The Anabolic Window: A Myth Busted?

Window? What window?

The anabolic window is supposedly the period of time after an intense workout where the body shifts from a catabolic state to an anabolic one. In short, for around 30 minutes your body is primed to accept food and convert it into muscle mass.

So gym rats have adopted this to their lifestyle and their workout routine, believing that after exercising, after finishing that last rep, they’ve got this short span of time to eat whole chickens, a dozen eggs, a tub of ice cream and turn that into bulk or else the anabolic state just passes and they go catabolic and start withering their muscles away, or something.

But science has a way of making things less exciting.

It turns out, these binges might not be necessary. According to a 2013 study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, protein timing wasn’t a factor in building lean muscle mass. That time span wasn’t really such a big deal!

The study reviewed 23 previous studies on the intake and timing of protein and according them, those who gobbled up protein immediately after working out had more or less the same results as those who just ate the same amount of protein across the day.

The important thing wasn’t the timing but the total protein intake! That was what determined most of the differences in results… regardless of whether the protein was eaten within 39 minutes of the workout or after hours. The review indicates that if the anabolic window existed, it would be a span of time around four or six hours after training.

That’s not what we heard back then…

That’s not what we thought. Well, there goes the binging and the gorging. Oh well.

In the studies, their average subject ate 1.66 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight each day. For a person who weighs 200 lbs. that’s about 150g of protein a day. This actually conforms with most current research on recommended intake for strength training athletes. However, it’s probably not near the excessive amounts we used to hear.

But wait, don’t junk your after-exercise protein shakes just yet! While the studies are quite comprehensive, their pool of subjects might not be engaged in the most intensive kinds of workout. There are differences in the energy expenditure, and thus the intake requirements, between inexperienced athletes, casual gym rats, and those who are really into hardcore training. Perhaps timing is more crucial for those with far more extensive and intensive workouts.

The study also covers protein only, it doesn’t cover carbohydrates… so the verdict’s out on those tubs of ice cream and shovelfuls of cake that give us such guilty pleasures.

So keep it regular!

Anyway, all in all, the main thing these studies show us is that total protein intake is something we can’t forget since it’s crucial to your performance as an athlete!  If you slurp your protein shake within that fabled 30-minute anabolic window, but spend the rest of the day chewing on celery or pretzels or cheese sticks… that won’t get you the best results. The total amount of protein you take across the entire day, from regular, moderate meals, matters most.