Monday, December 23, 2013

Nutrient Timing - Q&A with Dr. Israetel

I've already introduced Dr. Michael Israetel before.  I poked and prodded him when I was writing the piece on the "every other diet" about clean and dirty foods.

After I was done poking him, I asked him if would be interested in doing a longer Q&A on nutrient timing because that was the thing most people seemed interested in after that article.

After toweling off, he said he would be more than happy to do a Q&A with me on this topic.

So here we go................

Paul Carter:  Mike,  one of the most common questions that arose from our little mini-conversation on clean vs dirty foods was that about nutrient timing.  Can you tell me when you use that term, exactly what it is you're talking about?

Michael Israetel:  Nutrient timing, at its most basic level, describes not the WHAT of the food you eat, but the WHEN. There are two distinct  areas of focus in nutrient timing. The first is meal frequency, or put simply, how many times per day/night you eat. The second focus is on timing food intake to activity, which asks the question of whether food intake must change with respect to training times and times of rest.

Paul Carter:  Cool.  So tell me the basics of nutrient timing.  For example, is it better to eat breakfast or not aeat breakfast?  This has been debated a lot the last couple of years.  For a while there was a trend saying NOT to eat breakfast because it short circuited the fat burning process.  Years before that, it was "eat breakfast to stop catabolism".  Do you have a preference for early morning eating?

Michael Israetel:  That's a great question.  One thing I'd like to clear up is that the effects of a meal almost entirely seem to last as long as the digestion and absorption of that meal occur.
Thus, we should be weary of claims such as "eating breakfast puts you in a fat-burning state for the rest of the day" or "not eating breakfast puts you in a fat-burning state for the rest of the day."
The literature supporting such claims is spotty at best, and certainly not something to get carried away with in diet design.
Thus, the real question about breakfast is, what are you doing right after? If it's training in an hour or 3 hours or something like that, then breakfast has to prepare you for training.
If it's just going to work and doing computer tasks all day until your 5pm weights session, then your breakfast should be designed to address the needs of the body at rest.

But to answer the basic question, I think that any time someone tells you to skip any meal of the day, they're probably mistaken about physiological realities. When amino acids don't leach out of your GI tract, into your blood, and to your body systems after a meal, they must come from SOMEWHERE ELSE, which is almost always your muscles, to a large extent.

Thus, the question is how much to eat, or what nutrients, but definitely not whether to eat at all. The answer to the latter question is YES.

Paul Carter:  So basically you just removed all the confusing aspects of eating breakfast because for a while there were diet gurus that said eating breakfast was bad.  So the trend for a lot of people became not to eat breakfast.

Michael Israetel:  If you're not eating breakfast, you're going to be risking muscle loss. And breakfast is a bit special in this regard because you're almost guaranteed to have no incoming nutrient, as the long fast of nighttime has not allowed for the ingestion of nutrients. If you skip any other meal, some of that time will still be covered by the meal before. But unless you wake up in the middle of the night to eat, breakfast is the worst time to try this.

Paul Carter:  Alright so, what about that whole fear of spiking your insulin early in the morning and how that will make you tired and sleepy and fat?

Michael Israetel:  Spiking your insulin at any time can do that, which is why large volumes of high GI foods need to be saved mostly for during and post-workout times, when muscle uptake rates of nutrients are higher and fat gain probability is lower.
Thus, if your job is to do computer work, breakfast should be low in carbs, and the carbs should be very low GI if consumed.

Paul Carter:  So basically, keep insulin under control all day,  UNTIL........

Michael Israetel:  Until the workout and post-workout window.

Paul Carter:  What magic happens there?

Michael Israetel:  Elevating insulin during and especially after the workout has extensive benefits. Higher GI carbs, when consumed during and after training spike insulin. Via insulin and the actual presence of those carbs, a number of positives result, including:
1.) Reduced risk of catabolism intra and post workout
2.) Higher energy levels during the workout, especially at the end.
3.) Faster and more complete replenishment of glycogen, which both gives you energy for the next training session and itself activates anabolic processes.
4.) Direct activation of anabolic processes which last days afterwards.
All of these effects as maximized when carbs are paired with a fast-digesting protein, such as whey.

Paul Carter:  So what do you recommend to drink during training?

Michael Israetel:  Gatorade and whey protein with plenty of water.

Paul Carter:  Will how much vary on the size and energy being expended by the athlete?  Yes, it's a "duh" question but give me some guidelines here on what you might recommend.
So we don't have to run through every size, what might a guy that's 175 might need compared to a guy that's 240?

