Much of his Masters and PhD research was done looking at nutrient timing and how it affected recovery from very intense exercise. No surprise, the concept of nutrient timing worked its way into Precision Nutrition’s general recommendations.
PW meals are higher in carbs, especially faster-digesting starchy carbs (such as potatoes or rice) or sweeter carbs (such as fruit). AT meals are lower in carbs, focusing more on lean protein plus healthy fats and high-fiber vegetables. The scientific evidence — limited at the time — seemed to show that this strategic placement of carbs could help hard-exercising people perform better while getting leaner, stronger, and healthier.
Just like JB’s choice of facial hair, and my transition from athlete to dad, things have changed in the last 10-15 years. Since the early 2000s, for example, we’ve discovered that some of those early studies had design flaws or weaknesses. First, they were mostly short-term — spanning a few weeks or months, maybe even just a few workout sessions.
Second, they considered what we call “soft” end-points, such as protein synthesis, glycogen replenishment, or nitrogen balance. Interestingly, as more long-term data appeared, nutrient timing started to seem like less of a universal solution. Sure, there were still strong indications that it could be useful and important in certain scenarios. In that study, the researchers showed that protein, carbohydrates, and creatine taken around a training session could lead to more muscle mass and strength gain than those same nutrients eaten further from the session.
Unfortunately very few people talk about the flip side: Further research, using similar protocols, failed to find the same effect. However, lots of really smart and hard working people are getting lost in the finer points of nutrient timing, while consistently missing out on sleep, or vegetables, or other — more important — health and lifestyle factors. The basic idea is that after exercise, especially within the first 30-45 minutes or so, our bodies are greedy for nutrients. In theory, movement — especially intense movement, such as weight training or sprint intervals — turns our bodies into nutrient-processing powerhouses. During this time our muscles suck in glucose hungrily, either oxidizing it as fuel or more readily storing it as glycogen (instead of fat).
In fact, one study even showed that waiting longer than 45 minutes after exercise for a meal would significantly diminish the benefits of training. With these physiological details in people’s minds, it became gospel that we should consume a fast-digesting protein and carbohydrate drink the minute our training ended. Seriously, I couldn’t have been the only one who started to panic the second the last dumbbell hit the floor, ripping open my sports drink container with fumbling fingers, desperate to catch that magic protein synthesis train.
And just because we see positive effects in the short-term (like, in the next half-hour) doesn’t mean these effects will contribute to long-term results (like, in 3 months). In fact, recent longer-term studies, as well as two incredibly thorough reviews, indicate that the “anabolic window of opportunity” is actually a whole lot bigger than we used to believe. While it’s still wise to bookend your training with protein and carbohydrates, you probably have one or two hours on both sides of your training to get those benefits.
What’s more, for most people — save a few specific types of athletes — it doesn’t seem to matter how fast you digest things.
Rather than worrying about slamming down some waxy maize starch and whey hydrolysate immediately after training, shoving people out of the way on your mad dash to your gym bag for your Super Shake bottle, you can actually drive home, take a shower, prepare, and eat a delicious whole food mixed meal. To back up this idea, recent data suggests that the total amount of protein and carbohydrate you eat, over the course of the day, is more important for body composition and performance than nutrient timing strategies. For years, most nutrition experts told people to eat more of their calories and carbs at breakfast, and to keep calories — and especially carbs — lower at night. A recent study asked: Does it matter whether you eat half your day’s calories at dinner or at breakfast?
Well, the group who ate half of their daily calories at breakfast lost more weight and more inches from their waists, showed greater improvements in glucose control and insulin sensitivity, and reported being more satisfied (along with having lower levels of grehlin, our main hunger hormone).
Take, for example, the Journal of Nutrition study that compared eating 70 percent of your calories at night versus eating them at breakfast. In highly controlled settings, where all subjects completed resistance and aerobic exercise, the calories-at-dinner group retained more muscle and lost an equal amount of body fat to the calories-at-breakfast group!
