Do I have to rush home from the gym to have time to eat within 30 minutes? Is there a post-workout anabolic window? Let’s look at the research.
Post-workout anabolic window Is a hypothetical state of the body that lasts for 30 minutes after the end of exercise. It is believed that during this period the body absorbs nutrients as efficiently as possible, which leads to maximum recovery, muscle growth, etc. Therefore, both beginners and professional athletes should definitely drink a protein shake immediately after training, otherwise all their efforts will be in vain. Is it really so? Let’s find out.
Post-workout anabolic window – theory
For a long time, the theory of the anabolic (protein-carbohydrate) window was based on the opinion that intense training sessions lead to damage to muscle tissue and depletion of glycogen stores in them. There is some truth in this.
Then it was suggested that the consumption of easily digestible protein (for example, whey protein) and carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (for example, dextrose) immediately after training quickly provides muscle tissue with nutrients, i.e., amino acids, glucose, etc., that leads to:
- increasing the rate of muscle recovery;
- increased synthesis of muscle proteins;
- replenishment of glycogen stores;
- maximum muscle hypertrophy;
- increase in power indicators.
The theory sounds pretty compelling, which is probably why it quickly caught on in the fitness and sports nutrition industry. However, in practice, the body works in a slightly different way.
Consuming protein and carbohydrates during the anabolic window is believed to provide two main benefits – preventing muscle breakdown and increasing muscle protein synthesis.
Carbohydrates create a large insulin response that prevents catabolic processes, and proteins, in turn, enhance muscle synthesis.
Without a doubt, gaining muscle mass requires protein synthesis to exceed protein breakdown. However, post-workout nutrition does not contribute to this. And that’s why.
- First, muscle breakdown only slightly increases after intense strength training (breakdown rates are higher in the case of fasting training). Therefore, you should not be afraid of losing muscle tissue after training, unless you are training on an empty stomach. Of course, hardly anyone in their right mind will go to the gym to pull iron on an empty stomach – after all, the body needs energy for training.
- Second, studies have shown that eating protein and carbohydrates immediately after exercise does not affect the rate of recovery and muscle protein synthesis at all. Scientists have found that eating within 1 hour or 3 hours after exercise has the same effect on muscle protein synthesis. This completely disproves the theory of the anabolic window, which lasts only half an hour.
While eating carbohydrates can be beneficial for replenishing muscle glycogen, it is important to note that strength training does not deplete all energy stores. Another thing is when it comes to extremely long aerobic exercise (6 hours or more), which cause significant loss of glycogen and require immediate replenishment of energy. 90-minute strength training does not lead to such consequences.
Read also: Sports nutrition – 5 main foods for gaining muscle mass
We found that protein and carbohydrate intake immediately after training is not important. Then what matters?
First of all, you need to determine your individual daily requirements for essential nutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates).
Adequate carbohydrates are essential for energy during exercise and protein for muscle growth and repair. Fats are required for the body to function properly and, like carbohydrates, are used for energy production.
Nutrient intake should be evenly distributed throughout the day, preferably around your workouts. Eating a balanced carbohydrate and protein meal 2-3 hours before going to the gym will give you more than enough energy for a high intensity workout. Given the slow rate of protein digestion, this will also ensure a steady and continuous release of amino acids into the bloodstream throughout your workout.
Post-workout nutrition is important, but not required immediately after finishing work in the gym. Similar to pre-workout meals, foods with a balanced carbohydrate, protein, and fat content should be eaten 2–4 hours after exercise to prolong the continuous release of amino acids and provide the body with essential nutrients (for recovery).
If you adhere to the above rules, the body will eventually receive nourishment for:
- doing high-intensity exercise;
- replenishment of glycogen stores after training;
- recovery and muscle building.
There are also several factors to consider. Obviously, if your goal is to gain muscle mass, you need to provide an excess (surplus) of calories. In the event of an energy deficit, the ability to build and repair muscle will be limited, even if you eat before and after your workout.
If you want to burn fat while preserving muscle mass, you need to follow these dietary guidelines so that you can maintain your muscles and exercise intensely (despite the energy deficit). At the same time, the ability to build muscle and recover from exercise will be limited due to lack of calories.
Should i drink protein after exercise?
While the anabolic window has proven to be a myth, don’t skip a post-workout protein shake – it might be good for you.
First, it is not always easy to meet nutrient needs (especially protein) from food alone.
A protein shake is a simple, convenient and often delicious way to increase your daily protein intake without significantly increasing your calorie intake.
Second, creatine monohydrate users can mask the taste of this product with a pre- or post-workout protein shake without consuming high-sugar beverages such as fruit juice (which is often recommended by manufacturers).
Finally, if you do have to exercise on an empty stomach for any reason, or you cannot eat well for 4 hours after exercise (for example, if you exercise at lunchtime), a protein shake can help you out by providing your body with the substances for effective recovery. …
See also: The benefits of protein for gaining muscle mass and weight loss
Research says that anabolic window after exercise doesn’t really exist. Eating a complete and balanced diet throughout the day will provide your body with the nutrients it needs for exercise and recovery.
Ideally, a well-balanced meal (protein plus carbohydrates) 2-3 hours before training and a meal containing protein, carbohydrates, and fats 2-4 hours after.
This is to ensure that the body receives the nutrients for intense training and normal recovery, which will increase muscle mass.
While the anabolic window is a myth, a post-workout protein shake can be beneficial. This is an easy way to increase your daily protein intake, beat the unpleasant taste of creatine, or have a post-workout snack (if you’re exercising on an empty stomach or can’t eat for a long time).