Nutrient Timing

A great truth is a truth whose opposite is also a truth.

Thomas Mann

I know, I know; the idea of nutrient timing is not exactly Paleo in the most strict sense of the term, and certainly not part of the DeVany-esq, Evolutionary Fitness schema.  If you’re a performance-driven athlete, however (or just an average Joe/Jane who habituates a frequent red-lining in the ol’ workout arena), adequate and well-timed pre and post-workout nutrition is crucial.  Did Grok worry about all of this?  Of course not — or at least we can argue that it was usually not the case that he attempted to manipulate his performance via nutrition thusly.  However, Grok didn’t spend his nights peacefully slumbering on a comfy mattress either, or perform grueling rounds of power snatch/ring muscle-up supersets, avail himself to bloodwork analysis, hormone therapy, or the awesomeness of Joe Rogan podcasts…you get the idea.  It’s the difference between merely surviving, and optimally thriving, my friends; sufficient as opposed to optimal.  Anthropological evidence provides but one tool (albeit a very important tool) within the total “thriving” workshop.  It’s up to each individual then to flesh-out the remainder of  his/her own workshop’s tool cache, and acquire that craftsman’s collection of n=1-derived methods, techniques and specialty tools to be used in creating a personalized expression of phenotypical excellence.

Drs John Ivy and Robert Portman have put together what I consider to be the classic treatise on optimal nutritional timing in their aptly-titled book, Nutrient Timing.  Hat tip to Ken O’Neill, of Trans-Evolutionary Fitness, for tuning me in to John Ivy’s work.  Now my personal pre and post-workout formulations may vary somewhat from the recommendations put forth by Drs Ivy and Portman — mostly due to my belief (outdated?) that the synergy of whole foods trump the conglomeration of individual, deconstructed constituents — but I do follow the spirit of the nutrient timing argument put forth by the good doctors…

that ismost times 🙂

…and I am more than willing to consider that my gut notion of whole foods’ superiority to “scientifically” reconstituted constituent components is flawed.  It has been my experience, though, that Mother Nature’s intelligence in these matters always prevails.  Of course this simply may be a matter of degree, in which case one must ask if the miniscule gain of constituent recombination is worth the additional hassle and stress.  You can see how this argument can quickly pigtail into the dreaded paralysis-by-analysis vortex.

At any rate, the down-and-dirty on nutrient timing is this: your muscles are uber-primed for nutrient uptake immediately following a bout of strenuous exercise.  The window of opportunity for capitalizing on this phenomena is only open, though, for approximately 2 hours (and more precisely, 45-minutes) post-throwdown.  I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of why hitting this window is so important from a performance point-of-view (in a nutshell, it has everything to do with optimum recovery), as the book does an excellent job of spelling this out quite precisely.  Also, checkout this, The International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand on nutrient timing.  Long story short, though, what I can tell you is this: throughout my training career I have experimented with various post-workout timing schemes — sometimes of my own doing, and sometimes as a result of circumstances beyond my control.  But in all cases, it has been my experience that hitting the 45-minute post workout window with smartly pinpointed nutrition has resulted in superior recovery results.  And, in my experience, these results have been far superior to the recovery benefits of, for example, post-workout contrast showers/ice baths and the like.  Results, mind you, attained from a practice that is much more practical from a sustainable application standpoint; you might not have the time-luxury, or access to, a post-workout ice soak, sports massage, or what-have-you, but most have the time to put together and down a smartly concocted, post-workout drink.

This needn’t be overly complicated to be effective, either (lowfat chocolate milk anyone?).  And hey, don’t have all the ingredients on-hand every time out?  Don’t sweat it bro, neither do I most times.  I’m notoriously bad about not restocking items until I’m completely out.  Anyway, here’s my simple, post-workout mix:

The T I’m sportin’ here?  Rockin’, huh?  And just one design of many that I have from my friend Kris Murphy’s Manimal Wear.  Check ’em out, here.

