of it, being embarrassingly slow, risking injury, or chronically blowing off the activity: Everything you want to avoid when you practice your favorite sport. The optimal time to take a run depends on your specific goals. Are you competing in a race? Are you preparing for competition? Or are you improving your overall health? The successful achievement is running like the wind, sticking with it, and feeling great while you are doing it.

If you are inclined to run before breakfast, make sure you eat a small piece of carbs and that you are well-hydrated. Afterward, you can eat a breakfast of 50 percent carbs and 50 percent protein to keep the metabolic fires stoked. Evening workouts give the body an endorphin boost that decreases appetite at the end of the day, when people are susceptible to pigging out. But studies show that morning exercise is more likely to become a habit, since you don’t have all day to talk yourself out of it.

Your Performance Rhythm

Numerous studies have confirmed that people run faster, cycle faster, and hit the baseball harder in the afternoon and evening than in the morning. A 2015 British study proved that the most significant factor in predicting athletic peak performance across a wide range of sports is the time athletes prefer to rise relative to the time they perform. Researchers had athletes train at several times through a day and measured their speed and agility.

It’s well known that people and animals have natural body clocks, or circadian rhythms. People’s body rhythms tend to fit into one of three general categories called chronotypes, that are early, intermediate and late, according to Roland Brandstaetter, a biologist at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. A person’s category is determined by a combination of genetic, environmental and social factors. In other words, there’s a biological reason why some people can’t sleep late and others can’t get up early. Early risers performed best in the late morning. Intermediate risers did best in the afternoon. Late risers did best in the evening. An individual athlete’s performance varied by as much as 26 percent from morning workout to evening workout. A 26 percent difference is extreme. In a world-class 100-meter race, the variation between first and last place is often less than five percent.

The worst Time to go for a Run

6.00 am. Running at dawn increases injury risk. Core body temperature is low, and muscles and joints are susceptible to strain and tear. If you can wait until ninety minutes after waking, your temperature will be higher, and injury risk drops significantly. This changes with the seasons, especially if you are living in a dry area like Arizona.

Strength Training Optimization

The failure is sporadic strength training that doesn’t increase muscle mass, improve muscle tone, or speed up metabolism. It is only regular strength training that increases muscle mass, improves muscle tone, and speeds up metabolism. Building muscle mass not only increases your strength, but it also speeds up your metabolism. The leaner muscle mass you carry, the easier it is to burn fat for energy.

The worst Time to train for Strength

6.00 am. Body temperature is lowest in the early morning. If you train when you’re cold, you are susceptible to injury. Muscular blood flow, joint flexibility, and hormonal ratios are unfriendly to resistance exercises and weight lifting.

Nutrient Timing

For athletes, nutrient timing may provide an important competitive advantage. However, the current research doesn’t support the importance of nutrient timing for most people who are simply trying to lose weight, gain muscle or improve health. Instead, focus your efforts on consistency, daily calorie intake, food quality and sustainability. When you’ve got all the basics down, then you may wish to move your attention to more advanced methods like nutrient timing. To optimize your performance, get enough rest between workouts, and time your nutrition properly.

You can view nutrient timing as three distinct phases: 1) Pre-exercise fueling, 2) During exercise, when energy stores are being depleted, and 3) Post-exercise refueling (recovery).

Before Exercise

A pre-exercise meal or snack can provide the fuel your body needs to optimize your workout. The amount and timing of your meal or snack depend on the type, intensity, and duration of your exercise, as well as your personal preferences for food choices and pre-exercise fueling. In general, if you have 30–60 minutes before your workout, eat a carbohydrate-rich snack. Aim for around 100–200 calories.

During Exercise

During exercise, energy stores help provide energy to your working muscles, as muscle protein is being broken down. Consuming small amounts of carbs at regular intervals can enhance your athletic performance, especially when the exercise lasts longer than one hour. Water is generally enough for exercise less than one hour. During exercise lasting longer than one hour, a fluid such as a sports drink that contains carbs as well as electrolytes can help keep you hydrated. Never test new foods during a mission or competition, but experiment during training to find what works best for you. Keep in mind that while protein is essential to build and repair muscle, consuming protein during events doesn’t appear to improve performance.

After Exercise (Recovery) After exercise, your body needs to transition from a catabolic (breakdown) state to an anabolic (build-up) one to promote recovery and restore what was depleted during exercise. Within 2 hours after strenuous exercise lasting over 60 minutes, consume a balanced meal. Aim for carb-rich foods and fluids along with 20–25 grams of protein to help restock your fuel stores and rebuild your muscles. If you know you can’t eat a meal within that 2-hour time frame, try to eat a snack. Foods with essential amino acids, especially leucine, will promote post-exercise muscle protein synthesis to rebuild and repair your muscle tissue. Foods with leucine include eggs, dairy, and chicken.

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