if you’re into weight lifting or your goal is building muscle, you’ve probably heard about the “anabolic window” along your journey. the anabolic window refers to the period of time right after a workout, where many believe muscle protein synthesis (the driving force behind building muscle) is at an all time high. many people passionate about this theory claim that it is absolutely essential to have a meal within that window for maximum results.
now, this sounds pretty intense right? let’s dive into the science behind this theory and whether it really matters as much as advocates claim.
first, let’s talk about what happens when we weight train when it comes to two macronutrients: carbohydrates and protein.
- carbs - if we’re properly fueled for our workout, we’ve eaten a carb-dense meal beforehand. those carbs are converted to glucose and sent to our body’s glycogen stores, where they’re then used for fuel during our session. we start our session with those stores full (since we had a solid meal beforehand), and as we train, they deplete. at the end of our workout, our glycogen stores are much emptier than when we started.
- protein - to be in an anabolic (muscle building) state during our workout, it’s important we consume a meal with protein beforehand as this puts us in the best position to be able to recover from our workout. To facilitate recovery, we need to make sure we're fueling with protein after our workout as well as throughout the day.
now, the anabolic window theory does have some merit - here’s why: at the end of a workout, our glycogen stores are depleted and it’s been some time since our body has had a protein serving. not only that, but through effective weight training we’ve torn muscle fibers that we want to rebuild, and those fibers can only do that if they have the right tools (sufficient protein). this leads to the idea that having a meal immediately after training is your best bet for maximum progress because as soon as possible, you are refilling those glycogen stores and putting yourself back into an anabolic state to allow the body to begin recovering.
here’s where the anabolic window theory falls short, though:
- it doesn’t take into account the gut microbiome or the conditions where we best digest our food.
- food is best digested in a low-stress state. training is a stressor on the body, and though most healthy people can recover from this stress, immediately after our workout we are in a state of “fight or flight.” if we are to immediately eat a meal when our heart is racing and our nervous system is heightened, that meal won’t digest well. if we aren’t digesting our food, it’s not absorbing properly and therefore can’t be put to use as efficiently!
- the anabolic window claims to be the hour after training where we need to get that meal in, however our body doesn’t operate on a 24-hour clock, nor does it meticulously count the minutes / hours after training. a 2013 review in the journal of international society of sports nutrition found that the “anabolic window” may actually last several hours after exercise, and that what really matters is the total amount of protein and carbs consumed within the day, rather than the hour immediately following the workout.
is it important to fuel our body post workout? absolutely. but it doesn’t, and honestly shouldn’t be minutes after finishing your last set. let your heart rate come down, take some deep breaths, wait until your body is in a more calm state before you re-fuel. you’ll be completely okay waiting longer than an hour before your meal.
when we're ready to eat post-workout, an amazing addition to your meal is beam’s whey or vegan protein. both are easy to digest so your body can put the protein to use quickly to rebuild those muscle fibers. it’s convenient to bring with you, and works well in tons of different combinations - mix it in smoothies, greek yogurt, oatmeal, or just on it’s own!
so while the anabolic window theory does understand our body’s need for fuel post workout, you don’t need to slam your protein shake right after dropping the weights. again, the most important part for our progress is making sure we’re fueling our body well throughout the day!
let your body relax before eating after your session and let us know how it goes 🙂