Nutrition Timing: Myth or Truth

Writer Joyce Yip | November 5, 2015

Emma Stirling, Nutritionist:

“Nutrition timing depends on the person”

Though Stirling insists that there has yet to be scientific proof to back up nutrition timing, she agrees that a regime should cater to an individual’s health and genetics, and has the following suggestions:

For breakfast: low GI carbs like oats or porridge for easy digestion paired with small portions of protein such as milk, ricotta cheese, yoghurt or a whey protein drink.

“Out of all the nutrients, protein provides that high satiety or appetite satisfaction, which makes you feel fuller for longer after breakfast. Many people have most of their protein at lunch and evening meals, so try and boost your protein at breakfast,” she says.

Pre-workout: grab a portion of healthy and easily digestible carbs or fruit (such as a small bowl of cereal, raisin toast with jam or even a handful of pasta with tomato sauce). Remember to lay off the fibre to avoid an uneasy gut and stick with familiar foods.

Post-workout: go for quality carbs, lean protein and fluids with electrolytes to refuel the body (think lean chicken, bowl of muesli or tuna on crackers). Insufficient recovery nutrition can result in fatigue, reduced performance and increased muscle soreness.

Her last tip: “Tannins from tea can bind easily with some minerals in our meals such as iron, zinc, and, to a lesser extent, calcium, and this can interfere with their absorption. It’s best to leave a 30-minute gap between eating a meal and drinking tea to make sure you have the best chance to absorb these minerals.”

Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, Director of Clinical Nutritional Research at Singapore Institute of Clinical Science:

“Nutrition timing is a valid scientific concept without concrete backup”

“The whole idea of the chronology and the timing of eating is a valid concept in science, but is there evidence to support or substantiate that? Not really. So this is when you see people making up things as they go along with randomised control trials,” said Jeyakumar, adding that nutrition timing – in a purely scientific perspective – can be likened to fad diets. “This is when you see the consumers are clearly ahead of the knowledge of science. Science will soon follow suit from the emerging concept, but evidence to back up nutrition timing is scarce at the moment.”

Though the books have a long way to catch up, Jeyakumar does have a few rules for the healthy eater. His top tip? “For heaven’s sake, please eat breakfast! Skipping it is the worst thing to do!” and further argued muesli and porridge are good traditional breakfast options in all cultures.

Nibbling on low-calorie foods like fruits is also recommended throughout the day followed by a light dinner to avoid gastric reflux at night, “but a point to make is skipping dinner is as bad as skipping breakfast. Try to get something in your stomach so your body has energy to repair itself at night.”

Liana Nenacheva, Western and Chinese doctor, Chinese Nutrition Therapist and Certified Yoga Instructor:

“It’s about nutrition timing and grouping”

Morning: liquid foods like porridge, congee, miso soup, and if you must go for solids, then steamed vegetables. Like Proctor, Nenacheva bans dairy from her diet due to the resulting glucose generation and hormonal imbalances.

Pre-workout: dry fruit with nuts for “healthy sugars and proteins”.

Post-workout: juice.

Pre-sleep: while she strongly advises against eating after 6pm, foods like bananas, walnuts, cashews, longan and herbal tea are permitted.

However, Nenacheva insists that our focus shouldn’t be on nutrition timing, but on grouping.

“The most important thing in our diet is actually how we eat and how we combine food,” she says, as effective pairing like whole grains, beans, lentils and vegetables with small portions of meat and fish will help cleanse the body. “Eat a little bit of protein just once a day rather than two to three times a day.”

She also emphasises the importance of drinking water no later than half an hour before a meal, while juices should only be taken in between an hour and a half before or after a meal to prevent a leaky gut.

Nutrition timing doesn’t matter unless you’re an elite athlete
~ Monica Proctor