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Should You Care About the “Anabolic Window”?

Hey Angels and Alphas,

Have you noticed that whenever someone new enters the world of fitness and nutrition, often the first thing they do is start learning about the core mainstream fitness concepts like diets and training splits?

That’s all well and good, but in the midst of these mainstream concepts are also misconceptions like the ”anabolic window” – the idea that consuming a meal/protein shake immediately after a workout is detrimental to recovery, strength, and hypertrophy gains.

This concept had its origins in the late 1980s when a study concluded that delayed carbohydrate consumption related to slower glycogen re-synthesis. This basically meant that recovery was slower if one didn’t consume carbs after a workout. Right there and then, the anabolic window myth was born.

Later research did make the idea obsolete, and the anabolic window was essentially disproved because all of the research done focused on short-term, not long-term effects.

Let’s explore the concept of the anabolic window and see if there’s any truth to it, and whether or not it even exists.

The theory of the anabolic state.

The anabolic window theory is initially based on your body’s natural anabolic response. Anabolism happens when small molecules grow into bigger, more complex molecules. These molecules subsequently form into new body tissues and cells, including muscle tissue. This phenomenon is the opposite of catabolism, the state in which larger molecules break down. 

Shortly after a strength training session, your body enters an anabolic state. This involves various cellular processes that facilitate the growth and repair of muscle tissue. These processes are fueled mostly by carbs and protein.

According to the anabolic state theory, this natural body response happens inside a limited time frame of about 30 minutes. It also claims that eating protein and carbs immediately after training is fundamental to replenishing muscle glycogen, reducing muscle protein breakdown, and fueling protein synthesis.

According to a 2018 study, muscle protein breakdown rapidly increases in response to bouts of strength training. Muscle protein synthesis also improves, although to a much greater extent. The natural balance between these two phenomena determines muscle growth. There’s a term for the balance between the two, it’s called “net muscle protein balance” (NBAL.)

Post-workout nutrition can indeed affect these body processes. 

Protein intake limits protein breakdown and supports protein synthesis. Carb intake inhibits protein breakdown and improves glycogen resynthesis. 

After training, it might seem logical to immediately eat protein and carbs so you can suppress muscle breakdown. Experts assume that this will lead to increases in muscle mass by increasing your total NBAL. 

That being said, this is an oversimplification. 

Changes in muscle size will depend on myofibrillar proteins. To increase your muscle mass, the suppressing of MPB would have to target these proteins alone. But MBP affects many different types of proteins. 

Moreover, there are many factors that affect recovery and growth, including your training, hormones, age, and more. There is also no evidence that this “anabolic window” is only 30 minutes. Nobody really knows where this timeframe came from.

There also isn’t hard evidence that says the anabolic window is only 30 minutes long. It’s not clear where the suggested time frame came from.

So while I believe there’s no harm in eating a meal before or after your workout, there’s one key takeaway I want to share with you today; relax.

Don’t worry about drinking your protein shake the very moment you finish working out. We’re in fitness for the long run, and in the long run, things like that hardly matter. If you train daily, eat your proteins and carbs, and do it over a long enough period, you will have absolutely no problem making progress regardless of your nutrition timing.

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