Updated: Jan 17, 2021
Most have heard the concept that following strength training or high intensity exercise there is a small, approximately 30 minute, “anabolic window” of time where you have to get protein in your system to drive muscular repair and preserve the gains you just made while working out.
And if the window is missed?
Gains. Lost. Gone. Bye.
Fortunately, this is not the case. What needs to be discussed is when you’re training relative to your last meal. The idea of the “anabolic window”, is largely based on training in a fasted state. Typically, an overnight fast.
For instance, eating dinner at 7PM, not eating again before your 7AM workout and waking up hungry.
Quick Concept Time!
When you exercise, muscle protein breakdown (catabolism) increases and following exercise there is an increase in muscle protein synthesis (anabolism). You break muscle down during the workout and your body uses proteins/amino acids to rebuild you. To make you better, faster, stronger.
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
When you exercise in a fasted state, catabolism is amplified, so the post-workout meal/shake is more important to pull you out of the catabolic nosedive and get the body back in the business of building muscle. But remember, this only applies if you work out in a fasted state!
If you don't participate in fasted (hungry) exercise, a pre-exercise meal within 1-2 hours can help to maximize training performance while mitigating muscle protein breakdown and facilitating muscle protein repair in the recovery period following exercise.
Pre-Workout Drink Options
Essential Amino Acids (6g)
Whey Protein (20g)
Don't do both, keep reading and you'll find out why.
The amino acid strategy “elevated blood and muscle amino acid levels by roughly 130% and these levels remained elevated for 2 hours after exercise.”
The whey strategy “elevated muscle uptake of amino acids to 4.4x and did not return to baseline until 3 hours after exercise.”
In either instance, the need for a post-workout shake is, at best, redundant. To put it simply, if you’re ingesting a pre-workout shake 1-2 hours before exercise your post-workout shake is going in the toilet.
And lastly if you’re like most of us, training falls somewhere between 3-4 hours after your last meal. Because life and responsibilities get in the way of gains, right?
Let's call this a “lightly fasted state”. If this is the case, then the classic recommendation of protein uptake (25g) is warranted to reverse muscle breakdown and increase muscle protein repair. However, as indicated above, if you know you’ll be training long after your last meal you can employ the same pre-workout meal strategy to keep your system at an even keel.
An old meathead addage states that more protein is better. Lots of protein, all the time.
However, there is a physiological concept of a “muscle full” status. More is not better! Your body can use only so much at any given time and will actively shunt proteins/amino acids away to be discarded when the full status is achieved. So that 60g protein shake is not doing you any good when 25-30g is the max your body can process at any given time.
Save that extra scoop and take it in 1-2 hours!