Is The Anabolic Window Real? Trainer Explains
20/09/2022 | Andrew Tracey
Andrew Tracey is a long time collaborator with Bulldog Gear. A coach, writer and current fitness editor of Men’s Health Magazine, he has been in and around the fitness industry for the past 17 years. Having enjoyed and endured a number of disciplines from endurance racing, to strongman, to Crossfit AT enjoys getting neck deep in the practice just as much as the theory.
Is it true that I need to get protein in immediately after I train?
Is a post-workout shake really that important?
This is one that has been around for at least as long as I've been in the fitness industry and probably much longer that. The purported ‘anabolic window’ is the suggestion that it's imperative to ingest high quality protein— and more often than not liquid protein will be what's suggested—within 15 minutes to half an hour, to an hour after your workout; depending on who you’re asking.
Now, there is some kind of common sense in this, or I should say ‘you can see the logic’, in that when we resistance train with weights we’re actively breaking down muscle tissue. Most of you will be familiar with this illustrative idea that we are creating these ‘micro tears’ in our muscles, and in order to repair those muscles and have them recover, adapt and grow— we’re relying on a process called ‘muscle protein synthesis. In a very simplified explanation that leans into our ‘micro tears’ idea, we need the protein to ‘go into’ the muscles, fill those gaps and repair them, so that they grow and come back stronger.
The evidence doesn't seem to suggest that ingesting protein (of any sort) in the immediate time frame following your workout is going to provide any sort of statistically appreciable benefits when compared to simply consuming a decent amount of protein throughout the course of your day.
What the evidence seems to support as being a much more important factor in muscle growth and repair, is that your total protein throughout the entire day is at an amount that's going to support that growth. What that amount looks like is a hotly contested topic, and a subject for another article in itself, but somewhere between 1.5-2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is probably a good jumping off point, but the point remains that when you consume that protein is not overly important.
So no, you don't need to be rushing to the changing rooms to chug down that lukewarm post-workout shake, so long as your protein throughout the day is balanced and you’re consistently hitting a daily target.
Now I’m going to hit you with a second ‘however’; a however to the previous however.
As much as we’re big fans in the fitness industry of pointing out the difference between correlation and causation; success does leaves clues, and if you consistently struggle to hit that overall protein goal it may actually be worth listening to the guy with 18 inch-arms, even if his logic is a bit faulty.
If you’re a hypothetical 90kg man struggling to take in 180 grams of protein, having a decent dose of that protein after your workout, in shake form, is going to be a quick and dirty way of securing a hefty 25% of that total, easily.
Despite the fact we’ve already established that when you drink that shake isn’t particularly impactful on a biological level, our aim here is to use our workout as a cue, and create a habit. Establishing these types of habits helps in making it frictionless to get enough protein in throughout the day, and it may well be that stacking the habit of that protein shake upon the already established habit of training is going to act as a ‘missing key’ in ensuring sure you're consistently hitting enough protein.
In summary, no; you don't need to be anxiously rushing to the smoothie bar post workout to secure those gains, BUT, it could be a good habit that helps you to consistently achieve your overall protein goal for the day, which ultimately is more important for building muscle.
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