Talkin’ Physical Culture with Angelo Coppola, of Latest in Paleo

And hey, if you haven’t already, please checkout my interview with Angelo — who, by the way, is a true professional in every sense of the word.   Some of what we talked about:

  • Diet & fitness
  • getting started with a fitness routine
  • chronic cardio
  • Efficient Exercise and CrossFit; compare and contrast
  • ARX equipment
  • recoverability rates
  • bodyweight exercises
  • athletic supplementation
  • MovNat vs. HIIT

Pre-exhaust Techniques

One of the many techniques that I employ with my clients, and utilize in my own training, involves the use of pre-exhaust methods prior to moving into heavy, compound movements.  Methods of pre-exaust abound of course, but essentially (and for my purposes) fall into two broad categories — use of isolation exercises to target individual muscle(s) and/or the use of zone training techniques (Jreps, partials, ect.) which allow for significant inroading via the use of lighter weights (read, “easy on the joints”).    Here, for example, is one of my lower-body workouts from last week:

(A1) hip press, utilizing a zone training/Jrep scheme

(A2) Russian leg curls; again, utilizing a zone training/Jrep scheme

(B1) front squats , working up in load from what I could handle in the 7 rep range, on down to a 3-rep grind.

I split the hip presses and leg curls into 2 zones each (high and low), and blitzed each zone to failure using Jrep techniques (essentially employing piston-like, “pumping” repetitions with an eye toward achieving maximum pump and burn in the target musculature).   After 2 rounds of that, my legs were essentially toast.  Then, with those already blistered wheels, I dove into the first of what ended-up being a 5-set battle with front squats.  The beauty of this is that my hips, knees, ankles — along with all the soft tissue support in those areas — were already more than warm, blood-nourished, and ready to go — AND the weight necessary to elicit a full-on, ball-busting effort was, as you might well imagine, reduced.  But, surprisingly though, not by all that much (about 30 lbs off of what I would normally handle in the 3-rep range?).  The result was a total friggin’ lower body throwdown fest without, however, the joint ache (and following day stiffness) usually associated with a heavy compound movement session.   Note that this is much, much more than just effectively “warming-up” prior to delving into the heavy stuff — this is achieving significant (and isolated) muscular inroad prior to even beginning the compound (whole-body, synergistic) movement.   Combining this method of pre-exhaust prior to jumping into an ARX movement is also something I like to employ, and for the same reasons stated above.

And finally…

My Efficient Exercise brother-in-arms has written a masterful piece, here, related to the relationship between training and sport specificity, and the sometimes (oftentimes?) inadvertent, inappropriate, confusing/commingling of these two, distinct endeavors.  And this is more than just mere semantics, or word-play slight -of-hand.  For example, CrossFit is the sport of strength and conditioning, just as Olympic weightlifting is the sport side of all those cool Oly-derrivative (i.e., “power”, etc.) moves.  Know your goals, and train (and specify, if need be) as required.  A timely post, especially with this year’s CrossFit games (which I loved, BTW) fresh in everyone’s mind.

In health,


36 responses to “Nutrient Timing

  1. For those unfamiliar with John Ivy’s pioneering work in Nutrient Timing, here’s linkage to my 2005 lengthy interview with him published in Iron Man Magazine:

    John is chair of the Department of Kinesiolog y & Health Education, University of Texas, Austin.

    Just to add a note to Keith’s superb article, John’s NT formula is a bit at odds with the Paleo diet genre – but as the tip of a much larger iceberg. The test of any theory lies in its ability to successfully deal with anomolies or facts contradicting it. Paleo has become a popular movement, many of its spokespersons not in agreement, often at odds with facts and tentative theories confused with truthes. So much so that of late it’s occurred to me we should say “Paleo theory” to note an unsettled and speculative nature. How so?