Michael Israetel:  The protein intake is based on bodyweight (lean bodyweight, actually).
So we take your daily intake (1g per lb or so) and divide it evenly into meals, thus if you weigh 250 and eat 5 meals per day, your shake might have 50g protein.

Paul Carter:  So as we talked about before, your nutrient timing plays into the IIFYM model.

Michael Israetel :  Carbs are based off of protein intake as well as volume of training.
Low Volume (deload): 1-1
Moderate Volume (3x5s): 1-2
High Volume (4x10s): 1-3
Very High Volume (lots of moves at 5x10): 1-4
So a high volume workout for our lean 250lb guy would be a shake with 50g whey and 150g gatorade powder, mixed with plenty of water
And yes, macros are more important, but once you have those dialed in, timing plays a role as well.

Paul Carter:  Ok so what about post workout?  We hear about the post workout window and taking advantage of it.  Do you believe in this theory and if so, why?  If not, why not?

Michael Israetel:  Absolutely. The literature is convincing.
Same recommendations for post-workout as intra.
Truth be told, your should be sipping your intra shake after your workout, finish that in a couple of minutes, and transition into your PWO meal rather soon.

Paul Carter:  How soon is soon?

Michael Israetel:  "How soon is soon:" Well, you want that ratio of protein and carbs to be consumed in such a manner as maximizes uptake speed post training.
The trade off is, if you eat TOO much, TOO soon, you'll slow down absorption rates.
Without getting too complicated, after you finish your intra/post shake, you should start eating your next meal (or shake) within 20-40 minutes after your workout is over
If you just slam it all after, you bloat up, and absorption could be hampered.
If you wait too long, the muscles lose sensitivity to glucose and amino acid uptake and you miss part of the window.
So I'd say about 30 min post is a good idea for most situations.
And drink plenty of fluids, as that many carbs will just sit in your GI tract if you don't properly dilute them. That's not usually a problem, as people tend to get pretty thirsty from 100g of carbs in sugary cereal!

Paul Carter:  Ok so how long do you believe this "anabolic window" lasts after training?

Michael Israetel:  About 6 hours seems to be the best approximation with lower volume workouts having a shorter workout window and higher volume ones up to 6 hours.

Paul Carter:  So how would one eat after the post workout meal in order to take advantage of this window?

Michael Israetel:  After the PWO meal, you continue to eat carbs in every meal, but as you go meal-to-meal, there are three distinct changes that occur.
1.) Your carb content per meal decreases with each meal as you leave the workout window. As insulin sensitivity drops over the 6 hours, so does carb intake.
2.) Your carb GI should drop as well as you leave the window, from high GI right after workout, to lower and lower GI with each meal. It has been shown that high GI carbs promote positive changes in body composition post-workout, but negative body comp at other times of the day.
3.) Fats will also increase from minimal consumption post workout to higher levels afterwards, as fats lower the GI of any carbs they are eaten with.

Paul Carter:  Ok so to back up a bit, since I feel like we have that covered, do you believe that there should also be certain guidelines most people follow in terms of what and when they eat BEFORE training?

Michael Israetel:  Absolutely.  before training, it's important to have a meal that sets you up for a productive training session. It must provide enough energy for blood glucose levels to be adequate to stave off neural fatigue, and it might also have some carbs in it to top off glycogen stores. The meal must be timed right so as to be digested in the stomach and leaching out into the blood by the time training starts, so the fat and fiber levels of the meal must be modulated.

Paul Carter:  So what's your recommended timing for this team and what might it look like?

Michael Israetel:  For example, if you're training in 40 minutes, some sugary cereal and whey protein will accomlish the deposition of nutrients into the blood on time.
But if you're eating 3 hours before training, some brown rice and PB with steak could do the trick, since you'll need to nutrients later.

Paul Carter:  So the timing before training will dictate the type of food you need to eat.

Michael Israetel:  Correct.  A big mistake is if you violate those recommendations. Eat cereal 3 hours before training and you're hungry, hypoglycemic, and out of energy by the time training comes.
Eat a burrito 30 min before squatting and you'll see that burrito on the floor by your third set, largely unchanged.

Paul Carter:  I don't wanna see that.

Michael Israetel:  Hahha.  Indeed.

Paul Carter:  So to recap, the basic foundations are.....

