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Anabolic Window

Gym culture would have you believe your window of opportunity for maximizing protein supplement benefits, also known as the anabolic window, is like a ticking time-bomb.

No need to rush to the protein counter at your gym.

The anabolic window is believed to be a 30-60 minute post-workout time frame crucial for maximizing anabolic activity via protein supplementation. It is also believed that missing the anabolic window is detrimental to overall muscle and strength development.

It’s time to rattle the gym cages, so to speak.

Most, if not all, of what is said about the anabolic window is merely bro science propagated by superstitious bodybuilding-practices.

WHERE'S THE EVIDENCE

Evidence supporting the anabolic window is deemed “far from definitive” by some researchers. One analysis explains that studies supporting the anabolic window were based on lifters who worked out without eating anything, which isn’t necessarily relatable to the average gym-goer.1

The anabolic window has been further misconstrued by many within the fitness community to mean “always necessary.”

Recent clinical evidence reveals the anabolic window isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

PROTEIN-TIMING

One study analyzed protein-timing’s effect on 33 resistance-trained men during a 10-week experimental period. Researchers focused on 3 parameters:

ESupp-Article_Anabolic-Window-Updated_06

Researchers split the test subjects into random groups. Each group was assigned a different protein supplementing time frame: morning and night; before and after a workout; and no supplements at all.

All test subjects then underwent strength and power testing sessions consisting of the following exercises: 1-rep maximum on the bench press and squat and 5 repetitions at 80% of 1-rep maximum bench press. They were also measured for body composition. What were the results? Protein-timing didn’t have any added benefits on strength, power, or body-composition.2

A different 12-week study observed the result of protein-supplement timing on muscle growth after resistance training in 26 older men who regularly consume adequate protein amounts.

Some test subjects received protein supplementation before and immediately after exercise while others didn’t, and similar 1-rep maximum tests were performed. Once again, protein timing didn’t improve muscle mass and strength any further than men who routinely consume adequate amounts of protein.3

UPDATE: A recently published study titled, “Protein Ingestion Before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains During Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men,” may seem very appealing to those looking for evidence supporting protein timing. Judging by the title, could this be the study that essentially proves the necessity of timing your protein shake? Not quite.

This study analyzed the effects of supplementing with 27.5 g of protein vs. a non-caloric placebo drink before bed. What researchers found was that the added protein supplementation did indeed improve muscle mass and strength gains during a 12-week resistance training program.4

However, it appears this study’s focus was more on whether supplemental protein has any benefits on workout results rather than if timing had any effect. The time in which protein was consumed by test subjects was always before bed and the varying factor was whether the subjects received protein or a placebo drink instead. Considering what we already know about protein and its ability to improve muscle mass and strength when coupled with exercise, the results of this study don’t offer any new evidence to support protein timing in regard to the “anabolic window” debate.

CARBOHYDRATE-TIMING

Optimizing muscle glycogen resynthesis after working out is important. As you engage in exercise and resistance training, muscle glycogen storages are depleted and, as such, replenishing them is necessary for recovery and subsequent workouts.

Carbs can really make a difference day to day and even hour to hour on how your physiques looks and how you feel.

But is there any added benefit of glycogen-timing? Is the most important time to refuel during that short, 30-60 minute anabolic window?

The answer to these questions depends on two criteria:

  • Type of Exercise
  • Frequency of Muscle Trained
  • Ingesting carbohydrates quickly post-exercise is beneficial for a “narrow subset of endurance sports” where multiple training sessions or competitions occur less than 8 hours apart from each other.1

    For athletes whose goals aren’t as endurance focused, completely depleting glycogen stores is harder to achieve than many people think, even for athletes who participate in high-intensity resistance training.1

    Adequate carbohydrate refueling is attainable within a 24-hour period.1 This means that, for the average gym-goer, rushing home to eat healthy carbohydrates isn’t as important.

    As you engage in exercise and resistance training, muscle glycogen storages are depleted and, as such, replenishing them is necessary for recovery and subsequent workouts.

    PICKING UP THE PIECES

    So, does this mean that protein and carbs aren’t necessary for optimizing recovery and muscle growth, or that post-nutrition supplementation is optional if your goal is to optimize muscle hypertrophy? Not at all.

    After all, protein is the building block of muscles and is imperative to growth.5 Strength training and endurance athletes need more protein and carbohydrates than sedentary individuals.67

    However, this growing body of research suggests lifters and athletes shouldn’t live and die by the anabolic window concept. A workout is not “lost” if you aren’t able to eat right away.