    Paleo’s roots are in a still tentative, still emerging new discipline known as Evolutionary Medicine. Some of the AHS presenters are first and foremost evo med scientists. Evo med arose with anthropologists and MDs comparing notes: the 1988 classic The Paleolithic Prescription was co-authored by Boyd Eaton, MD, the later anthropologist Marjorie Shostack and her husband Melvin Konner, MD, PhD. Mel was a Harvard anthropologist who in mid-career earned an MD from Harvard, then was recruited as chair of anthropology at Emory. Psychiatry professor Randolph Nesse, MD, and the late anthropologist George Williams coauthered the other seminal text of evo med, their Why We Get Sick. Note the absence of exercise physiology in the formative discussions of evo med – no foundational basis carries over to Paleo, leading it wide open to a host of commercial theories of exercise all laughably claiming to the ‘the real deal Paleo’.

    John Ivy and Robert Portman’s new Hardwired for Fitness has deep roots in evolutionary genetic and molecular biology informing exercise science. Their nutrient timing formula seems to contradict Paleo; however, given that Paleo has not covered that base, in my opinion such disagreement should become a topic of learned discussion rather than suffering through amateur opinion wars. The new book introduces reference to circadian rhythms contradicting Paleo theory about how often and when to eat on a daily basis. Other works in genetic & molecular biology of muscular adaptation name the specific gene in charge of circadian rhythms. Could Paleo theory be wrong? Maybe. Again, we need informed debate on such topics. And we should begin remembering much of our popular concept of Paleolithic humans are contemporary constructions or convenient fictions based on linking surviving hunter gathers to a spotty series of clues scattered hither and yon in the archaelogical record. The most serious anomaly or outright mystery is linkage of circadian genetic based rhythms with metabolic circuits reported in Hardwired – when Paleo catches up to its heretofore ignored foundations in exercise physiology, we’ll have a more reliable story to adhere to – one based on studies of biologically fit people, contemporary expressions of that 100,000 year old genome.

  2. Thanks for covering this, Keith – I’ve been thinking about it for a while, having been impressed with Nutrient Timing and then, before being able to put into practice, blown away by the results of Paleo.

    IIRC Nutrient Timing also recommends eating a carbohydrate-rich meal again approx two hours after the initial post-workout meal. This ties in quite well with a wave of hunger that usually hits me around that time. Have you experimented with this idea?

  3. Thanks for the great post! What do you think about non-homogenized low-temp pasteurized whole milk and cream? I haven’t been able to find a source of raw dairy…

    • I’m not sure what the final enzymatic profile of this milk/cream winds up being. Never had to look into it, since I’ve always had access to raw product. I’d say if the enzymatic profile is similar to raw (which I expect that it’s not) then you’re good-to-go.

      • If you, or anyone else, is interested…it preserves some of the enzymes, but may not preserve all of them. An exert from the place where I get my milk:

        “We only pasteurize the milk at 145* for 30 minutes instead of the high temp/short time method. This process keeps the good bacteria alive an allows the milk to keep more of its natural flavor.”

        Article about the farm:

        It looks like this is very similar to the milk that VartanK referenced.

        Hopefully it is a suitable substitution for whole milk. I’ll have to dig around a bit more for the specific enzymatic profile.

  4. Quick question…is it just me or is there no protein in that post-workout shake? By eye balling what you mixed in the video, you only put about enough milk in there for about 4g of protein. Why is that?

    Also, Emergen-C and milk? :-O

      • Ahh ok. I was just surprised because I thought the whole post workout window thing was mainly for getting around 15-30 grams of protein in. Oh and thanks for linking to the Joe Rogan thing, I’m loving his podcast right now. Listening to him talk to Graham Hancock is strange and fascinating.

        Also, I think this is the milk Robin is referring to, which is all we have access to here as well from Vitamin Cottage:

        • Ivy’s formula is quite simple: whey, l-leucine, and three simple sugars. When first using it in 2004, maltodextrin was not readily available, and the electrolytes and ascorbic acid called for where a bit of a challenge for home compounding. Here’s my version:
          20 grams whey
          4-5 grams l-leucine (purchased in bulk 100 grams from beyond a century, far far less than OTC tablets)
          20 grams gatorade powder (two of the three simple sugars + electrolytes), several years worth at Costco for under $8-
          Emergen-C, one or two packets for ascorbic acid, minerals, and flavor.

