Your body does not keep track of your energy and nutrient needs the way you do.

A key point to understand about nutrition, is that your body does not keep track of your energy and nutrient needs the way you do.

At 00:00, your body does not check a journal to see if you ate more or less than you needed for the day, and then resets your targets back to zero for the next day.

There’s no accounting; you don’t gain or lose fat or muscle, be more or less recovered, be healthy or less healthy; depending on what total fat, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals you ate by midnight.

We use daily nutrition guidelines because we divide our lives into days, and most of us eat a similar number of meals, at similar times, with similar sleep schedules.

It’s the obvious practical way to go about things.

We understand that a human in a certain context expends a certain amount of energy in 24 hours. Using tightly controlled measurements of humans in airtight rooms, we can account for the energy consumed, and energy expended through respiratory gas exchange, and excreted in the urine. E.g., doubly labelled water.

We understand the energy requirements of certain sports and activities, and understand what proportion of carbohydrate, fat, and protein are used to meet those requirements at varying watts (W) [work/time].

We can estimate daily energy needs from calculations based on body composition, and we have good tools to measure body composition on which to base those calculations. E.g., Dual X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA). We also understand how body composition changes in relation to scaling up or down of energy and nutrient intake. Our calculations are now incredibly complex, taking into account progressive adaptations over time.

We have radiotracer studies, and have done muscle biopsies to understand the uptake, use, and loss of protein (amino acids), and have consensus targets for daily protein consumption, and understand what is sufficient to drive new body protein synthesis. We understand carbohydrate needs from the obligate glucose requirements of the nervous system, to the restoration of muscle glycogen after sport. Research continues for the role of dietary fats in health and disease, and how they are mediators and regulators of various physiological processes. E.g., Inflammation.

We have “Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)”, which are intake levels of essential nutrients judged to meet the known needs of most healthy humans.

So we can say with a good level of confidence that a human of, and in a certain context, should eat a certain amount of food daily, composed of certain amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals.

However, this still does not mean that simply meeting your targets by midnight is what really matters. Your body doesn’t work that way.

Your body requires more or less nutrients and energy in windows of time, whether that’s hours, days, or weeks. Needs are relative to when your last meal was consumed, its composition, your exercise session intensity and duration, how recovered you are, your current hormonal profile, whether you are pregnant, injured or sick, and your overall life stress.

The body does not count calories or nutrients, but works by the collective signals from your cells, driven by gradient differences in various molecules. There is a constant break down and build up of molecules, and these fluctuations drive a cascade of signals and responses; from DNA transcription, to your desire for potato chips. It’s a chemical pressure weather system.

What this all means, is that you cannot simply just “eat enough” by the end of the day to be healthy, and support your training and sport.

This is absolutely essential to understand for athletes who struggle to eat consistently throughout the week, who have a history of undereating, are on the edge of energy or a nutrient deficiency, or recovering from chronic low energy and nutrient availability. I.e., Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).

Your body is not a battery; you cannot simply recharge it by plugging it in at the end of the day with a big meal.

Yes it really matters if you eat one or more meals across the day, are calorie restricting, intermittent fasting, using time restricted feeding, limiting carbohydrates, fat, protein, or training fasted or fed.

It matters in relation to your state of “strain”.

Your training and sports performance work is “load” [intensity/duration] placed on your physiological and psychological systems (“System”). E.g., tissues, nervous system, immune system, psychology.

The “stress” is how your System dynamically responds to your session load; relative to your capacity: which is reduced over the session. Your System “appropriates” more or less stress long-term, and adapts its overall capacity positively (expanded), or negatively (limited).

Your “strain” is the chronic result of load and stress, and is the “deformation” of your System from which you must recover to prevent deleterious adaptations.

Therefore, progressive beneficial adaptations to your System, is about managing your capacity, stress response, and restoring capacity after deformation. This is done by the management of your training load and cellular signalling, via autoregulation and nutrition.

When we view nutrition (and training) through the lens of “signals and substrates”, we see the importance and discipline of individual meals and their composition, timing and frequency.

Our meal digestion, nutrient absorption, cellular uptake, usage, storage, molecular synthesis, and cleanup, are rate limited. Your System is best supported by spreading out nutrition across the day with purpose. Not by skipping nutrient (“substrate”) opportunities for “signalling” recovery and growth.

Food before, during, and after your training and sports performance windows, is buffering, augmenting, and “converting” your workload stress into beneficial adaptations. Your meals around the day maintain your overall energy status, and supply further nutrients and co-factors to support ongoing recovery and health.

Placing nutrition across the whole day, restores and develops ongoing physical and psychological capacity.

The truly most basic application…

Aim to have four meals of at least 25g of protein per meal, spread across the day. With one of those meals around 40 mins before your training or sports window.

Aim to have at least four meals of 60g of carbohydrate per meal, spread across the day. With one of those meals around 40 mins before your training or sports window. Add another meal of 30-60g halfway through your session, and repeat again if session >3 hours.

Aim to eat three meals of whole ingredients such as starchy and leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit, nuts, avocados, olives, olive oil, eggs, diary, fatty fish, meat.

If recovering from Low Energy Availability (LEA), or a history of undereating. Aim to include 1-2 additional sweet or savoury snacks within the day. E.g, fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, avocado, hummus, nuts, muesli bars, granola, pastries, cakes, desserts, chocolates.

Your body does not keep track of your energy and nutrient needs the way you do.
Your body does not keep track of your energy and nutrient needs the way you do.