“If you don’t drink a protein shake within 30 minutes of finishing your workout, it will be wasted.”
If you’ve done any research on building muscle, then I’m sure you’ve seen this advice.
Fitness “gurus” tell you that there’s a magic “anabolic window” after every workout. They swear that drinking protein during this window is a mandatory part of packing on mass…
But it’s 100% bullshit! And I’ll prove it in this article.
The “Anabolic Window” Myth Explained
Before I break down why this myth is false, let’s start by explaining how it gained traction in the first place.
Here’s the typical logic people use to support the anabolic window:
After you lift weights, your muscle fibers are in a damaged state and your glycogen stores (the carbs your body stores for immediate energy) are depleted…
This part is true. But after that is where the “bro science” comes into play.
…By consuming a mixture of protein and “quick-release” sugary carbs you’re able to super-compensate for these effects by preventing further muscle protein breakdown, spiking muscle protein synthesis, and refilling your glycogen stores. This results in a temporary state where your body can quickly construct new lean mass — the “anabolic window”.
The problem with this theory is that it relies only on simple logic, NOT proven science…
Again, the basis of this theory is true: intense exercise depletes glycogen and breaks down muscle tissue. But using these facts to justify that you MUST consume a mixture of protein and carbs IMMEDIATELY after your workout is making a lot of assumptions.
Below are 3 reasons that prove it simply doesn’t work this way…
Note: If you’re confused what any of these terms mean, keep reading. I’ll explain them all.
Evidence #1: There’s no evidence post-workout nutrition raises muscle protein synthesis
The main purported benefit of the “anabolic window” is that is raises your rates of muscle protein synthesis. This is so important because muscle protein synthesis is the #1 indicator of muscle growth.
..But here’s the thing: the research simply does not support this claim.
In 2013 Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld – 2 top bodybuilding nutrition researchers – conducted an in-depth review of the “anabolic window.” They analyzed and compared every relevant study that has ever been done on this topic.
There is zero conclusive evidence that shows ingesting carbs and protein immediately after a workout raises muscle protein synthesis.
While some studies found a slight benefit, others found a bigger benefit from consuming a pre-workout meal. And to make matters more complicated, many of the studies (both for and against the “anabolic window”) were conducted on elderly individuals, obese people, or populations that don’t regularly exercise.
In other words, there’s no clear benefit to having a post-workout shake. Sure, it may offer slight benefits in some rare cases, but it’s only going to make a negligible difference in the long run.
Evidence #2: Muscle protein breakdown is only an issue if training fasted
Another alleged benefit of the “anabolic window” is to prevent muscle breakdown.
This is accomplished by including simple carbs (e.g. dextrose) in your post-workout shake. You see, simple carbs spike insulin levels. And spiking insulin is proven to slow muscle protein breakdown.
This is important because your body only builds muscle when your rates of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) are greater than your rates of muscle protein breakdown (MPD).
…But here’s the thing: studies show that muscle protein breakdown is only VERY slightly raised post-workout.
In other words, there’s no need to prevent muscle protein breakdown in the first place.
However, there’s one big exception to this rule: fasted training (ie. working out before eating breakfast). If you train fasted, studies show that muscle protein breakdown is significantly raised post-workout.
So, if you train fasted, then you’re in a different category here. In your case, consuming a post-workout shake with protein and simple carbs is actually quite important.
Evidence #3. Glycogen doesn’t need to be replenished right away
The final purported benefit of the “anabolic window” is to replenish your glycogen stores.
Put simply: glycogen is a form of stored carbohydrates in your muscles. It acts as one of the primary sources of energy during your workouts.
And studies show you can use up a lot of your glycogen by the end of a workout. If you want to perform at your best, get stronger, and build muscle, then you want to make sure your glycogen stores are full before every workout.
But here’s the thing: glycogen doesn’t need to be replenished immediately after your workout.
All you need to worry about is refilling your glycogen stores before your next workout, so you can lift as much weight as possible at that time.
And studies show that there’s no difference between consuming carbs immediately post-workout or 2 hours later. In both cases, glycogen levels were exactly the same when measured 8 hours and 24 hours later.
So, unless you’re a competitive athlete who plans on working out again in just a few hours, you don’t need to worry about consuming carbs and replenishing your glycogen stores right away. Just be sure to eat enough carbs as part of your regular diet (especially if you want optimal testosterone levels).
Conclusion: There’s no reason to drink a post-workout shake (unless you trained fasted)
What can we conclude from all of this data?
