The anabolic window is a hypothetical time frame after your workout session when your body supposedly goes into super anabolic mode and starts building muscle and losing fat faster than the plague spread in Europe.
According to fitness bros, the anabolic window usually lasts 1-1:30 hours after your training session. Based on these claims, it would only make sense to supply the body with huge amounts of calories and macronutrients during that time frame to take advantage of such superphysiological state, right? Perhaps on Mars, but not here on Earth!
Even though the anabolic window is a myth per say, I don’t think it’s not as dumb as other strength training related myths because the logic behind the anabolic window is as follow:
When you lift weights you cause microscopic tears in your muscle tissue. This causes muscle/protein breakdown and puts you in a catabolic state. Because of these reasons, the body is willing to accept any nutrients that time frame and shuttle them directly to muscle tissue, thus speed up recovery and kick start muscle growth. During training you have also depleted your glycogen storage and thus you need to replenish them quickly by consuming some fast acting carbs (simple carbs).
The logic is nice and all, but this simply isn’t true.
The anabolic window is what the whole concept of peri workout nutrition is based on. Many dietary supplements such as carb products, fast acting protein, BCAA’s and fast acting whatever are also based on this mythical time period of super powers.
The “science” behind the anabolic window is that you will have better nutrient partitioning (insulin sensitivity), increased testosterone levels and faster rate of protein synthesis. Hmmm true or not?
The “real” anabolic window
Technically, the anabolic window does exist! After you train and break down your muscles, your body’s rate of protein synthesis increases, but it doesn’t just last for 2 hours. In fact, the “anabolic window” lasts for approximately 36 hours post training! Here is a well-controlled study on this specific topic. If you don’t like reading studies, the study simply observed an increase in protein synthesis by 50% post training and 109% 24 hours AFTER your training session!
By the time it has been 36 hours, protein synthesis rate declines and returns to baseline levels. However, this is only if you DO NOT train within those 36 hours. If you are following an intelligently designed exercise program, you will most likely train within 36 hours of every training sessions. Thus, your protein synthesis rate will probably stay elevated as you long as you are training frequently. So, according to these finding, should you eat whatever 24 hours after your training sessions?
Obviously, not. Which shows why consuming “fasting acting carbs” and fast acting protein immediately after training is mere speculation.
What about the super powers from enhanced hormonal effects?
Strength training does increase testosterone levels, improve insulin sensitivity and nutrient partitioning and does increase protein synthesis rate. However, those improvements will last as long as you are training frequently. You get to enjoy those benefits permanently as opposed to merely 2 hours and then back to being Clark Kent.
Additionally, the boost in testosterone levels may be helpful for overall mood, well-being and sex drive, however, the increase is not significant to yield any substantial muscle gains or fat loss, if any. So, you do enjoy some increases in hormones, but you are still Clark Kent! Damn it!
So, do I need to drink a protein shake and some fasting acting carbs post workout? No. If you had a nice pre-workout meal, you will be more than fine and you can have your post-workout meal 1-3 hours after training without unnecessary stress caused by losing out on potential muscle gains. Thus, eating a good post-workout meal is just part of the equation, not the whole equation.
If you train fasted however, you may want to look into eating your post workout meal as soon as possible after you finish training. So, perhaps within an hour or so. It’s more ideal this way, but your muscles won’t start falling off if it’s been an hour and a half and you haven’t eaten yet.
This article concludes the peri workout nutrition chapter and pretty much the diet series. During the next and last chapter, we will cover what many of you are interested in: supplements!
We will answer fundamental questions about supplement effectiveness, importance, whether they work or not and what you should invest your money in.