The Science Behind Nutrient Timing

  1. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
  2. Eating dinner and sweets past 6 PM causes weight gain.
  3. You must take your protein within 30 minutes of working out.

All of these claims revolve around the idea that WHEN you consume nutrients is of utmost importance. 

But how true are these claims, according to science?

Let’s dissect #1 first.  Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

Breakfast literally means to break the fast. Eating breakfast allows you to rehydrate and refuel your body after sleeping (a period of fasting).
Consuming a breakfast high in protein and fiber allows you to get a “jumpstart” on your day’s nutrition.

Many studies show that eating breakfast is associated with an improved quality of folks’ overall diet and maintaining a healthy weight. 

Now, let’s make some conclusions. If you skip breakfast, does this automatically make you an unhealthy person? Of course not!

We all know that correlation does not mean causation.  While there is a link between health and breakfast consumption, you can still skip breakfast and have good nutrition.

However, if you skip breakfast and find yourself ravenously hungry, which clouds your judgment for making wholesome food choices, then I don’t recommend you skip breakfast.

If you are trying to lose weight and fasting for the first part of the day allows you to eat within your goals, then this is a great option that includes skipping breakfast!

Now let’s dissect #2.  Eating dinner, or sweets, past 6 PM (or any other time) causes weight gain.

Before we use science to look for evidence, let’s use our intuition first.  This claim assumes that our bodies have some sort of magical switch that turns to “gain weight starting at 6 PM” if we eat past some critical point.

Is this a reasonable assumption to make?  This would then mean that this switch would have to turn back at another time to “okay, we’re good, stop gaining weight now.”

What kind of logic is that? 

The science is plain and simple on this one.  You will only gain weight if you’re eating in an overall caloric surplus, and this is time independent.  There is plenty of literature out there on this, so I’m not going to provide a singular reference.

Here is something though – if you eat enough calories very late at night, it does have the potential to disrupt your circadian rhythm, and this can be cause for concern. Reduced quality or quantity of sleep can result in poor food choices the next day and is highly associated with being overweight or obese. Read more about it here.

Now let’s tackle #3, my favorite!  Do you go “catabolic” if you don’t consume your protein shake immediately after your workout?

NOPE!  There is not a large enough body of evidence to support this.  Your body does not go into muscle-eating mode if you don’t get your protein in immediately after working out. 

The best post-workout nutrition?  Something that contains carbohydrates and protein!  This allows your glycogen stores to get replenished and your muscle proteins to start synthesizing!

However, there is no direct evidence to support that muscle protein synthesis shuts off if you do not consume protein immediately post lift!

The key takeaway when it comes to nutrient timing:

HOW MANY CALORIES you consume matters far more than WHEN you consume them. 

Having said all of this, there are ways to time protein intake to maximize muscle growth, which I did not include in this particular post.

If you want me to go farther in-depth into protein timing and how it might affect muscle growth, SAY SOMETHING (or else, I won’t know that you want it covered).

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your feedback!

Other references:

The role of breakfast in nutrition

Anabolic window

1 comment

  1. Ive heard and read so much incorrect info protein timing, it’s been made to seem as if not getting protein right after a workout is the same as missing a dose on prescription medication.


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