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.
8 Meal Plan Guidelines
- 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.
- Keep carbohydrate levels consistent each day and avoid a massive amount before bed. Also, eat a complex carb before training as well.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
How to fit coffee on the Early Bird schedule?
Since both Coffee and pre workout protein contains cafein.
Hi, Ivan. My suggestion would be to either replace the preworkout with coffee or save the coffee for mid-morning if the preworkout doesn't have too much caffeine (200 mg or less).
I workout around 7-8 pm. And i am a vegetarian, so can you please give me the alternatives of meat or other non-vegetarian diet? Please it will be very helpful now that I have decided to workout without any excuses of diet.
Thank you for this great article, i train in the evenings till about 22:00, problem is not always hungry straight after training, I really just need to use whey protein to help me in this regard.... I hate it when I hit a high in my training but then fall flat cause I can't get my nutrition right...
I like the structure here, very helpful.
I have been training in the evenings but moving to mornings going forward. How much time should I give between my pre workout meal & the workout itself?
I work out at 9am and just started drinking a weight gainer after my workouts. I’ve always had trouble gaining weight. Would you recommend drinking half, an hour before workout, and rest after my workout? I’m currently just having a couple hard boiled eggs when I wake up.
It would be wise to consume some carbs (whether that is via your weight gainer or whole food) prior to working out.
Hope this helps!
I really like the structure of the night owl workout, but most of my workouts will most likely happen early to mid morning. Can I base my structure of foods off the night owl and still workout in the morning?
Sure you can. At the end of the day, so long as you are eating a calorie limit that reflects your goals and get an adequate amount of protein, it doesn't matter what you eat all too much.
Hope this helps!
Awesome, thanks for the response!
Can I substitute Greek yogurt with regular yogurt and if so, is there anything I should look for in terms of regular yogurt?
Sure, you can do that so long as you're meeting your individual calorie needs dependent upon your goals for the day.
Hope this helps!
So i work at 6am so ima start working out around 430am should i do the early bird routine
Hi I'm a Early Bird, I need to train before go to work or else I cant train at all.
Can you give an example of the meals scheduling. I wake up at 4:45 AM take breakfast and wait a 40-45 minutes to start workouts. This means I hit the gym around 6AM. At cardio days, I just take a whey protein shake a tablespoon of honey an go directly work HIIT (treadmill, bicycle, outdoor running,etc)
In Your post I can't understand if I take breakfast before or after workout.
I train at noon everyday..Do I folow the midday nutrition steps? If I take my post workout protein at 1pm wiith coconut milk, when do I consume my midday meal 4 and how long before meal 5(evening )? Thanks
hy i workout at night around and reach home about 12 am and after that within a hour i go to bed so can anybody suggest me postworkout nutrtion for me?do i need to add carb bcz i need to go to within 1 hour as i need to wakeup at 7 to go to work..i know i dont get enough sleep but thats my routine :)
I have a similar problem. By the time I get home from the gym it's 10 pm and I go to bed an hour later. I've already eaten dinner hours earlier and I usually can't stomach too much solid food after a hard workout. So I end up drinking a shake with protein and carbs from fruit and go to bed. Looking for advice on getting the most from post-workout nutrition given my situation. Thanks.
What can be substitued for beef jerky....is 6 to 8 ounces of steak an alternative?
I am a night owl when it comes to workouts, I want to use a preworkout (NO or C4), do you recommend I don't take it? I need that pump after working to get through my workout. I normally take the optional meal 4 a little earlier so my stomach is empty when I take said preworkout.