Simple: there’s no evidence to support the theory of the “anabolic window”.
The exception to this rule is if you train fasted. In this case you should have a protein shake (or a meal) right after your workout in order to prevent muscle breakdown.
If you’re still skeptical, consider this study that examined the long term benefits of drinking a post-workout shake. 33 young men were divided into 2 groups (half had a post-workout shake, half had a placebo). After 12 weeks of lifting, there were no differences in muscle growth between the groups.
e no magical “anabolic” properties to this shake, but it’s a quick meal replacement that helps me reach my target calories and macros.
For this reason, I recommend incorporating a shake into your diet as well.
To clarify, shakes aren’t necessary, but they aren’t harmful/useless right? I’m always starving right after a lift (not fasting) and don’t have an option for a meal for another couple hours.
Harmful? No not at all.
Only trying to dispel the myth that they’re crucial for optimal muscle growth.
Not sure I agree here. I’ve read this study before and there are a few crucial elements which I think are not addressed. 1. being the differences in insulin sensitivity/resistance among the test group. The 2nd being that there is no discussion of catalyzing amino acids like leucine. Insulin sensitivity is critical to muscle growth (as it is with fat retention), if you have a lot of protein and carbs in your blood but aren’t producing a lot of insulin, then you’re correct in that you won’t see any difference. You need to raise your insulin level which can be difficult unless you are training fasted.
Hey Mike – based on how you end your comment I don’t see where you disagree with me.
Great article, there’s one more crucial logical flaw I’d like to add, which I read somewhere, don’t remember where.
Even fast digesting Whey protein will take minimum of 1 hour to digest and hit your blood stream, so even if you were to supposedly eat during the so called window of 30mins, you will have to wait an hour for the nutrients to hit your blood stream, which makes the whole concept of the window and faster nutrient absorption useless, even if it were true, because the protein you eat isn’t going direct to your muscles, it will get digested first which is going to take atleast an hour
Think of it this way, we need protien to repair and build muscle tissue. If you have one of them intense workouts leaving you feeling beat and worn out. You’re gona need them quick carbs in your system. And this is why
1. You may have a 15+ minute walk back home, or glimg straight back to work, taxing more energy
2. If you’re very drained, where is that energy coming from. Probably the breakdown of stored protien getting converted into glycogen to help you function.
3. Without the carbs in the system you are more than likely chipping into lean mass.
4. If your a hard gainer (fast metabolism) this is more than likely gona happen to you.
5. If you’re on a low kcal diet and training hard. Think about the muscles you trained 1-3 days a go, they aren’t even recovered yet. And you’re having little kcal’s I’m that one day.
6. Probs best to use this time to absorb a higher intake of protein than what you normally would with the help of fast acting carbs to push the protien into the right places. In order to repair and build.
If you’re in a kcal surplus you’re probably fine. Unless it’s a killer leg session and you have a fast metabolism and you need to get back to work asap after the gym. Do it then.
Recommended ratio is 1.5g-2g dextrose for every 1g of protien.
I recall reading recently that the actual window for protein synthesis to build new muscle lasts for about 36 hours after an intense workout (can’t seem to find the link, otherwise I’d post it), leading me to think this is the ideal time frame to be ingesting more of your quality protein sources like meat, fish, fowl and eggs, and unless you can’t get these things in your diet, only then would supplementing with protein shakes be of somewhat necessity. In your research, have you happened upon any related information?
This is true (and another reason why getting protein and carbs in immediately post-workout is not needed).
Here’s a study that confirms this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8563679
Nice to see the science to back it up. As long as you get enough calories per day you’re good, when you eat them does not matter
Thank you sir. This is the simple truth.
The one caveat being that it can be more comforting for certain people to eat certain ways (e.g. more meals to feel less bloated or intermittent fasting to be more convenient).
When you eat them does not matter.. true.
However, I also read (can’t recall where) that it IS important that not necessarily ‘when’ you eat your protein, as long as it is divided over the course of the day as your body would not be able to proces more than 50gr of protein per 3 hours.
So to fill your stomach with all the meat for that day in once, would result in 50gr protein uptake and the rest would be converted to fat..
Thought this would give a nice touch 🙂
Great article, useful for putting this ubiquitous piece of broscience to rest.
Always wondered where this myth comes from. Maybe from a study that concluded a tiny, minute difference in muscle growth that has been blown out of all proportion. Like something an elite athlete needs to be aware of, but the average man has no use for.
Thank you! And yes there have been studies that have shown minute differences, and of course the one that showed higher MPB rates in fasted individuals.