          Paleo theory purists will pitch a fit about the gatorade, some advocating fruit juice. je ne sais pas? what difference does that make?

          When I first started using the post-work out recovery blend I was simply astonished. Leg workouts usually took upwards of three long hours for recovery – you know, that post-training blitz where you know if you’re pulling over you’ll fail a field sobriety test for walking a straight line! “Office, I just blasted and blitzed quads and hams.” With the drink, half hour recovery resulted.

          Learned of Dr Ivy from one of his former grad students who swears by Nutrient Timing – Dave Goodin, the famous Texas Shredder. At 52 and not-Paleo Dave is living testimony to how the traditional bodybuilding diet lets us say “we were Paleo before Paleo was cool” with thanks to Loretta Lynn.

          • I’m curious, why just whey? I’ve read a lot of studies and have heard Lyle McDonald analysis that whey is almost almost found inferior to whey/casien blends when it comes to post work-out recovery, which is why I always try to mix my post workout drink as a blend of milk, eggs, and a blended protein powder of 3-7 different sources.

            Also, I remember a while back Christian T was talking about how if you’re trying to get or stay lean you don’t really need post workout carbs because insulin is anabolic, not carbs specifically, and you can get the same or greater spike with protein and leucine.

            Any thoughts?

            • The thing is that Thibs “gets around” the pwo carb intake by using highly glucogenic amino acids instead, because through gluconeogenesis they will become (to a certain extent) glucose. So…why not just have some carbs?

              Coingesting carbs might also mitigate protein breakdown via insulinogenesis (according to Aragon).

              • Not to mention that it’s just simpler; my pea-little brain can handle just so much complexity 😉 Milk with a few additives is about as far as I’m willing to go. Pain-in-the-ass-to-benefit ratio.

          • Oh man, that podcast blew my mind, I’m actually going to run to the store tomorrow to see if I can find Supernatural and Fingerprints of the Gods. The narrative he tells is so fascinating.

            And thanks to both Keith and Skyler for answering my question, I love geeking out on this stuff and cross referencing opinions from my favorite trainers(yeah you guys).

          • Hadn’t heard of Hancock or his Supernatural so googled on it – my god, a trip back to the 60s for me. John Lilly’s ‘autobiography of inner-space’, The Center of the Cyclone evidences similar things, including a list of recommended reading bringing up such archetypal experience, some written by Olaf Stapleton in the 1930s. Lilly also crosslinks to the yogasutra tradition, the transpersonal backbone of real yoga.

            I’d not had this thought until seeing Hancock’s website: can we expect a branching of the Paleo movement into shamanism including psychedelics? Likely.

  5. Hey Keith!

    Nutrient timing is an interesting concept, but I think mileage may vary. I try to adhere to the core hour-window to refuel, but I’ve noticed if I don’t, I don’t really feel all that different? I would probably guess that my overall work output is lower than yours as well, so my glycogen refueling needs may also be less immediate.

    Usually my post workout meal consists of a bowl of white rice with two cans of wild-caught tuna. White rice can hardly be described as strictly Paleo unless you lean toward the Archevore Paleo 2.0 flavor of caveman (which I certainly DO), but I’ve found that as a very lean, very active individual, my system can handle glucose absolutely fine. In fact, on rest days I often go VLC, and I fast 3-4x a week Leangains style (essentially skipping breakfast) with no physical issues felt from the rollercoaster carb intake. I think this is how the human body was meant to function when its well oiled and firing on all cylinders. Effortlessly metabolizing glucose when its present, smoothly shifting to fat metabolism when it isn’t.

  6. Sometimes I find it really difficult to eat after a heavy workout. Like today, for example. I’m practically gagging on grass-fed beef curry. The sweet potato went down fine, but after that my hunger just died. Forcing myself to eat it, but not enjoying it.