But the basic foundations are:
1.) Multiple protein meals through the day.
2.) Carbs pre-during-and tapered after workouts.
3.) High GI carbs in the workout and close to it, Lower GI at other times.
4.) Lower or no fats in workout window, fats outside of it based on filling in calories that your proteins and carbs did not fill.

Paul Carter:  Ok so even if a guy is trying to lose fat, should be take in all these carbs?  I mean, I hear over and over again that carbs just make you fat.  Like you eat carbs, fat just magically pours onto your body.  What if a dude is trying to get really fucking lean.  Still eat the carbs around this window?

Michael Israetel:  Carbs in the workout window lead to muscle gain and retention, and more fat loss, in fact
thus, when cutting calories from your daily diet, workout window carbs should be some of the last nutrients to get cut.  Carbs not in the workout window should be cut first.  Eventually when fats and carbs are cut VERY low, workout window carbs need to be cut as well to reduce calories further but that's certainly not what to do first.

Paul Carter:  And on the flip side, what about training for long periods in a carb depleted state?  Like people who do keto diets.  I always felt like this was a very counter productive way to train and create an anabolic environment.  Is my intuition about that backed by anything from a research point of view?

Michael Israetel:  It's absolutely correct.

Paul Carter:  Go on.......

Michael Israetel:  Glycogen is the best fuel source for high-intensity activity, hands down, so going low in glycogen for long periods of time is ill-advised. Additionally, carbs in the workout window have such beneficial effects for muscle retention on a diet that it would be a bad idea to get rid of them for the same reason.

Paul Carter:  I think the key words there are "for long periods at a time".  Maybe some people can do keto for a 8-12 week span, and not notice detrimental effects, but the majority of people are probably going to suffer if they go keto or ultra low carb for too long.  In terms of trying to build lean tissue.  Is that about right?

Michael Israetel:  I think so.  But I think maybe it's not a good idea to go into keto for even that long.

Paul Carter:  Why not?

Michael Israetel:  Unnecessary risk of muscle loss from taking out all carbs.

Paul Carter:  I read a study that showed where some people on a no carb/keto style diet actually gained some muscle over a 4 week span, however IMO that's such a short period that there's not a lot to derive from that other than over 4 weeks you don't have a ton to worry about.

Michael Israetel:  It's likely because they had so much more protein than usual and of course a single study will often have a variety of interesting conclusions.
If we look at all the studies taken together, there is a clear advantage to carb intake in relation to body composition.

Paul Carter:  I would agree.  I mean, all the bodybuilders in the 80's and 90's got shredded with high carb diets.  So I'm not sure why the carb a phobic crowd showed up one day with their thong in a knot over carbs.  At the end of the day, it's really about calories in vs out in terms of fat loss, is it not?

Michael Israetel:  Yep, I think because cutting carbs is a very good way to cut fat, people took it very far. But they took it overboard, where they ate too few carbs (keto) and were now losing a bunch of muscle too.
And yes, calorie balance is the first ingredient.

Paul Carter:  Ok so is there anything missing here?  What about the last meal of the day.  Anything special going on there?  You know, slow release protein to avoid catabolism, etc?  Anything you like to do there?

Michael Israetel:  Absolutely.  The last meal of the day presents us with a particular set of circumstances
because our muscles still need aminos through the night, but energy expenditure during sleep is similar to what it is at rest (low).
So it's probably best to consume a slow-digesting protein but low or no carbs should be consumed as energy expenditure is low and possible high fats, because they will delay protein absorption and allow the aminos to be present for even longer casein and PB is a good choice there.  And lastly, likely a slow digesting protein with low carbs at night and that's the meat and potatoes of it!

Paul Carter:  Mike what role do fats play in all of this nutrient timing ?

Michael Israetel:  Fats have 3 very related effects on digestion and absorption:

1.) They delay the absorption of ALL nutrients eaten with them.
2.) They slow down the rate at which nutrients are absorbed once they do start absorbing.
3.) They lower the GI of any carb they are taken with.
These factors must be taken into consideration when planning your meals.
For example:
If you have a workout coming up in 30 minutes, DON'T EAT 60g of fat with your pre-workout meal!!!
I did that once when I had the opportunity to train at the Elite compound with Dave Tate and a couple of other guy.  We had a nice big meal at a restaurant... then we got up, and they were like "time to train!"

I had leg day....

Paul Carter:   I bet.  So obviously that also means post workout you need to avoid fats until the meal close to bedtime, where you'd want the nutrients to be absorbed at a slower rate.

