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Is the anabolic window real? For years now, many trainees have labored under the idea that they must take advantage of the anabolic window or risk losing out on potential gym gains. Worse yet, they could even go catabolic, resulting in losing muscle rather than building it. However, is any of this actually true?
Simply put, the anabolic window is the 45-minute period after training in which you’re supposed to consume a post-workout meal or shake. By giving the body carbs and protein immediately after a workout, you’re giving it nutrients it needs for repair and growth at the most critical time.
Early opinions were that the anabolic window was important for two reasons. Firstly, taking advantage of improved repair and growth meant that you could build more muscle and strength with the same effort than you could normally. Secondly, if you didn’t appropriately feed the muscles after training, the body could turn on itself for sustenance. Since muscle is easily broken down, you could actually suffer atrophy instead of experiencing hypertrophy.
While much of what was originally thought about the anabolic window is still valid, research shows that there are other factors to take into consideration, too. For instance, a study in the American Journal of Physiology-Endicrinology and Metabolism showed that a pre-workout meal can change all this.
Having at little as 20 grams of protein before working out can increase the delivery of amino acids to your muscles for as long as 2-3 hours after your workout. Because of this, you can put off your post-workout nutrition for a few hours without experiencing catabolic effects. However, if you’re training first thing in the morning in a fasted state with no protein in your system, then your post-workout nutrition then becomes important again.
It might seem like common sense, but you know that you have to have a good overall diet in order for muscle growth to occur. This means taking in enough calories, proper macronutrient ratios, and so on.
As it turns out, early studies on the anabolic window didn’t focus on their subjects’ overall nutrition as much. This means it’s hard to tell what kind of gains came from proper post-workout nutrition vs simply just eating right as a whole. In fact, studies in both the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Journal of Exercise Physiology Online both suggest overall proper nutrition is all that really matters (given again that you’re not working out after a prolonged fasted state).
All in all, the anabolic window is still important, but only in certain circumstances. If you train first thing in the morning, then it’s very important you take in carbs and at least 25-30 grams of protein within 30-45 minutes of finishing your workout.
For the rest of the time, as long as you’re eating smartly as a whole, then you’ll be fine. Getting 25-30 grams of protein every few hours is even better. Do that and you won’t have to worry about losing your gym gains if you fail to take advantage of some supposed special nutrition “window” of time.