  7. Keith, I’m curious. How often do you use pre-exhaust techniques versus just a warmup followed by blasting full throttle into the big compound movements. I typically do the big stuff first (as I suspect most do) but am open to the idea that other methods may be better/different/useful as part of a strategy mixing up ones routine (ie. not doing squats monday, bench wednesday, deads friday). Love the blog and am trying to learn as much as possible as I branch out from training just myself into helping others.

    • I would say that with my client base, 90% of the time. For myself (or for someone more athletically inclined), maybe 50% of the time? And when I do go into a compound movement w/out first pre-exhausting, I would be hitting more toward the strength-speed/speed-strength (i.e., lighter/faster) end of the spectrum. This is all about saving the joints, here; less wear-and-tear, overall, on the body — vs one’s goals. This technique, for instance, might be of little use for a power-lifter, who might be more accepting of joint/body wear as a natural consequence of competing at that chosen endeavor. And thanks, btw, for the kind words!

  8. Hey Keith,

    Love the blog…. I’ve learned a lot from reading your stuff over the last couple of months. Quick question regarding the post workout drink. I noticed you used both raw milk and raw cream which I would think both have a good amount of fat. I was under the impression that post workout the fat should be lower in order to allow for quick absorption into the gut. Am I mixing up pre and post workout nutrition? Thanks again!

    • You’re absolutely right about the fat content — in theory. However, the delay in gut absorption due to the fat content here seems not only *not* to matter (or, at least, is inconsequential), but may actually help in some way. I’m not a biochemist, so I can’t elaborate on the “whys” here — I do know that, speaking from empirical evidence, that when I’ve gone with low or non-fat versions of a recovery drink, the results are less than optimal. And, the drink is actually somewhat satiating with a high(er) fat content as opposed to one with low or nil fat; usually about two hours between consumption of my PWO drink, and my first actual PWO meal.

    • Protein/dairy cream was all the hit in the mid to late 60s through Vince Gironda’s coaching; in turn, the protein of choice at that time was Blair’s milk and whole egg. Raw cream is hormone rich in cholestrum. Gironda made a real strong point of stirring the mix to pudding like consistency, adding black cherry concentrate. Blending, he claimed, broke down the fat for undesirable effects.
      When Weider brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to LA in 1968, he put him with Vince for training and diet, resulting in Arnold going from puffy to lean.

      Whey has been available only for about 20 years, and that due to legislation prohibiting dumping whey into sewer systems: the cheese industry learned t o harvest the protein.

      You can mix blends through The Protein Factory, mixing whey with egg white for a great blend. Studies reported by Jerry Brainum indicate whey concentrate is more anabolic than isolate. Concentrate is harder to find these days.
      I wouldn’t use milk at all – casein accounts for 80% of the protein and is inflammatory for many. Loren Cordain has written considerably about why it should be excluded from the Paleo diet. First find if you react adversely to it. Many, on the other hand, use casein as pre-sleep protein due to it’s far slower digestion rate, hence thinking they get extended nitrogen positive benefit during sleep.

  9. Really great articles Keith.

    Havn’t explored pre-exhaustion enough – will read some more of your stuff on it!

    Also great to see mentions of Graham Hancock on sites like this!!!



  10. Keith, thank you for all the great information you share through Theory to Practice. Do you use a pre-workout drink or meal, as recommended in Nutrient Timing. By necessity, I workout at 6AM. I have always done so on an empty stomach. Nutrient Timing makes a strong case for a pre-workout feed. I am especially interested in the potential effect on cortisol release after reading Dr. Kruse’s latest blog…
    Thanks again,

    • Generally, I’ll workout on an empty/near empty stomach. If my workout is planned to be “intense” (axis-side of the power-law distribution — my n=1-derived sliding scale, here), I’ll take in an 8 oz h20 mix of creatine, citrine malate, avena sativa, tribulus, and enough powdered Gatorade to somewhat cut the God-awful taste.

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