Unfortuantely the supplement industry is largely to blame as they latch onto these tiny differences and use them as fuel for the marketing of their “post workout” products.
I recall an interesting series of papers on how eating most of your protein in the afternoon and evening results in more lean mass gain. The proposed mechanism was lower cortisol and higher testoserone at these times. I would think eating immediately after a workout would be harmful for the same reason – large stress hormone release.
Hey Illy, this sounds intriguing. I’d love to see these papers if you have a link.
The study that states that pre-workout meals can enhance muscle growth is confusing to me. I’ve been a competitive athlete in the sport of wrestling so I can testify firsthand to the fact that it’s much more difficult to have an effective workout after a meal, the reason being that all of your bloodflow is diverted to your GI tract and not to your muscles where it belongs if you hope to push yourself to your limits. Do you agree with this? If not why? When do you eat in relation to your workouts?
Honestly I think all of this research is blown out of proportion. The differences found in all of these studies on meal timing are TINY – fractions of percentages that the average man wouldn’t even notice.
I think the best advice I can give is to eat when it feels best for you. For me I feel best eating 2 hours before my workouts, give or take. I simply feel full if I eat any closer, or hungry if I eat and further away.
Just came across this article, and I’m pleased to see an article based on scientific research, rather than the crap my hubby looks at.
He goes through protein powder like it’s going out of fashion, and yet I don’t see any gains from the money he wastes on it. Meanwhile, I personally don’t drink any protein shakes and I still get results at the gym, even though I’m lazy and only go 1-2 times a week.
I think that this anabolic window story is a hype made of the supplement companies to promote and sell more supplements to people who are ignorant of the facts.
What do you think of morning training? Do you think that there is a need for a post workout meal? Assuming that you haven’t eaten from the last night and you exercised right after waking up.
Damian, I think if you train fasted, it’s best to eat a post workout meal just to be safe.
Real Meal>Protein Shake. Period.
My Bro goes to the gym and drinks protein shakes.
His diet sucks though. I’m going to start going to the same gym, except at a different time (430am), when I jump way ahead of him, and he asked how how, I’ll tell him.
I already told him protein shakes waste of money if diet ain’t tied down, guess he’ll find out the embaressing gutted way, lol.
Great article and good theories to back it up.
A pro Rugby player wrote recently that diet is key to training, supplements are secondary. If you maintain a diet of ‘proper food’ i.e. food that has had an hand to it, either bred or grown etc. along with a regular training regime then your body will do great things.
Nothing to suggest that shakes etc. are bad for you or useless, just that they are not the be all and end all.
Thanks Dale – and great anecdote.
I came across this article by doing a search on the postworkout meal myth. I was trying to square my understanding of digestion with the “anabolic window” thesis. My problem was this: macronutrients (besides alcohol) are only absorbed in the small intestine, so if it takes nutrients some 2-3 hours after consumption simply to enter the small intestine then those nutrients would be unavailable within the “anabolic window” time frame, rendering the postworkout meal pointless (with respect to what it aims to achieve).
Is this analysis too simple? Am I overlooking something? Help would be much appreciated.
This is pretty much on point. A simplistic understanding but yes, the food you ate before the workout is likely digesting during the “anabolic window.”
How can you say that the “Anabolic Window is a lie” an is “100% Bullshit” when the scientific articles you reference avoid making any conclusions about it. Your opinion seems no less misguided and sensationalized than the bro tale you’re trying to dispel.
From article referenced #3 (Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window.):
“Distilling the data into firm, specific recommendations is difficult due to the inconsistency of findings and scarcity of systematic investigations seeking to optimize pre- and/or post-exercise protein dosage and timing.”
“Even more so than with protein, carbohydrate dosage and timing relative to resistance training is a gray area lacking cohesive data to form concrete recommendations.”
If you believe in the PWO shake so much than by all means continue to drink it. Continue to run red lights on the way home from the gym in a desperate attempt to slug down your shake inside the “anabolic window”
And please grace us with pictures of your 24 inch pythons (bigger than Hulk Hogan) that you attribute to the “magic” of the post workout shake taken within 60 minutes of your last set.
Stay huge, dude.
Thank you for taking the burden of replying to him 🙂
Great article. But I have a question. I have read a article saying protein synthesis increases in 5 hrs after protein intake with BCAA which sounds opposite to your conclusion “There’s no evidence that post-workout nutrition raises muscle protein synthesis” from Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld’s paper.
