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The Anabolic Window: Should You Drink a Protein Shake Right after Your Workout?

There is a belief in the world of high performance fitness that is as dear to the hearts of athletes as never neglecting leg day: after training, an incredible and magical anabolic window opens that I have to tap into to give my body nutrients, or the workout will have gone down the drain. Right after finishing the last rep of the last workout, and before showering, I have to drink the protein shake that I packed in my backpack. Well, wait! Not so fast, because it’s okay if you don’t drink the shake or eat immediately after exercising. You won’t waste your workout, nor will your muscles deflate like an airless balloon.

The supposed beneficial effects of ‘protein timing’ are based on the general idea that there is a very limited anabolic window of opportunity in time for post-workout anabolism. We understand muscle anabolism  as the part of metabolism that is in charge of the creation of muscle tissue from simple elements coming from food. It all stems from the belief that our body needs fast assimilation carbohydrates and proteins, which will go straight into the bloodstream so our muscles will grow until we become a kind of Hulk. That’s why many people rush to guzzle their shakes right after a weight training session.

What Science Tells Us

The time has finally come to debunk this urban legend from gym locker rooms. Because some scientific studies show that muscle protein synthesis remains elevated for a long time after a workout. Other research even claims that it also depends on what you eat before training. So it appears that the famous anabolic window does not seem to be as narrow as commonly thought. Let’s see how science explains it.

Research, whose results were published in  the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition determined that, although it is true that our muscles are sensitized to protein intake after strength training, the famous anabolic window does not seem to be as narrow as previously thought. In fact, the study claims that the time of consumption can be extended by up to five to six hours after exercise. Also coming into play is the timing of the pre-workout meal. The less time that elapses from a pre-workout meal, the greater the post-workout anabolic window of opportunity.

Another study, published in 2017, wanted to test the efficacy of the anabolic window through changes in muscle strength and hypertrophy in response to a dose of 25gr of whey protein consumed just before or just after a typical strength workout in trained individuals. The decision to take 25 grams of whey protein was made based on studies showing that consumption of 25 grams of whey protein maximizes the muscle protein synthesis response to strength training.

The result? Surprisingly, the consumption of whey protein before or after training had similar effects in all the people who took part in the study. What does this mean? Well, it seems that the protein intake interval can be as long as several hours, or even longer after a workout, depending on when we ate before exercising.

The Anabolic Window Is Wider Than You Think

So it seems clear that one should not obsess about immediate intake post strength training. The reality is that scientifically, there is increasing evidence that this supposed post-workout anabolic window is much larger than popular believed. It will also depend on what you have eaten before training. If you had enough protein in your pre-workout meal, there will be no need to take the shake prepared in your gym bag to drink after your strength training.

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