“Gains.” Sure, we hear this phrase muttered oh-so often by our free-weight loving cohort in the exercise world, but how does it happen? While simple weight training isn’t enough for the committed lifter, they look to science of their body to help answer the question on recovery and muscle building. For all too long I have heard about the anabolic “window of opportunity” to ingest protein immediately following a workout and magically your body leverages nutrients in ways it can’t during the rest of the day. It seemed too good to be true, so I wanted to dive into the scientific literature on this one. Well, I am sorry to say but we have been lied to… kind of.
As per usual, we’ll take the nerd approach to unraveling this one. The source of this misguided advice comes from the myth that there is an anabolic window of opportunity where your body can intake certain nutrients— mainly protein and carbohydrates—at a super-compensated level to enhance the body’s recovery and muscle-building processes. Sounds great, right? You are tired, just worked your muscles, clearly your body will reward that effort with this loophole in nutrient absorption. Not so fast.
In a 2013 study on the subject, the authors concluded that any evidence on the anabolic window is “far from definitive.” They go on to state that the pre-exercise nutrition influences the urgency and effectiveness of post-exercise needs fairly consistently. Basically, they stated the connection between how far in advance you eat before your exercise to your need/ demand for protein after the workout. If you are fasting before your workout, your need will be much higher. Typically the morning workout crew will have a higher demand because they ate roughly eight hours earlier. The after-work exerciser typically has eaten within a few hours and might not have a high demand for carbohydrates and protein.
Not only does timing of your last meal affect how your body will respond after the workout, but your age, and level of fitness has been shown to have effects relating to how long your “window of opportunity” will be open; obviously, this varies greatly from person to person.
What this study does recommend is to consume 0.4-0.5 g/kg of protein per pounds of body weight between your pre and post workout meals combined. Another thing to know, is that your body can have these meals between 5-6 hours of each other. Of course these figures can vary between age, fitness status and type of workout when you are trying to reach optimum nutrient intake.
Not convincing enough? Okay, in a separate 2013 study where the authors pooled the results of 20 studies, they found “no significant differences on muscle strength or hypertrophy.” After reading the authors takeaways, one thing is clear, everyone’s body seems to be different when it comes to in taking protein for muscle recovery, but there is one universal point: You must intake a proper amount of protein between your pre-exercise and post-exercise nutrition, it just doesn’t have to be immediately following each other.