Should you consume 'fast-protein'?⚡
Are you someone who sprints off to the locker room to chug down your favorite chocolate protein shake the moment you’re done with your last rep? Well, if you are, I take it that you’ve heard of the anabolic window: the special place where all your gains come true.
Now, for those who haven’t heard of this seemingly magical concept: the anabolic window simply describes the supposed 30-minute period of time where your body is particularly primed to accept essential nutrients and shuttle them into the building of lean tissue mass.
As a result, the myth that gym-goers need to smash a protein shake right after their weight-lifting session has perpetuated in the fitness industry. Yes, note the keywords: the myth. But don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the anabolic window doesn’t exist — it does. It’s just that it might be a little different from what you think it is.
The anabolic window
You see: on face validity, it seems reasonable that you should consume protein, in combination with a high GI carbohydrate (for example, dextrose) after a heavy lifting session.
An intense resistance training workout results in the depletion of a significant proportion of your stored fuels — including glycogen and amino acids. Also, if you were pushing yourself hard enough, there should be damage done to your muscle fibers.
Theoretically, the consumption of carbohydrates can lead to a significant insulin response, and this is, in turn, believed to contribute to the prevention of muscle tissue breakdown. Protein ingestion is said to then be able to enhance the synthesis of new muscle tissue.
It’s longer than 30 minutes
Unfortunately, the complex system that is our bodies does not work on face validity.
The prompt ingestion of proteins and carbohydrates after a lifting session has not been shown to influence the rate of muscle protein synthesis at all. In fact, research has shown that the consumption of a mix of protein and carbohydrates at either 1 hour or 3 hours post-exercise resulted in the same level of muscle protein synthesis. Same level!
The observation that the post-workout anabolic period may be more extended than commonly thought is also supported by a 2013 review. According to Aragon and Schoenfeld, the anabolic window may turn out to be as long as 4–6 hours around a training session, depending on the size and composition of the meal.
Ultimately, what you should take away from the studies above is this: the anabolic window does exist to some extent, and it definitely lasts longer than 30 minutes!
Wait, so what should I eat?
So — if you don’t have to rush to consume protein and carbohydrates immediately after your last rep of chest flies, what do you really have to do to maximize your response to resistance training?
Well, quite honestly, the most crucial thing you need to do is to hit your individual, daily macronutrient requirements. If you don’t know how much protein, carbohydrates, or fats, you need to eat daily, read this blog post.
You need to eat enough carbohydrates to ensure that you’re supplying your body with fuel for your sessions. Also, sufficient protein intake can help keep your rate of muscle protein synthesis high. Ensure that you spread your macronutrients evenly throughout the day and make sure that a protein-containing meal is consumed 2–3 hours pre and post-training.
But — why eat pre-training? Well, the slow rate of protein digestion will provide your bloodstream with a sustained release of amino acids during your workout — this can certainly help with lean mass synthesis.
Does fast-protein make a difference?
Excellent — you now know that the post-workout anabolic window exists and that it lasts for a longer duration than 30 minutes. Am I hearing another question from you?
I’m not psychic, but could you possibly be wondering if post-training consumption of quickly-digested proteins (whey) can be superior to slowly-digested proteins (casein) for eliciting muscular adaptations?
Okay, let’s shoot this one down real quick. Researchers found similar muscle mass gains when they manipulated the ratio of fast to slow proteins from 20% to 100% in a 20 grams post-training shake if the total daily intake of protein was equated.
When it comes to protein intake, this study shows that you can maximize your anabolic response to training if you consume a mixed diet of at least 1.8g/kg of protein per day. The total protein intake is, ultimately, what matters.
Salient points to note
Undoubtedly, there were pointers scattered here and there within this post. This is the Internet age where attention spans are limited, and we all know that we skim when reading information. To make things simpler for you, here are the 5 salient points you need to take away from this post:
1. Hit your daily, individual macronutrient requirements.
2. Aim to consume at least 1.8g/kg of protein per day.
3. When total protein intake is equated, it doesn’t matter if you opt for fast-proteins or slow-proteins.
4. Spread your food intake evenly over the day.
5. Get in protein-containing meals 2–3 hours around a training session (both before, and after).
For those seeking to maximize rates of muscle gain, the current scientific literature available supports the broad objective of meeting total daily protein and carbohydrates needs. It seems that you don’t have to sweat about specific timing for the anabolic window — you have plenty of time to get your meal in after completing your last rep in the gym. No more crying in front of your locker when you realize you’ve left your protein powder at home!
Ultimately, consistent progressive overload is still the best way to fast-track muscle growth. Ensure that you stay on track with your workouts by carefully logging every single session with the GymStreak app. With the app, you’ll never have to calculate the weights you need to lift — the AI-powered app does all the hard work for you! All you need to do is download the app and show up at the gym!Get GymStreak
Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10, 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
Fabre, M., Hausswirth, C., Tiollier, E., Molle, O., Louis, J., Durguerian, A., … Bigard, X. (2017). Effects of Postexercise Protein Intake on Muscle Mass and Strength During Resistance Training: Is There an Optimal Ratio Between Fast and Slow Proteins? International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 27(5), 448–457. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2016-0333
Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: A meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-10-53