Here is the link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21795443
Another question: if the MPS can be increased by supplement, which way is better for muscle recovery: spiking once per day or pulse intake like every 4 hrs?
Hey Bob, the problem is that nothing is black and white when it comes to the specifics of much of exercise science, including muscle protein synthesis. For every study that concludes one thing, there will be another study that concludes the opposite.
The reason I wrote this article – and my school of belief – is that it’s really not worth it to worry about trying to take advantage of every little factor that “may” make a difference. Doing this will likely drive you crazy – and most likely have a negligible difference on your actual results.
Anthony has a point David. Why would you use research that involved non athletic/body building people?
Hey Ryan. The reason I cited those studies is because they are the only relevant research that’s been done on this particular concept (ingestion of post-workout protein and carbs to raise MPS).
I included them to let you know I exhausted all possible venues to see if there would be a benefit to this type of post-workout nutrition. Even when including those studies, there is no evidence.
I see how that could be confusing, however.
This is interpreted from the muscle building perspective but it sounds like it applies to just recovering your muscles in sporty type activities.
I mean going for an mtb ride in the morning and then doing BJJ in the evening and then the next day doing strength training for example. When your aim is to just recover to do very strenuous activities does the same principle apply to restoring your muscles as it does to growing your muscles?
Yes it does. If you’re doing multiple workouts in one day I would suggest consuming sufficient carbs in between, however, to refill your glycogen stores.
In all articles that talk about magic windows and nutrient timing one tiny tiny factor is always missed. After eating the nutrients don’t immediately get shuttled to your muscles, liver etc. They have to hit your stomach and be digested etc. A process that takes time and is different for everybody. Today you will still be digesting heavy proteins from yesterday. So much for the magic 30 minute windows where you have to get that brotein shake down your gullet ASAP otherwise your muscles will shrink and your next workout will suck. The premise is pure marketing BS and the ‘results’ are all in people’s minds. Same with spiking insulin with fast carbs. There may be a slight benefit if using creatine but the main part of the theory came from pro bodybuilding where insulin abuse is rife. The insulin is spiked with Injecting INSULIN which is extremely anabolic and then gulping down fast carbs to make sure death doesn’t occur. In the main the whole ‘eat some sweets or half a tub of our cheap but overpriced dextrose immediately post workout to spike your insulin’ is complete guff. It’ll do one thing only without abusing drugs which is: make you fat. Still you could use a green tea ‘fat burner’ to compensate I guess LOL
What about this study which shows that there is a anabolic window? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3577439/
And these as well
Nutrient timing quite literally means you need to eat specific nutrients at specific times of the day.
Good article, it’s so easy to be swept away by marketing and fads. I know there is no definitive science around this, but I’d like to ask you for your opinion. I am a lean 30 yo female and I do intermittent fasting because I like it (so not for fat loss). I’ve been increasing my gym workouts which I do in my lunch break because the gym is right next door, around 4 times a week for 30 minutes. I have a small snack before, and eat lunch after. This should be fine. However, I sometimes ride my bike to work, which is a 30 minute trail ride (not flat) and then I’ll just do a short workout right after, which means I’m still fasting and I’ll eat around 4 hours later. According to your article I should have something afterwards to avoid muscle breakdown, so in this case, would you recommend a protein shake or rather have some food?
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How bout drink protein DURING workout? On each sets break, take a gulp. Does Anabolic Window only happen AFTER workout?
Is it Important to have some slow digesting protein like casein before the bed time , so your muscles get constant amino supply thru the night ? or is just a marketing gimmick by the supplement companies . thanx
Thanks you and I admire you to have the courage the talk about this,This was a very meaningful post for me.Thank you.
Losing Weight at home
All bull shit stop spreading wrong things
I am enjoying reading these comments, there is some reference to genuinely intriguing concepts. I’m opening other windows to google each of them separately in an attempt to find published information; what fun!
However, I can’t help but notice that some commenters seem to have mistaken the study referenced in this article as proof that protein supplementation is ineffective. I don’t believe that is what is being discussed in this article, but rather the time of ingestion.
I don’t have a degree in Sport Science, but I think it’s safe to say that if your aim is muscle development and you enjoy drinking some of your daily requirement of protein, that’s fine. *perhaps biasedly(not a word, yes thank you I know) spoken as one who finds eating 1.6g/kg of body weight in chicken breast and white fish a little boring*
I just read an entire book by a PHD called Nutrient Timing that cites multiple studies saying that eating carbs + protein immediately post workout is amazing for strength athletes so I’m confused.