With so much bro-science prevalent everywhere, in addition to fellow bro scientists unleashing their scientifically questionable beliefs on any culprit willing to listen, it can be difficult to know what information to heed. In addition, there’s no one fits all when it comes to calculating nutrient timing for peak performance following a workout. Theories thrown around include the concept of regimental consumption of protein on the hour every 2-3 hours and the anabolic window of opportunity. In this nutritional timing: The myths debunked! article, we discuss if this window of opportunity even exist!
Does nutrient timing matter?
Maybe you’re interested in learning when should you eat before a workout? Or maybe you’re more concerned with what you should eat after a workout? Or perhaps you’re interested in both!
Either way, let’s jump straight into some evidence-based straight facts regarding pre-workout meal timing and the anabolic window.
Nutrient timing identifies the process of manipulating meal timing to enhance changes to bodily composition (e.g. weight loss or muscle gain). Muscle building and breakdown is a constant cycle in the body throughout the day. So by walking up and consuming protein in the morning, muscle protein synthesis is endorsed by the addition of amino acids into the blood stream.
Optimal results are observed by consuming 1g protein per pound of body weight in
approximately 4-6 meals spread throughout the day
Precision surrounding pre and post-workout meal timing matters for bodybuilders who are interested in gaining mass and athletes who are endeavouring to enhance peak performance during a run, cycle etc. However, for individuals who engage in exercise with less-specific goals, the importance of meal timing is less significant.
Nutrient timing is of particular importance both before and after workouts as this is the time where the body will be under the most stress and in need of energy to push through the workout. Without adequate energy, the muscles are likely to tire and less capable of pushing out those extra few reps.
The ‘anabolic window‘ is a phrase coined which entertains the concept that there is a small window of opportunity (commonly quoted as 30-60 minutes) post-workout whereby a person must consume protein to yield the merits of their workout session. Failure to consume protein during this time period rendered a workout almost futile, with the implications including poor muscle repair and growth.
It’s likely you’ve seen someone in the gym frantically guzzling down a protein shake after a workout to ensure optimal muscle anabolism was achieved. If you haven’t, that person was probably you! The anabolic window primarily endorsed the use of protein supplements, such as protein shakes, as they were a quickly absorbed, convenient and efficient method of obtaining protein by acting as a meal replacement when a person couldn’t access a post-workout meal within 30 minutes of a gym session.
Fortunately, due to evidence-backed research into nutrient timing post-workout, the short window of opportunity has since been extended, with emphasis being placed on achieving target calories/macronutrients for the day. So, while the postulation that a person needs to eat 30 minutes post-workout to gain muscle has been contradicted, there are some clauses regarding nutritional timing which should be adhered to in order to achieve the desired body composition. In the next paragraphs, we dive into some of these peri-workout nutritional facts.
By now*, you should be familiar with the best pre-workout foods which will enhance your ability to perform during a workout. Additionally, we also discussed the best post-workout foods which will complement your goals, be it fat loss or muscle gain.
*If, of course, you read the previous 4 articles:
Should I eat before workout?
Yes! There are many benefits to eating (particularly protein and carbohydrates) before a workout. For athletes who complete morning workouts, their body has been in a fasted state overnight; as such, a pre-workout meal provides a great opportunity to enhance protein synthesis levels.
Additionally, this principle applies to any individual, athlete or weight trainer who have not eaten in approximately 3-4 hours. Muscle anabolism is low after periods of fasting; it is directly related to protein synthesis, so the longer your body adopts levels of protein synthesis which are at or above the muscle breakdown rates, muscle growth is optimised. The best way to achieve this is by routinely consuming moderate quantities of protein throughout the day, particularly before and after a workout.
That being said, there is some flexibility around nutrient timing to accommodate personal preference, lifestyle restrictions and convenience. The best results are obtained by consuming pre and post-workout meal timing within a 3-4 hour window of each other.
Should I eat after workout?
Following a workout, your body is in a state of muscle catabolism due to the muscle fibres being broken down by the various exercises completed. In order to switch your body into a muscle growing phase, efforts should be taken to ensure prime levels of muscle synthesis by ingesting protein. Remember, muscle synthesis doesn’t truly proceed until adequate protein levels are available.
The timing of your workout meal is however, dependent on the amount and time since protein was last ingested. For example, a person who eats in a fasted state before their workout should prioritise their post-workout meal timing. However, for someone who eats a decent portion of protein and carbohydrates before a workout should be aware that the digestion rate of the meal could extend up to 5-6 hours; consequently, they may not need to prioritise their meal after a workout until 2-3 hours.
- Nutrient timing is not as critical to endorsing muscle gain or weight loss as was previously reported.
- The primary goal is to hit daily macronutrient/calorie target.
- Meal timing before and after a workout should be carefully calculated, particularly for people serious about endurance sports and weight training.
- The optimal approach is to consume adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat in pre and post-workout meals.
- Regular meal timing also ensures an adequate supply of nutrients to the body throughout the day while regulating sugar and hunger levels.
- The duration between pre and post-workout meal times should not be extended longer than 3-4 hours.
- People training in a fasted state or who have not eaten 3-4 hours before a workout should aim to consume post-workout meal soon after training.
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Medium. (2020). Researchers Point to the Optimal Protein Dose, Timing & Distribution to Maximize Muscle. [online] Available at: https://medium.com/@dannylennon/researchers-point-to-the-optimal-protein-dose-timing-distribution-to-maximize-muscle-e95c0ab570b0 [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].
Nutritionjd.com. (2020). The ‘Anabolic Window’: Not such a narrow opportunity. [online] Available at: https://www.nutritionjd.com/the-anabolic-window/ [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].
Precision Nutrition. (2020). All about nutrient timing: Does when you eat really matter? | Precision Nutrition. [online] Available at: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-nutrient-timing [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].