The post anabolic window is a belief that one should consume protein (or protein supplements) about 30 to 60 minutes after a workout for athletes/ body builders following a hypertrophy program. To bust (or perhaps prove this myth) we shall use real scientific evidence as our basis for analysis.
What is Hypertrophy?
Bodybuilders following a hypertrophy undergo a process known as muscles hypertrophy. Muscle hypertrophy involves the increase in size of skeletal muscle by increasing the size of muscles’ component cells. The process involves increasing the energy storage capacity in muscles as well as increasing the muscle forming process. The combination of these two process leads to an increase in muscle volume. Hypertrophy is stimulated in a number of methods. For the sake of this piece, the relevant avenue for hypertrophy stimulation would be strength training through weightlifting. This is because weightlifting involves a strategy known as progressive overload. This involves either increasing resistance (by increasing the weights lifted) or increasing repetitions over successive bouts of exercise in order to maximize muscle output. This stress leads to muscle tear and repair which activates the hypertrophy process.
The anabolic process is a metabolic process whereby the body builds complex compounds as well as muscle tissues. The body utilises simple proteins and amino acids as well as an influx of energy in this process.
The anabolic window: where did the hypothesis originate from?
Generally, bodybuilders have consumed high – protein foods as well as protein powders after training. Furthermore, bodybuilding is a process that damages muscles by creating micro – tears so naturally it would be sensible to repair the damaged muscles and begin this anabolic process as quickly as possible after one’s training. One on the extreme end, some bodybuilders claim that if one misses one’s post – workout protein meal within an hour after working out then the entire workout has been wasted.
Does the hypothesis check out?
There is scientific literature that supports this hypothesis. In 2002 Lemon, Berardi and Noreen conducted a study (the role of protein and amino acid supplements in the athlete’s diet: does type or timing of ingestion matter?) to test this hypothesis. The study describes a limited anabolic window of opportunity for post – workout anabolism through which athletes must take their post – workout protein meal to maximize the anabolic process within the body. In 2013, a study by Dr John Ivy and Dr Lisa Ferguson – Stegall (nutrient timing: the means to improved exercise performance, recovery, and training adaptation) suggested the same. This study concluded that when carbohydrates and proteins are ingested within minutes of an exercise, the amino acids as well as the glucose derived from the meal initiate the body’s shift into an anabolic state. Thus the authors recommended that athletes should get their post – workout meal within 45 minutes of a training session. This particular paper was based on 134 past studies on relevant topics so there may be some truth to this.
However, we need to review where the study may have gone wrong.
In the same year (2013) Brad Schoenfield, Alan Albert and James Krieger published a study on the same (The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta – analysis) in which they analysed 20 papers that met some very strict inclusion criteria. The study concluded that there is small to moderate effect of protein timing on lean mass gains.
However, the study concluded that the bulk of hypertrophic differences in the timing studies was largely determined by the differences in total daily protein intake. This implies that the studies supporting the post – workout anabolic window simply had their subjects consuming more total daily protein. Thus the conclusion is that the timing of protein intake post – workout is not critical to muscular adaptation.
But there’s more to it than just that. It has been established that weightlifting leads to elevation in muscle protein synthesis for at least 48 hours after training with the peak of this elevation occurring 2 – 3 hours after a workout. This implies that one has a much bigger so – called window to consume post – workout protein.
Another important consideration is one’s pre – workout meal. If you consume more protein in your pre – workout meal, then you have a greater window to obtain your vital proteins post – workout. This is because of the same logic as above, since you have a greater amount of protein in your body then your need for protein is not as immediate. If you have not consumed much before your workout, then you may want to consume your post – workout meal a bit sooner.
Finally, understand that for any regimen a protein supplement is crucial for your workout. Most bodybuilders go for Gold Standard Whey since it has a rich concentration of protein and is ideal at replacing all that damaged muscle tissue.