You don’t need to worry about the “anabolic window” as long as you’re hitting your daily protein intake requirement, are spreading your meals out throughout the day, and/or don’t have a specific to desire for the most optimal muscle gains.
It is advisable to consume protein sometime after a fasted workout to maximize protein synthesis.
Probably the most infamous myth out there in the fitness space relates to the proposed anabolic window of recovery following your workout. A lot of people out there promote the idea that a quick hit of protein and carbs right after your workout is deemed essential to ensure properly recovery and muscle gains. And the truth of the matter is, many people become so frantic about this that they force themselves to get that protein shake or meal in as soon as they’re done working out, at the expense of important time in their lifestyle. Listen, if you’re someone who’s heard this before and is having the same concerns about eating something right after you exercise, I can promise you that if you can’t, you’re going to be 100% okay. This concept has been grossly exaggerated over the course of time, and instead you should take a much lighter and realistic approach if you so choose. But don’t just take my word for it, let’s dive deeper and take a look at what the current research says, and how to apply this advice to your own post-workout nutrition protocol
The first thing worth noting is that the most important factor in muscle growth and recovery is always ensuring you hit your daily protein requirement, which is far superior to protein timing throughout the day (Aragon and Schoenfeld, 2013). For basic composition improvements (muscle gain and fat loss), simply focusing on your daily protein intake will likely be more than enough to get you the results you’re looking for. I clarified in a previous post how the post-exercise anabolic window is a vastly exaggerated period of importance, with pre-workout and post-workout protein consumption having similar effects on muscle and strength gains (Schoenfeld et al 2017). Realistically, this could be all you pay attention to throughout the day as far as relating to your protein consumption, and you will 100% be in position to build muscle no matter when it is consumed. The number one problem I hear people having is that they place far greater emphasis on the exact timing of the food they take in, instead of simply prioritizing the nutrients they take in over the course of a day which will be the driving factor in their body composition results.
Another thing to note is that if you’re spreading out your meals throughout the day, by simply eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, once again there’s not really much to worry about with your post-workout nutrition. We know that 3-4 protein-rich meals spread throughout the day is sufficient to maximize hypertrophy (Phillips et al 2013), so whether one of those meals comes after your workout or not is simply personal preference. The point here is that your nutrition around your workouts is not critical by any means, but can be manipulated to maximize your performance in the gym and your recovery from your workouts. There’s nothing wrong with having that protein shake after your workout, just know that it’s not going to deliver any “magical” results compared to someone who gets the same amount of protein throughout the day.
And if you don’t really care about the “most optimal” approach, then once again this anabolic window should be of no concern for you. You can absolutely still build muscle simply focusing on your daily nutrition, and don’t have to inconvenience your own lifestyle to make sure you’re getting protein in right after your own workouts. There is no research showing any evidently superior benefits for immediate protein consumption when you focus on your daily needs. My favorite study for this topic came from the previously mentioned Aragon and Schoenfeld study. They also included in their extensive report that there is zero conclusive evidence that shows ingesting carbs and protein immediately after a workout raises muscle protein synthesis, which is the primary goal for most people who adopt such an approach. For most people, I recommend stop focusing so much on the little things, and simply maximizing the most important factors!
The only case I’d recommend trying to get in some protein after your workout, is when you trained in a fasted state. Not that your muscles are suddenly going to shrink just because you don’t have protein running through your body, but getting in a high-protein food would be beneficial for prolonging the effects protein synthesis following your workout. We know that resistance training on its own does contribute to elevated levels of protein synthesis (Tang et al 2008), and a frequent supply of protein can help keep these levels high for up to 24 hours following resistance training. The problem is if you haven’t had a meal for the 8+ hours before your workout, and continue to fast throughout the day after your workout, it’ll become difficult to experience the same level of post-workout benefits in regards to optimal recovery. If it’s not super difficult in your lifestyle to fit in a quick meal or a high-protein snack following a fasted workout, I definitely recommend it because I think it would be more beneficial for someone who performs fasted workouts on a regular basis.
I am super hopeful that I clarified the truth on this topic for you guys, and feel free to share this with someone who sacrifices their sanity to get their immediate post-workout shake. My purpose was to help put into perspective how not everything you hear online in regards to fitness has to be taken so seriously, and as long as you’re paying attention to the broader, more-important factors (good training program, proper daily nutrition, etc.) you’re going to be happy with the results you get. Ultimately, common sense is going to be your best bet when you’re overwhelmed about a particular topic. Did you just eat a meal before your workout and aren’t hungry? Then there’s really no need to eat right away. Was the last time you ate a meal over 8 hours and you’re lacking on your protein intake for the day? Then it would probably make sense to have a meal/snack after your workout.
So let me know down below if this clarified any concerns you had about this “anabolic window”, and if you have any other topics you’d like me to cover that you’re unsure about. Hope you guys have a great day!