Nutrient Programming – An Athlete’s Approach (Part 2)

Nutrient Programming - An Athlete's Approach to Nutrition (Part 2)

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Last time here on CXP Nutrition we discussed the simple concept of Nutrient *Pairing*, whereby we combine our macros in pairs – favouring Protein & Carbs OR Protein & Fat – so as to optimize macro uptake. This week, we’re looking at the notion of “Nutrient Programming”…

Really, this is even simpler than Nutrient Pairing, but as with most of my articles here on Nutrition, you can expect me to play Devil’s Advocate and give you an independent and unbiased view!

So, what we mean by Nutrient Programming is that what you eat at certain times of the day can actually “program” your metabolism for the rest of the day. Now, as novel as this may seem, research conducted [in separate studies] by Dr. Molly Bray (Chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at University of Texas) and Dr. Ryan Lowery (out of University of Tampa – also the President and Co-Founder of the Applied Science and Performance Institute) showed how you can “program” your metabolism to use *fat* [as its primary fuel source].

Interestingly enough, Dr. Lowery is a massive advocate of the Keto Diet – even co-authoring “The Ketogenic Bible” with Dr. Jacob Wilson (who really helped bring both Nutrient Pairing and Nutrient Programming to the mainstream several years ago).

While Dr. Bray – at the helm of Nutritional Sciences at UT – has produced ground-breaking work that ushered in new concepts like Nutrient Programming, she has [more recently] focused her efforts on Training Interventions and Genetics of Exercise Response (a.k.a. the “TIGER” Study).

Between the two/three of them though, a solid foundation was laid that has allowed Athletes to build their Nutrition Plan in ways that – to the more indoctrinated – might seem to defy the general “Dietary Guidelines” that are dished out (as funnelled down to GPs and Dieticians from the arcane and obsolete government-spear-headed establishments like the FDA).

What their respective studies found was that if you wake up in the morning and consume a high-fat, low-carb breakfast (with plenty of protein – in the realm of 30-40g), then for the rest of the day you can use fat at a higher percentage of fuel.

On the flipside, if you get up and have a high-carb meal first thing (which, let’s face it – is the case for most of us), you actually then become ‘fixed’ to carbohydrates as a fuel source, and that means you’re more likely to *store* fat.

This isn’t to say that you can’t have Carbs with your meals – we’re talking about your *first* meal of the day; it’s setting your body up to use Fat first. Later in the day you can have your Protein & Carb meals (which will be useful post-workout).

Now, let me just connect a couple of dots for you here…

If you remember back in January when I wrote Why You’ll Never Have the Physique of Wolverine or Wonder Woman, you might recall that I shed light on the fact that Hollywood’s fittest – from Hugh Jackman and Gal Gadot to Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson – have to train for *hours* per day in order to attain their godly figures…

Well, there is also a very specific order in which they structure their training. They do their Cardio first (usually in the morning) – typically for about an hour or so – and then do their Weight Training later in the day.

Why is this relevant?’ Glad you asked!

See, the thing about good old Cardio is that it is usually Low Intensity – aiming to keep the Heart Rate around 60-70% of its max BPM [Beats Per Minute]. The purpose of this is because in that “Zone” your body will use Fat as its primary fuel source (hence it is referred to as the “Fat Burning Zone”).

Later on, when they go and do their lifting, they are usually doing compound exercises (like Deadlifts, Squats, Push Ups, Pull Ups, etc). This will form the backbone of their Strength & Conditioning work along with Functional High Intensity Interval Training…

The “problem” with the latter is that it raises the Heart Rate to 80+% of its max, which then means that we’re using our Glycogen Stores (and even the Creatine Phosphate system – if the moves are particularly ‘ballistic’ in nature).

Starting to see the pattern yet?

It’s an extremely simple strategy: start your day off consuming a breakfast of Protein & Fat, and get in some Cardio (Steady State – or whatever keeps your Heart Rate around 60-70%) and you will be optimizing your body’s Fat utilization for the day ahead.

And if you really think about it… and this one will blow your mind a little (especially if you’ve read 3 Benefits to Intermittent Fasting and/or Everything You Need to Know About Going Keto)… this ‘programming’ actually hands in the proverbial “pink slip” on Intermittent Fasting and the Keto Diet.


