Today I’m going to talk about the supposed ‘anabolic window’, where you are supposed to eat within an hour of working out. We often hear, “You’ve got to eat right after a workout or you’re going to lose muscle and you’re not going to gain as much.” Or, “You’re going to go into a catabolic (tear-down) state so you have to have protein right after you work out.”
This belief about the anabolic window has been pushed for a long time. At the end of this post, you’ll find a link to research by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld, two respected people in this business. They compared experiments to see what was true about the anabolic window – mainly the idea that you have to eat right after working out to make sure that you don’t lose any muscle and go into a catabolic state. The results were inconclusive but it looks like a post-workout meal did not make as much difference as the pre-workout meal.
Pre-Workout Vs. Post-Workout Meal
A pre-workout meal with a good amount of protein and carbs takes time to digest. By the time you’re finished exercising, you would be well on the way to digesting the food. Those nutrients are just getting into your system, so technically the anabolic window doesn’t happen, as the nutrients are being absorbed into your system and helping you. So if you eat before you work out, the anabolic window is not as important as people think it is.
In one experiment, a person ingested 20g of whey protein right before exertion, and it elevated the muscle uptake of amino acids 4.4 times compared to resting levels before exercise – and the baseline did not return until 3 hours post-exercise. In another example of Essential Amino Acids, 6g were taken immediately before exercise, and this elevated the blood and muscle amino acid level 130% for 2 hours after the exercise, which seems to imply the anabolic window exists purely based on what you eat beforehand.
If you’re doing a fasting work out (i.e. haven’t eaten for 5 hours beforehand) then it’s very important for you to get that meal immediately after because you have no nutrients to use for recovery. But if you’re a person who eats 2 or 3 hours before you work out, by the time you’re done you’re only just digesting your meal and the food is beginning to do its job to help you recover. So eating something or drinking a protein shake right after a workout helps very little if you are actually eating food before you work out, especially a decent amount of food. The majority of people can eat before they workout, so they’re not going to have the issue of an anabolic window. But again it’s all up to how you work out and what your lifestyle is.
If you’re really trying to build muscle, make sure that pre-workout meal is filled with protein and carbs. If you want to do everything perfectly, take some whey protein immediately before you work out, that’ll make sure by the time you’re done ingesting, it’s hitting your system as you finish exercising, or right after.
Personally, I’m not one to drink a protein shake or shovel food in my mouth right after. It’s never had much importance to me, and I’ve always seen results anyway. I don’t do bodybuilding contests so I don’t need to be 100% perfect on everything, and most people don’t. Of course, if you are in a bodybuilding show, then you need to be on point with everything, because the person competing next to you is doing everything right, and you should too. But for the general public, the anabolic window isn’t relevant.
There’s a lot of crap out there that’s not proven. You can call it bodybuilding science, or because a bodybuilder did it, now everybody thinks it’s ok to do it. Or maybe a bodybuilding supplement company says it, and of course, they say it, because they want you to buy as many supplements as you can. Again, do your research and don’t just listen to people.
So here’s the link to the research. It’s filled with jargon that you may find hard to follow but if you want proof, there’s some real hard evidence here. (https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5)
Hope this was helpful!