Have you ever noticed how some people sprint – at full speed – to grab their shaker bottles right after their workouts? Okay, fine, that might be an exaggeration. But still, some gym-goers do indeed look like they're in a great hurry to get protein into their bodies. You might even be one of them. So, this begs the question: "Is all that rush necessary?"
Why the rush in the first place?
It all comes down to the supposed ‘anabolic window’. Supposedly, this is a short time immediately following your workouts during which your body is particularly primed to absorb nutrients (e.g. protein) and use them for recovery like muscle-building. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Strength training causes tiny tears in your muscle fibres. So, you'll have to provide your body with amino acids – right away – to compensate for this catabolic state… Right?
Getting in protein isn’t quite so urgent
Not exactly. It's true that getting in protein after your workout is crucial. It helps to increase protein synthesis – which helps you build bigger, stronger muscles. But, as it turns out, the 'anabolic window' is pretty wide open.
According to a 2020 review, it appears that muscle repair (and growth) takes place equally well whether you consume protein 1, 2, or even 3 hours after exercise. This finding is in line with a previous 2013 review, which concluded that the anabolic window could persist as long as 4 to 6 hours after training.
Optimise your protein intake over the day
Meaning? Instead of racing to gulp down a protein shake immediately after your last rep, you’d do best with simply striving to ‘feed’ your muscle tissues with decent doses of protein a few times (ideally 3 to 5) per day – while ensuring that you're hitting your daily protein intake requirement. Note: the latter depends on your body weight.
And research from 2018 suggests that for optimal muscle growth, you’d do best with anywhere between 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of your body mass. Assuming that you weigh 60 kg, this would translate to 3 meals of about 32 to 44 grams of protein. If that's too much protein per meal for you, consider adding more meals (or even protein shakes) throughout the day.
The exception is if you had to work out fasted
Disclaimer: there is indeed one scenario where you might need to rush to get protein into your system. It is when you train fasted. This is where you train on an empty stomach (e.g. heading to the gym right after you wake up). Because fasting itself puts your body in a catabolic state, getting in protein immediately after a workout is indeed crucial for helping reverse this state in your body – and maximise muscle growth.
That said, the truth is there’s pretty much no reason for you to exercise in a fasted state. Study after study has consistently proven that there are no benefits (neither enhanced fat loss nor better muscle growth) to training on an empty stomach.
Stay on top of your protein needs – anywhere, anytime
So, if you wish to minimise the panic you experience with grabbing a protein shake as soon as you’ve re-racked the weights, you know what to do: eat! Research shows that eating as few as 20 grams of protein as part of your pre-workout meal can significantly elevate the delivery of amino acids (i.e. the building blocks of your tissues) to your muscles for up to 2 to 3 hours.
Can’t stomach that much protein in the morning? Worried about bloating? There's an easy – and delicious – way of staying on top of your protein needs: Lean Blend's Protein Water. It's so light and refreshing; you wouldn't even realise you're getting 28 whopping grams of protein each serving!