By: Danny Amon, JCC Fitness Center & Personal Training Manager
THE MYTH: The Protein Window, AKA the “Anabolic” Window
Despite what you may have been told by the average gymbro in the wild, you won’t “lose your gains” if you miss the mythical 30-minute window after exercise where you supposedly *must* consume protein. As we usually find in these situations, there is some valuable information to be gleaned from this myth, but you have to wade through a lot of nonsense to get there. In this case, the take home point is that dietary protein is very important for recovery after hard workouts. To reinforce some themes from past entries in this series, that protein will break down into amino acids that our bodies are unable to make on their own. Those aminos will be used to repair the muscle damaged during our workouts, and that effect will even be enhanced by a good night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, that’s where the supplement industry steps in to capitalize. The “Anabolic Window” is essentially a gimmick to sell you protein supplements, and the artificial time limit of thirty minutes is slapped on to create a sense of urgency and need. While it’s true that there exists a body of literature demonstrating the benefits of consuming protein immediately post-workout, subsequent research has shown that the most important factor is the amount of protein being consumed in total over the course of the day (regardless of when).
To that point, this window doesn’t provide any context. For example, why would an individual need 25 grams of protein immediately post workout if, for example, they had consumed a balanced meal an hour prior? Meals containing all three macronutrients-carbs, protein, and fats-will take a few hours to fully digest, meaning the protein in those meals would be available during and after the workout. Alternatively, someone who works out first thing in the morning would still have all of their meals, and thus protein, after the workout, rendering any supplemental protein moot.
For most people, a balanced diet is all that is needed to ensure recovery from workouts. 1 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight is a well-established range in the literature for athletic performance, so this is perfectly fine for the average person. This could be allocated over as many meals as is preferred, whether that be two, eight, or anywhere in between. To avoid a feeling of depletion or low energy, it’s best to consume one of those meals within a couple hours of the workout, as blood sugar and glycogen stores are going to be depleted during the workout.
If you find it easier to consume the necessary amount of protein via supplements/shakes, that’s OK! Think of this as food like all of your other calories, but use it if you like to make shakes, smoothies, etc. More than anything, protein supplements are a convenience, so treat them accordingly!
JCC Fitness Center & Personal Training Manager, Personal Trainer
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The views expressed in editorials and opinion pieces are those of each author and not necessarily the views of the York JCC.