Michael Israetel:  YEP, Exactly.  Another good time would be if you know you can't eat for a while
Say you'll be with family at the park or lake and they are normal people, so not eating for 5-6 hours is fine by them.  Instead of inconveniencing yourself with a cooler and meals just eat 80g of protein and 60g of fat before the trip, and you have a slow and steady release of aminos into the blood the whole time!

Paul Carter:  That's great because I don't know what is more annoying than to see those people who can't go anywhere without packing a cooler of food around.

Michael Israetel:  Yep.  And this is where the IIFYM people and IF people have a point.  No, you don't need to eat every 2 hours.  But if you're going a long time without food, you need to make sure you "pack it" in your GI tract!

Paul Carter:  Great point.

Michael Israetel:  Swallowing A heroin baloon with casein protein works too.

Paul Carter:  I see.  Ok so what about protein?  Tell me your thoughts on protein in this equation.

Michael Israetel:  The protein should be the appropriate one for the occasion if you want aminos in the blood asap, you must use a fast digesting source if you want a meal replacement, a medium-digesting source
if you want a large anti-catabolic window, a slow digesting source must be consumed it's just about that simple.
In that order

Paul Carter:  Back to fats real quick, what are your recommended sources there?

Michael Israetel:  Paul, that is a very good question.  I'm actually going to be writing a very angry article about this soon.
It has become fashionable of late to say that saturated fats don't cause heart disease
that they have been mislabeled as bad, etc..
No less than 9 massive comprehensive reviews of the literature have concluded that sat fats are worse for your cardiac long term health than other fats particularly monounsaturated fats.
2 literature reviews of the same magnitude found insignificant differences.
So you tell me, Paul, as an intelligent non-scientist which side you gonna bet on? 9 or 2?

Paul Carter:   Of course the 9.  Well if you remember for decades doctors and nutritionists said that saturated fats were bad.  Then you had all these keto diets show up and basically say "it's ok to eat shit fats because your body will use it all the same".  But that never made sense to me.  For example, the god damn bacon rage.  Because bacon is a dog shit food, and I don't understand how somehow can justify eating pounds of it.

Michael Israetel:  hahahahah Exactly.
So healthy fats need to be comprised mostly of monounsaturated fats, some poly and few (but some) sat fats
you can have bacon on occasion.
But most fats should come from sources like avocado, olive and canola oils, and nuts/nut butters

Paul Carter:  And what fats and foods should really be avoided here?

Michael Israetel:  Foods with trans fats are a no-no like fast food, store-bought baked goods, etc
often have trans fats.  They are the worst type of fat, as they're pretty close to just being mild toxins.

Please help stop bacon retardation 

Paul Carter:  Yet I see tons of powerlifters listing these types of foods as their "staples" all the time.

Michael Israetel:  Paul it's so easy.  How great would it be if eating burgers and shakes was healthy?
It's so much more fun to eat that than PB and brown rice!  But PLers are notorious for ignoring their long-term health to get "jacked now" and that's a fine choice, it just sucks if they are ill-informed and think its not actually bad for their health to eat a pound of bacon.

Paul Carter:  But from a peformance standpoint, I also lift better and feel better when I'm NOT eating that shit.

Michael Israetel:  100% me too.  Some people, I have no idea how they can eat like they do and still want to MOVE, let alone lift.

Paul Carter:  Exactly.  Eventually when I overdo it on shit foods I become very lethargic and feel like shit.

Michael Israetel:  Without a doubt.

Paul Carter:  Mike I feel pretty good about this.  I want to thank you for all of your time with this.  It's very much appreciated.

Michael Israetel:  My pleasure.

You can find Mike on Facebook at the Renaissance Periodization page..


  1. This was a great Q&A clears up a lot of confusion about something that's not really that complicated but always gets overcomplicated.

  2. Great article. Only question I have was touched upon early and that is the 1g protein / pounds of LEAN mass. Just to ensure this is clear, the 1-1.5 g / lb / day protein rule of thumb apples to lean mass, no bodyweight, correct? So a 250lb jacked guy and a 250 lb skinny fat guy are going to need entirely different amounts of protein to stimulate growth.

    1. Truth be told,1g of protein per lb of lean body mass is right up there toward the very highest recommendations. For lean mass, 0.8 to 1.0g per lb is the range where optimal protein intake occurs for most lifters. For bodymass, that would be in the 0.6 to 1.0 range to account for the "fluffier" of us, lol.

      So yes, 250lb jacked guy might need upwards of 250g of protein per day, whereas 250lb fat guy (not sure skinny-fat applies to people over 200lbs!) may need only 150g of protein per day to optimize his training process.