Not only that, but more recently, a six month study found that weight loss, waist circumference, and body fat loss were all greater when the majority of the day’s carbohydrate intake was at night, rather than spread evenly throughout the day. Some research has found breakfast to be the best time for big meals (3 studies), some has found no differences in weight loss between big breakfasts and big dinners (2 studies), and other research has found significant benefits from eating more at night (2 studies). Indeed, research into circadian rhythms has found that humans (and animals) vary a lot in their natural sleep-wake cycles. Just like when you exercise, what’s most important is you make high-quality choices, consistently, whenever it works for you.
Behind this recommendation lies the notion that by breakfast time, we’ve fasted for eight to twelve hours. It’s not that having breakfast is wrong; or that having carbohydrates at breakfast is wrong. What’s wrong is the assumption that what works for you is necessarily what’s best for everyone.

The only support comes from correlational research (X and Y happen at the same time), and not causal research (Y happens because of X). In a recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition paper, researchers analyzed dozens of studies to look at the relationship between breakfast and body weight. Of course, just because one study came to a certain conclusion doesn’t mean the case is closed. The strongest of this evidence suggests that breakfast is most important for malnourished or impoverished children. Folks with Type 2 diabetes did better when they skipped breakfast altogether and ate a larger lunch.
Other folks who were told to skip breakfast ended up eating less overall compared to breakfast eaters. And skipping breakfast was found to be just as effective as eating breakfast for weight loss. However, the truth is, most of this research has been done in animals, with only a few conclusive human studies.
So, while intriguing, there’s certainly no guarantee that these changes in our physiology will actually lead to long-term benefits. In fact, if there’s one thing we can say for sure, it’s that immediate changes like these can often be deceiving.
That’s why short-term effects from nutrient timing protocols don’t always translate into the long-term changes we’re hoping for.
Finally, a recent study offers a fascinating postscript to the breakfast and weight loss question. Ultimately, this study showed that when people become more aware of their intake, they get better results — whether they eat breakfast or skip it.
There is no right or wrong choice, as long as whichever choice you make is actually helping you improve your health, performance, and body composition. For years dietitians and nutritionists (myself included) thought that the best approach to splitting up your daily food intake was to eat small meals frequently throughout the day.
From early research we assumed that eating often would speed up the metabolism, help control the hormones insulin and cortisol, and manage the appetite. As long as we eat the right foods in the right amounts, meal frequency seems to be a matter of personal preference. If you’re covering all your other bases and your current meal frequency isn’t working, try switching it up. Because either approach is physiologically valid, you’re free to find the lifestyle approach that works best for you. If you’re a bodybuilder or endurance athlete, the meaning of nutrient timing is much different than if you’re an overweight office worker just getting into exercise and trying to improve your nutrition. Some people are already very lean, compete at the elite levels of physique or athletics, and have nailed down items #1 to #5 above. These athletes often engage in training or events lasting longer than two hours at a stretch, where added carbohydrates, electrolytes, and a little protein can go a really long way.
For most of us, most of the time, nutrient timing demands extra effort, requires additional planning, and adds dietary complexity… with minimal return. That’s why, at Precision Nutrition, we’ve transitioned away from emphasizing the PW and AT distinction for most clients, especially those enrolled in our PN Coaching programs. Our experience with thousands of clients, and new scientific evidence, show us: For most people, nutrient timing is not a main priority. In it you’ll learn the best eating, exercise, and lifestyle strategies – unique and personal – for you. Originally from Carrollton, Georgia, I went to Ogeechee Tech cosmetology program in Statesboro, Georgia.
My name is Kim and I am an ACE Certified Personal Trainer living on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Sign up to receive relevant, science-based health and fitness information and other resources. It’s certainly possible that eating a late meal played a significant role in influencing weight loss in this study, but it may also be related to the finding that participants who ate late in the day also tended to skip breakfast.
