How To Structure Your Meal Plan Based On Training Time

Learn how to eat based on your training time. This article provides complete meal plan examples for the early morning trainer, the midday lifter and the night owl.

Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.

Do you consider yourself the “non-traditional” trainee that works out at different times of the day? Are you not a part of the 5 o’clock rush hour that needs a special perspective on how and when to eat specific meals to optimize results?

Whether it’s training in the early morning hours, midday or late at night, meal timing can become a bit frustrating when your schedule is considered far from the norm. Most training and nutrition plans will assume most readers are working the nine-to-five shift and present solutions in kind.

But what about those of you who have a non-traditional schedule due to work, family or other factors that prevent the “norm” from happening?

Do not despair. A few simple guidelines and a few sample meal plans will have you on the right track toward reaping big gains once again. A plan, some preparation and discipline are in order, so let’s break down what constitutes a flexible eating schedule.

Below are some general guidelines to follow when it comes to formulating your very own eating plan or meal timing on any schedule. These are not hard and fast rules but they do form a foundation of knowledge regarding efficient muscle gain and keeping fat gain at bay. We will get into specific meal timing in a moment.

Machine Bicep Curls

8 Meal Plan Guidelines

  1. Eat around one gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight. Getting in the correct amount of amino acids is imperative to your success especially protein intake that bookends your training.
  2. Keep carbohydrate levels consistent each day and avoid a massive amount before bed. Also, eat a complex carb before training as well. 
  3. Be sure you are eating healthy fats especially if your sleep schedule is not the norm. Healthy fats help regulate hormone levels as well as energy.
  4. Be consistent with your meals no matter what your schedule is like. Training at a different time of day than 99.9% of the population doesn’t give you a special pass to eat what you want whenever you want.
  5. Be prepared. Cook and prep your meals well ahead of time not only to have your food readily available but it will also help you avoid bingeing on the nearest available junk foods.
  6. Have a contingency plan. If your life can get a bit unpredictable at times have a back-up plan in place for when those times come up. Have specific snacks available, meals ready to eat and learn to recognize that it is only temporary and you will get back on track immediately after.
  7. Keep track of how each meal affects you such as energy levels, feelings of satiety and recovery from training. This is a very effective way to direct your meal schedule and structure food to your advantage.
  8. Be patient. Eating plans resemble the same protocol as training requires. Building the discipline and subsequently the results of your training and nutrition plan take time. Give your plan time to kick into gear and adjust later where necessary.

The Meal Plans

The meal plans listed below are only examples for individuals that weigh around 180 to 200 pounds wanting to add lean muscle.

The Early Bird

For those training early in the morning, possibly before going to work or working an evening shift.

  • Meal 1 (pre workout) - 10 to 20 grams of whey protein mixed with water or 1 cup of Greek yogurt
  • Meal 2 (post workout) - 20 to 30 grams of whey protein mixed with water and 1 banana
  • Meal 3 (breakfast) - ½ to 1 cup of oatmeal (dry measure) mixed with skim milk or water and 3 whole eggs
  • Meal 4 (midday) - 6 to 8 ounces of chicken, turkey or tuna on whole wheat bread, tomato, lettuce, 1 apple and 1 ounce of almonds
  • Meal 5 (evening) - 8 ounces of tilapia, salmon, or chicken breast, salad with olive oil-based dressing and asparagus
  • Meal 6 (night) - 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter with 1 scoop of casein protein

The Midday Workout

For those training between 10 and 2 am possibly for their lunch hour.

  • Meal 1 (breakfast) - ½ cup oatmeal (dry measure) mixed with water or 2 slices of Ezekiel bread with natural peanut butter and 1 cup of Greek yogurt or 3 slices of low fat bacon
  • Meal 2 (pre workout) - 20 grams of whey protein mixed with water and 1 apple
  • Meal 3 (post workout) - 30 grams of whey protein
  • Meal 4 (midday) - 6 ounces of chicken breast sliced over salad with ½ avocado and 1 medium sweet potato
  • Meal 5 (evening) - 6 to 8 ounces of sirloin steak and mix of zucchini and squash sautéed with olive oil
  • Meal 6 (night) - 1 ounce of almonds with 1 cup of low fat cottage cheese

The Night Owl

For those who train late at night long after the 5 o’clock crowd has vacated.

  • Meal 1 (breakfast) - 1 cup oatmeal (dry measure) mixed with skim milk and 3 whole eggs
  • Meal 2 (mid-morning) - 1 cup of Greek yogurt or cottage cheese or 3 ounces of beef jerky and 1 piece of fruit
  • Meal 3 (midday) - 6 to 8 ounces of chicken, turkey or tuna on whole wheat bread, tomato, lettuce, ½ avocado, 2 slices of low fat cheese and 1 ounce of almonds
  • Meal 4 (afternoon) - Optional meal similar to meal 2
  • Meal 5 (pre workout) - 20 grams of whey protein and 1 apple
  • Meal 6 (post workout) - 30 grams of whey protein and 10 grams of casein protein. Shortly after post workout whey eat a whole protein and carb such as chicken breast or fish along with 1 cup of rice or medium sweet or white potato