    2. So, If I understand correctly, would you say that most people are eating way too much protein at the expense of carbohydrates?

  3. Paul thanks for posting this, very helpful and informative.
    I do have a question on one point; I'm not trying to nitpick here, just in need of some clarification and would like your thoughts. I've heard from different sources that carbs before bed aren't in fact a bad thing, and can actually have some positive benefits like further glycogen replenishment, a rise in serotonin (leading to greater melatonin production) and a spike and subsequent fall of insulin, both leading to a greater night's sleep. Thoughts?

    1. Carbs before bed will absolutely replenish glycogen stores further, and may also help with falling asleep.

      However, this must be traded off with their proclivity to convert to fat when energy levels are low (such as during sleep). Thus, if you get let's say, 300g of carbs per day, and you have a choice as to where to put those carbs, around the workout and during times of higher activity is likely better for body comp enhancement.

  4. Thank you for the information. I don't normally post comments or ask questions, but I continually hear how that nutrition can make or break your training and results. I don't want to short change my progress due to my own ignorance. I am fine with eating healthy, but like you stated in an earlier post, the definition of healthy keeps changing.

    I am an older newbie (37, started really lifting this year). I lost about 50 lbs of fat and gains 9 lbs of muscle in the first three month this year going low carb. I haven't changed much since. I am really looking to add mass and base strength using your mass building and base building guidelines in your Base Building book.

    My question is, are there any variances to consider for early morning training? I'm usually up by 5:30 am and in the gym by 6:15 am. I normally train fasted and just drink water during my workout (1 to 1.5 hours). Do I still have a high GI low fat meal PWO, then taper off/lower GI carbs while increasing fats throughout the day? What is that high GI meal like? I'm guessing not oatmeal.


    1. You absolutely should be consuming carbs pre, during, and post training, then tapering them off during the day.

      If you wake up an hour before training, have a whey shake and a banana. Mod/high GI carbs will give you energy for your workout.

      During and after training, follow the guidelines in the article.

      And yeah, high GI foods include things like gatorade during your workout, and maybe some fat free baked goods or kids' cereals with skim milk and whey protein for right after training.

      Keep up the fitness journey!

  5. How do you go about dealing with your last meal of the day also being a post workout meal? I lift and/or condition early in the day and train mma and BJJ in the evening. Typically I don't finish practice until 9 or 10pm. I'm usually able to get my last meal in within an hour after training and go ahead and have a fair amount of carbs since I just got done training and I'm pretty depleted. Is that the right thought process, or how would you approach this.

    1. Very good question, as I just started rolling myself and help several very good players with their diets.

      It comes down to tradeoffs, and making sure you're adjusting the carbs according to activity levels.

      If you eat a post-workout carb meal in the middle of the day, most of those carbs go to replenishing glycogen in the muscle just worked, but some go to fueling activities that you're doing right then and there (working for example).

      If you post-workout meal is later at night, you should probably consume FEWER carbs than you usually would post-workout so that you get enough for glycogen replenishment, but none are left over (that would typically be used for activity) to deposit as fat.

      How much less carb is this? Well, lots of variables play a role, but I think a 75% reduction from "during the day" post-workout meals would work as a decent start. Give that a try!

    2. Thank you. I'll start adjusting and see how things go from there.

  6. What's your go-to Isopure and Gatorade flavors for your intra/PWO shake?

    1. Well, I'm not Mr. Moneybags like Paul here (loljk), so I don't do Isopure, but I do seem to like the vanilla whey mixed with blue or orange gatorade powder in about 2 liters of water. I think it ends up tasting pretty good. On the flavor recommendations, play around with what you like, but STAY AWAY from mixing chocolate protein with any flavor of gatorade lol!!!

    2. Thanks!. I used some unflavored Isonatural with Lemon gatorade the other day in a 1:3 protein:carb ratio and had a great workout - a lot more energy than usual.

      I was surprised, however, that the caloric load for the mixture ended up being around 800 kcal if I remember correct. Seems like a lot if you are shooting for 3000 kcal/day and are still have meals to eat.

      Do you just work the rest of your macros around that caloric load from the intra/PWO shake or was I just off in the way I used it?

      Thanks Mike and Paul.

  7. What are you thoughts on EAA/BCAAs? When would you consume them?

  8. Read the article and soaked it all in but I don't recall reading anything about rest days. I skimmed over again just to be sure. What is the recommendation on those days? Low to no carbs or strictly low GI?