Eating the main meal later in the day is unlikely to cause harm, however, this is an observational study with many limitations. Natalie Digate MuthContributorNatalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, FAAP is the Senior Advisor for Healthcare Solutions for the American Council on Exercise, a board-certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Diplomat of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, and ACE Certified Health Coach. If you found this to be article useful to you or someone else, please share it with your friends!
John Berardi — JB, as he’s known around here — was one of the early researchers in this area. We divided meals into post-workout (PW) or anytime (AT), these categories implying that different meals should be eaten at different times of the day.
Even type 2 diabetics respond better to carbohydrates after a carbohydrate-depleting workout. Rather, our knowledge has deepened, as it always does when more research becomes available. Because of this, we didn’t have data on “hard” endpoints such as actual fat loss or lean mass gain.

If a robust dinner is more your thing, enjoy drifting off to sleep with the warm fuzzy feeling of a full belly. Our bodies are therefore primed to use nutrients (and especially carbs) more effectively than at other times of the day. Plus, some evidence does suggest that we use carbohydrates more effectively in the morning than at night. Because — you guessed it — some research actually suggests that skipping breakfast might make you stronger, leaner, and healthier.
The groups whose habits and routines were changed were the ones with the most substantial weight loss. Timing your nutrients can help, but only if you have the other — and much more important — aspects of your eating in order first.
For help on how to do this, check out our Calorie Control Guide for Men and Women as well as our example Precision Nutrition Plate.
Breakfast consumption affects appetite, energy intake, and the metabolic and endocrine responses to foods consumed later in the day in male habitual breakfast eaters.
Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence. A Randomized Cross-Over Trial of the Postprandial Effects of Three Different Diets in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes.
Diurnal trends in responses of blood plasma concentrations of glucose, insulin, and C-peptide following high- and Low-fat meals and their relation to fat metabolism in healthy middle aged volunteers. Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents.
Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults. Weight loss is greater with consumption of large morning meals and fat-free mass is preserved with large evening meals in women on a controlled weight reduction regimen. Beneficial effects of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction on the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems. Chronobiological aspects of weight loss in obesity: effects of different meal timing regimens. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner.
Systematic review demonstrating that breakfast consumption influences body weight outcomes in children and adolescents in Europe. Consequently, the study authors advised those attempting weight loss to include meal-timing as an important variable in a weight-loss plan, in addition to considering caloric content and macronutrient distribution. While the mechanisms are still being investigated, laboratory scientists recently found that adipose tissue has a circadian rhythm such that there are certain times of day when the tissue is more likely to either burn or store fat. This prolonged fasting period followed by a large meal could set the cycle for dysregulation. It is unrealistic to expect that changing meal times will greatly enhance weight loss if caloric intake is not also reduced. If you eat more calories than you burn throughout the day then you will gain weight – whether the calories come from breakfast, dinner, or a late-night snack.
The way sport and exercise people throw it around, you’d think it must be pretty important. Cyclic suppression of insulin action and insulin secretion in normal-weight but not obese subjects.
Since feeding is a major source of energy for adipose tissue and circadian rhythm influences whether adipose tissue burns or stores fat, it is possible that alterations in meal-timing could play a role in the development of obesity and efficacy of weight loss. I became obsessive of exercise, and was always wanting to find my "perfect body.'' After graduating college, I moved back home with my family to focus on getting healthy. The participants all took part in a 20-week weight-loss program that consisted the Mediterranean diet, nutrition education, physical activity and behavioral change.
This understanding is in its infancy, however, with little research done to date that directly applies to humans. And if you find that most of your non-hunger eating occurs late in the day, eating your main meal earlier in the day may be just what you need to help achieve your weight management goals. Three years of dedication, hard work and positive thinking, and I was back at my healthy goal weight.
Should we translate these study findings into everyday life and move mealtimes up a few hours and expect increased weight loss?

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