You have to eat or suck down a shake within 30 minutes following your workout or you’ve wasted your time.
Unless you’re new to the gym, you’ve certainly heard someone tell you that.
This belief has been repeated through gyms and locker rooms for decades now.
I have no idea where or how it started, but one look at the juice bar of any gym will tell you that many people adhere to it.
Is the anabolic window a myth? Or is it a proven fact?
For years, I took it as a proven fact and made sure that I religiously consumed my protein immediately after my workout.
As the years went on, I began to wonder whether the anabolic window deserved further investigation.
After experimenting a bit, I came to my own conclusion, but still went seeking those fine scientific research papers to see if it was supported.
What I found surprised me.
If you are wondering whether the anabolic window is fact or fiction like I was, I’m going to answer that question below based upon current research and my own experience.
What is the anabolic window?
I’ll keep this brief as a fair amount of you reading this will have heard of it before.
The anabolic window refers to the 30 minutes immediately following your workout.
The belief is that you have this magical 30-minute time frame immediately after you lift to consumer protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients in order to boost your gains.
Proponents of the anabolic window believe that this 30-minute time frame to boost muscle growth and repair is not available during the other 23 1/2 hours a day.
Some have even gone so far as to suggest that protein intake during this window is more important than your daily total protein intake.
Sounds a little out there to me.
It makes sense in theory due to the fact that you’re breaking down your muscle and depleting your glycogen stores while working out.
Post-workout nutrition is important. There’s no debate there.
The debate is whether this special window of muscle growth actually exists and whether we need to worry about it.
What the research says
Like most of the scientific research about anything having to do with bodybuilding and building muscle, it’s all over the place.
A scientific research paper discussing the available research on the anabolic window provides some clear insight with the following conclusions:
- It has not been proven definitively that there are any positive effects in regard to muscle growth when your insulin levels are spiked from carbohydrates following a workout.
- It has not been proven that you can immediately replenish your glycogen stores following a workout.
- Muscle protein breakdown is only slightly elevated following a workout.
- No difference was found when taking 20 grams of whey right before a workout compared to an hour after the workout.
- Numerous studies have been done that found evidence both for and against the existence of an anabolic window.
- There is not definitive evidence that an anabolic window exists.
The problem with a lot of the studies is that they are not done in a consistent manner with each other.
They use different age groups and follow different supplementation methods.
Scientific research is always frustrating to me because rarely is there a definitive answer.
Instead of conducting ten studies with the same protocols, they conduct ten different studies trying to find that groundbreaking discovery.
Where does that leave us? Confused.
Research does not say that it exists, but also does not say that it doesn’t exist.
It does help lead us to a logical conclusion, however.
The totality of the available research indicates that the amount of daily protein and carbohydrate intake is more important than taking it during a specific time frame.
Reasonableness wins again!
I used to be a devout follower of the anabolic window.
I would ensure that I had a meal or shake available at the end of every workout no matter what.
What were my results? Pretty much the exact same as when I abandoned the strict adherence to the anabolic window a few years down the road.
After reading a few things, I began to think about whether the anabolic window actually made sense to me.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around the belief that a special 30-minute window could be more important than your daily protein intake.
It also didn’t make a lot of sense to me personally as I am rarely hungry after a workout.
There are some exceptions, but usually I don’t have much of an appetite until at least an hour after I work out.
When you tune into your body and listen to it, you set yourself up to get the best results possible.
I don’t believe in force-feeding yourself when you have no appetite. You are not going to feel very good after that.
My experience has been that as long as I get in an adequate amount of protein during the day, the timing of it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference.
When it comes to carbohydrates, I am not a huge proponent of a high-carbohydrate diet and usually follow the keto diet.
That being said, I have found that having carbohydrates just prior to a workout have been the most effective when it comes to getting a great pump and having the energy to get through the workout.
Best practice going forward
Although I am far from the only one suggesting this, the research indicates you would be smart to focus on your daily intake of protein and other nutrients instead of worrying about the timing of them.
My advice is as always. Find what works best for you and do that.
As long as you are getting in enough of everything throughout the day, find which times work best for you.
Although unlikely, perhaps you find that carbohydrates don’t work well for you right before a workout and you’d rather eat them after.
No problem as long as you are getting the results you want.
Perhaps you find that you find a shake right before your workout seems to help you recover better. Great. Do that.
It’s all about finding what works best for you. What works best for me might just not work best for you.
Tackling the myth
While I am hard-pressed to say that the anabolic window is a myth due to differences in research findings, I will say that I don’t think the anabolic window theory is well-supported either in research or in real experience.
I do not believe that there is a magical 30-minute window following your workout in which you can boost your gains to some crazy level that you could not have done otherwise.
If that were the case, then everyone that follows it would be leaps and bounds over those that don’t.
One look at everyone at that same juice bar at any given gym will tell you that simply isn’t the truth.
Focus on what you eat throughout the day. Don’t get caught up in worrying about eating right after your workout.
It will cause unnecessary stress in your life. Bodybuilding and growing muscle are not as perfectly exact as many believe.
Doing a little research, you will find that some weird things work well for people you would have never thought would work.
P.S. What are your thoughts on the anabolic window? I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and comments below!