The mythical and elusive Anabolic Window. It’s the point in time when most lifters want to chug their protein shakes. It’s the moment that is pivotal to your gains. The anabolic window is one of those topics in the weight room that gets treated either as bro science or as a golden truth, but you need to stop and think about it for a moment. What is the anabolic window? Does it really exist? And is there any merit in using the window when it comes to getting stronger?
All of those questions are going to be answered, so keep on reading.
What is the Anabolic Window?
The anabolic window is a supposed 30-minute window that is present as soon as you finish a workout to fuel your muscles. During this 30 minute window, the body is in a state that allows the muscles to more readily accept the essential nutrients from food or a protein shake. Since the muscles will absorb the protein, carbs, and other vitamins and minerals like a sponge, the intended result is more gains, faster recovery, and ultimately, bringing on the gains.
That is why you see beginners and experts of the weight room alike drinking their post-workout protein drinks and noshing on bars like their lives depended on it.
But what is the truth? Is the after-workout feeding session necessary? Or can you spend your time doing something else?
Is the Anabolic Window Real?
The anabolic window is a supported suggestion that has received mixed results within the research for a number of years. Early studies used to look at participants who had fasted prior to working out to look at the effects of nutrient timing and how it affected strength, muscle size, and overall body composition. Because fasting puts the body into a catabolic state, you would need to eat as soon as you finished working out to keep the muscle from breaking down.
Let’s face it, how many people really do a fasted training session? Unless you are getting up to workout at 5:00 in the morning to train willingly on an empty stomach, there’s less of a need to consume a post-workout meal within 30 minutes of your session. Studies have even found that if you consume about 20 grams of protein before a workout, those amino acids will be continuously delivered to your muscles for 2-3 hours post-workout.
So, even if your post-workout nutrition is delayed by an hour or so, your body will still be digesting that pre-workout protein and using that for recovery and muscle repair.
Sure, ingesting carbohydrates and proteins immediately after a workout can cause an insulin response to help with prevention of muscle catabolism; but there has been research suggesting that muscle tissue breakdown after a workout isn’t significant nor immediate. Unless you trained fasted, the breakdown is only slightly elevated.
Furthermore, exercise science has found that even if you replenish your glycogen stores and protein after an intense workout, that meal does not influence the rate at which tissues repair. In fact, the rate of protein synthesis remains rather consistent throughout the day. Whether you eat protein and carbohydrates 3 hours after or within 30 minutes of a workout will elicit the same response at the same rate.
How to Use The Anabolic Window
So what does that mean? Should you totally forget about the anabolic window? Well, there’s no reason to throw the idea to the wind completely. Remember that bit about a fasted state? You can use the anabolic window to your advantage depending on the last time you ate before your workout session.
If you have a shake or a snack before arriving at the gym, that fuel will extend beyond the anabolic window. Ideally, you can split up your pre- and post-workout snacks to about 12-15 grams of protein before and after.
However, if the most recent meal is 3 or more hours before your training session, or if you’re working out fasted in the early morning, then you will need that anabolic window to not only restock your energy stores but replenish the body with protein to get to work with repairing muscle. During this time, you should grab a shake or meal that is two-to-one carbs to protein, so about 50 grams of carbs, 25 grams of protein to help with glucose and nitrogen balance.
In short, it won’t hurt your progress in the slightest to give yourself a nutritional boost before or after you workout. If you are trying to grow your muscles, every bit of extra calories helps. Just remember that it doesn’t truly matter when you feed your muscles if you’re not fasted or have eaten recently, because your body will still be digesting whatever you had beforehand, making the anabolic window much less significant. The window is really only important to keep in mind if you’re working out fasted. Otherwise, eat when it’s best for you and focus on getting adequate, balanced nutrition, because that’s what really matters.
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