Whether you're just starting out or you're a seasoned gym go-er, you've probably heard of the anabolic window theory: the idea that maximum muscle growth occurs when you consume your post-workout meal within 30 minutes after your workout. For some of us, getting in a good meal with only 30 minutes to prepare just isn't realistic. Does that mean we're not progressing as quickly as we could be?
During strength training, your body is in a catabolic state. This means that while exercising, your muscles are breaking down complex molecules in order to release energy for your body to use. After strength training, your body switches to an anabolic state. During this state is when those small, broken-down molecules grow into larger, complex molecules. Those complex molecules form into new cells and tissues, including what we’re all working towards: muscle.
It’s important to consume proper nutrients during this state, as they help to facilitate faster muscle repair and growth. Taking the time to prepare nutrient dense, protein-packed meals will ensure you’re maximizing your anabolic window after training.
WHAT DOES PROTEIN DO?
While we know that protein should be involved sometime before or after the workout, the research on the exact timing for best results are murky... at best. Let’s take a look at protein and what it does for our bodies:
Think of protein as the building block of your muscles. You need it in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Therefore, eating enough protein helps you maintain your muscle mass and promotes muscle growth when you do strength training. Out of all macronutrients, protein is also the most filling by far. It helps you feel more satiated—with less food!
WHY NUTRIENT TIMING MATTERS
When we exercise, our muscles are breaking down, and the process by which they repair themselves is called muscle protein synthesis (MPS). It has been proven that the timing of protein ingestion has a significant effect on MPS.
There’s a myth surrounding the anabolic window that you need to consume these nutrients immediately following a workout, however, nutrient timing has more to do with getting protein around the time of the workout, not within a rigid window before or after. The exception is if you train in a fasted state, which means you should have a post-workout meal soon after.