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?

Nutrient timing, anabolic window

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.

Workout silhouette, weight lifting, nutrient timing

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.

Anabolic Window

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:

pre-workout foods – protein

post-workout foods – protein

is fat really bad for you?

the ultimate guide to carbohydrates

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.

Fruit, dumbbells, anabolic window, nutrient timing

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.

Summary

  • 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.

Sources

Aragon, A. and Schoenfeld, B. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1).

Helms, E., Aragon, A. and Fitschen, P. (2014). Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1).

Matthews, M. (2020). Everything You Need to Know About Pre-Workout Nutrition. [online] Legion Athletics. Available at: https://legionathletics.com/pre-workout-nutrition/ [Accessed 25 Jan. 2020].

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].

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12 Comments

Jonas · 19/02/2020 at 6:14 PM

Hi,
Very interesting article. Being a skinny guy by nature I had many difficulties putting on weight and muscle until I learned more about the importance of eating more often and how to track my calorie intake.

This article gives me another new aspect of my fitness situation and I’m gonna rethink how I balance and when to plan my meals though out the day.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

– Jonas

    Sharon · 19/02/2020 at 7:25 PM

    Hi Jonas,

    Yes the nutritional element of gaining muscle is fairly significant. I sure hope this post helps you on your journey!

    Best wishes,
    Sharon

Bob · 19/02/2020 at 7:00 PM

Really detailed and researched post…love that you posted your sources as well.
Thanks for posting this!

    Sharon · 19/02/2020 at 7:24 PM

    Hi there,

    Happy to hear you enjoyed it!

    Sharon

Strahinja · 19/02/2020 at 7:18 PM

Well, I always felt I had to eat before workout. It is good to find out it is the right way. I remember once I was a kid I went riding a bike without breakfast which led to my blood sugar doropping really low. So I was throwing up and after that day I knew what I must do to avoid that.

It is good to follow the professional advice, but I think listening to your own body needs is important as well.

    Sharon · 19/02/2020 at 7:24 PM

    Hi Strahinja,

    Wow that sounds horrible, I’m guessing you pushed yourself a little too much?

    I completely agree, the guidelines are always there; but at the end of the day, you have to listen to your body/
    Sharon

David · 19/02/2020 at 7:25 PM

Hi Sharon. The site looks great and your content is very well presented and well written. I like the use of the amount media used and I think the colours are also good.
I tend to do 100 press ups and drink a bottle of water first thing out of bed. I just clicked on your blogs, didn’t even see them first time, so I wil read them in slow time. Well done. Dave

    Sharon · 19/02/2020 at 7:34 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your kind words! 100 press ups is impressive! You’re definitely onto something by doing those 2 things first thing in the morning though!

    Sharon

Butch · 19/02/2020 at 10:31 PM

Great post, well written, very informative. Your site is very well laid out, bright and easy to navigate. Cheers!!

    Sharon · 20/02/2020 at 5:28 PM

    Thanks very much, really appreciate you taking the time out to review my post!

    Sharon

James · 20/02/2020 at 6:06 PM

I’m currently in my earlier stages of bodybuilding, and I’m learning more everyday. I absolutely and loving pretty much every moment of the journey!

Thank you for sharing this informative article, it’s important to understand and learn from the past, so now that we know more than ever you can optimise training and achieve the best results possible.

Personally, I always enjoy a post-workout meal. Getting in some fast digesting carbs such as a banana followed by a high protein and carb meal is something I like to prioritise, but it’s good to know that I should be ok to wait a short while if I’ve eating soon enough beforehand.

Great content, keep it up!
James

    Sharon · 20/02/2020 at 9:23 PM

    Hi James,

    Wow, exciting times ahead for you so! Great to hear that you’ve a good understanding of the nutritional timing already, and that you’re taking it seriously!

    Thank you, same to you!
    Sharon

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