Think about this: part of the reason why people follow I.F. is to stabilize their Blood Sugar Levels, but also, so that they can workout first thing in the morning when Fasted. The rationale being that Glycogen Stores / Blood-Glucose Levels will be at their lowest (because you haven’t eaten yet), thus encouraging the body to use Fat for Fuel [first].

But by ‘programming’ in this way – still eating before your workout, just ensuring that it is a Carb-free breakfast – you’ll actually achieve the same result!

Also, by doing this, you are enabling your body to tap into Fat as a fuel source – which is the entire point of the Keto Diet – but guess what? Without having to “go ‘full keto’”!

Nutrient Programming is the loophole that Athletes are able to exploit, but that the majority of us either a) simply don’t know about, or b) deem to “weird” or ‘not doable’, and so, don’t try. But let me ask you this…

Which would you rather do:

  1. Go two thirds of the day not eating, and adjust your eating schedule to cram 2000+kcal into an 8hr time slot (the bulk of which is most likely smack-dab in the middle of your working day).
  2. Restrict your diet so severely that you are minimizing your Carb intake to barely 5% (up to 10%) of your overall Calories, and have to stuff your face with ungodly amounts of high-fat foods in order to achieve a Metabolic State that you can be knocked out of with just a bite of a donut.


  1. Divvy up your macros [relatively] *evenly*, PAIR them up in a way that optimizes uptake, and simply prioritize the order [throughout the day] in which you eat them.


Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘Well damn, Chris… we thought you were “pro-Keto”! And what the hell is wrong with Intermittent Fasting?’

Fact is, I have no problems with either. I believe both work for some people, but are not for everyone. I have personally used both “nutrition strategies” to a pretty darn decent degree of success. So really, I am neither “pro” nor “against” any of these Diet/Nutrition-based concepts; I am like Switzerland on this! And I just want YOU to know the benefits and caveats to be found before you dive in head first without realizing what you’re getting into.

Is Nutrient Programming (along with Nutrient Pairing) the solution to your Diet issues? Maybe. Maybe not! Whether it’s Keto, Paleo, Whole 30, Intermittent Fasting or these ‘Athlete’s Approaches to Nutrition’, it all comes down to one ultimate question: Does it work for YOU?

Of course, you’d probably say, ‘I don’t know cuz I haven’t tried it yet’. Okay. Fair point. But think about yourself for a sec. Your habits. Your tendencies. If you’ve tried I.F. or Keto (among others), did they work? If not, was it because you felt they weren’t sustainable? If that’s the case, then WHAT wasn’t sustainable about them?

You have to be honest with yourself here! Can you break free from how most of us have been brought up? Can you “program” your day so that you have meals with specific macro-profiles at certain times of the day? Can you prepare a dish that is just Protein and [*healthy*] Fat? Can you prepare one that is Protein and [*healthy*] Carbs? Could you separate them out and eat them that way for a SUSTAINED period of time? (Preferably, as an ongoing thing – after all, this wants to be a lifestyle, not just some fad that you try for a few weeks then give up on).

The reason why people rave about Keto is because they have made it work for them; they have been able to wake up every morning happy with eating plenty of Fat-rich food, moderate Protein, and next to no Carbs.

People swear by Intermittent Fasting – Hugh Jackman [again] is another advocate on this one – and it’s because they can go through the timetable adjustment and make their “feeding window” fit within their day.

Many [Pro/Elite] Athletes don’t have to really think about these things; a lot of them have Nutritionists and Coaches who plan it out for them – they just have to eat what their fed… though that may be (IS) greatly over-simplified.

If you can make these little tweaks to how you eat (and how you train – after all, I just shared an epic ‘secret’ with you regarding how to calibrate your Training to fit in with all of this)… Then hey, maybe you could have a breakthrough you never expected.

Now, just before I wrap up, I should tell you to talk with your Doctor – especially if you have any Health Conditions that could be aggravated from “drastic” changes to your Diet.

But there you have it – Part 2 to An Athlete’s Approach to Nutrition. If you decide to try Nutrient Pairing and/or Programming, then I hope you have great success with it/them! Please share your success stories with me, as I’d love to hear them!

In the meantime, I’ll catch you in the next one. But, remember: Eat Healthy, and Eat Smart!

Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO

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