    Rather, you should instead focus on overall nutrition throughout the day. The response of muscle protein metabolism after a workout lasts up to 24-48 hours. Consequently, any meals consumed within this period of time factor into muscle hypertrophy.8

    Make it a habit to eat healthy carbohydrates and protein in your meals throughout the day; proper nutrition is key to maximizing gym progress.

    If you train for strength and endurance, you should try to consume anywhere from 1.4-1.8 g/kg and 1.2-1.4 g/kg protein per day, respectively.5 Depending on the intensity of exercise and frequency per day, athletes should consume anywhere from 5-12 g/kg carbohydrates per day.9

    WHAT SHOULD YOU DO

    You should see the anabolic window concept as more of a safeguard than anything else. The habit of drinking a protein shake and refueling immediately after a workout is better than not consuming these macronutrients at all. But keep in mind that, for the average-gym rat, there is no rush.

    Keep the anabolic window as a habit of making sure your eat and not when you eat.

    Make sure you get adequate protein and carbohydrate amounts throughout the day as this lays the nutritional foundation for having successful energy to work out and have adequate protein for muscle recovery.

    The days of needing to pack a post-workout protein shake to sip while down in the gym-locker room are over.

    eSupplements Article Recap

  • Protein and carbohydrate-timing isn’t as important as gym culture would have you believe.
  • Eat protein and healthy carbohydrates throughout the day to optimize workout results.
  • The anabolic window should be seen as a safety-net.
  • 4 Comments
    Jump To Comments

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    Lindsey Mathews
    Lindsey Mathews is the owner of Moxie Full Body Fitness, a quarterly fitness boot camp that focuses on weight loss and overall fitness. With a BA in Human Development from Brigham Young University, Lindsey’s boot camps are just as much about building mental and emotional self-confidence as they are about getting in shape.

    Lindsey has been interested in physical fitness her entire life and was an active swimmer at her Southern California high school. Having specialized in relay events, she learned the importance of having support from a “team” at a young age, a concept she now actively applies with her boot-campers.

    When not directing her series of camps, Lindsey enjoys spending time at home with her husband and three kids. She also enjoys a mixed variety of physical activity including obstacle course races, triathlons and figure competitions.

    REFERENCES

    1. Aragon, Alan Albert; Schoenfeld, Brad Jon. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:5 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-5.
    2. Hoffman JR, et al. Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2009 Apr;19(2):172-85.
    3. Verdijk LB,et al. Protein supplementation before and after exercise does not further augment skeletal muscle hypertrophy after resistance training in elderly men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb;89(2):608-16. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26626. Epub 2008 Dec 23.
    4. Tim Snijders, et al. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. The Journal of Nutrition: Nutrient Physiology, Metabolism, and Nutrient-Nutrient Interactions.
    5. Neil Osterweil. The Benefits of Protein. WebMD.
    6. Lemon PW. Do athletes need more dietary protein and amino acids? Int J Sport Nutr. 1995 Jun;5 Suppl:S39-61.
    7. Hassapidou, Maria. Carbohydrate requirements of elite athletes. Br J Sports Med 2011;45:e2 doi:10.1136/bjsm.2010.081570.23.
    8. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2001 Mar;11(1):109-32.
    9. Coleman, Ellen, MA, MPH, RD, CCSD. Carbohydrate Requirements for Exercise. 2011 Edition. Nutrition Dimension.
    Leave a Comment

    4 Comments

    Johnny

    May 20, 2014

    I love this article! I’ve always thought about moderation in all things. Good to know that consistent intake of protein, carbs, etc. is probably the most effective for the body. Thanks, Lindsey!

    Reply

      RESHAM SINGH

      August 20, 2015

      In my opinion the article is very informative, the essence is : Do not go too much after the window concept. No need to get panicky or depressed if there is delay in consumption or the quantity is not large (as recommended).Also just for the sake of numbers (so many grams of this and that) no need to stuff your self. Just go by your instinct and feel, this will definitely keep you calm and comfortable .
      Take care of other factors related to recovery like rest & sleep,stress management variations in workout intensity etc. Nutrition in not the sole contributor.

      Thank you
      Resham Singh age 54-55 y

    Susan

    May 27, 2014

    I really like the content of this article. So what if the product instructions tell you to take the product at a particular time? Can we disregard this and just take the product when convenient?

    Reply

    Dawn

    August 18, 2015

    Great article! Yes I have and still have questions about this. I have had a few personal trainers that demanded the intake of protein within 15 min of powerlifting. I try to up the intake of protein within 30-45 min because sometimes I feel sick after powerlifting and not even water will stay down. Yes I do push myself …can’t grow if I am not challenging my body…right!?!?

    Reply

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