The importance of nutrient timing depends largely on your goals, preferences and lifestyle. For the vast majority of us its importance is vastly over played. It is certainly not the case that your workout is ruined if you don’t immediately down a shake as soon as you leave the gym. By far the biggest nutritional factor in determining your body composition is your total macronutrient intake.
How these nutrients are timed may be important for other reasons:
For long term results it is important to consider your preferred way of eating. For example do you enjoy eating more frequently or do you like to have fewer larger meals. Do you prefer eating before training or does this give you discomfort while exercising. Do you eat a larger evening meal with your family? You may want to account for this with smaller or less meals during the day.
Essentially you want to make your meal frequency fit around your lifestyle and not vice versa.
Nutrient timing may affect your performance for a few reasons..
1) Energy levels- low food intake prior to training could make you feel lethargic and reduce exercise intensity and enjoyment.
2) Hunger- going into the gym hungry means you are probably going to be thinking more about your post work out meal than your training session.
Nutrition is key to recovery. If you think about training as creating a stimulus; rest and recovery are needed to adapt to this stimulus. However, the extent to which timing is significant is frequently over exaggerated. For example the stores of glycogen (carbohydrate) within your muscles are easily replenished by the next day. This is only usually a consideration for endurance athletes training multiple times a day.
Protein is needed for muscles to repair and grow after training. In theory the quicker we can get protein in the quicker the recovery and growth process can begin. However, most studies show little effect of protein timing in healthy young individuals. Where this might play a role is in older adults who experience a reduced anabolic (muscle building) response. Despite this I would still recommend ingesting protein around your work out as it will certainly do no harm and may do some good. I also definitely wouldn’t run a red light on y way home from the gym if I forgot my post work out shake.
I find this is very individual. For some people eating little and often means they never get too hungry. Others prefer to have fewer larger meals and find this keeps them more satiated. Find what works for you.
Play around with your nutrient timing to find what works best for YOU. There is no one size fits all.