Should You Have Protein After Your Workout?

  1. There’s a short window of time — informally called ‘the anabolic window’ — after the workout for you to consume protein to maximise your gains from that session. If you don’t take advantage of this window well, you just done fucked up, and all your hard work was for nothing.

Does post-workout protein prevent muscle breakdown?

To understand if post-workout protein prevents muscle breakdown, you first need to understand two terms: muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown. Don’t worry, they’re not as scary as they sound.

Muscle protein synthesis

The protein you consume from your diet is broken down into amino acids in the body.

Muscle protein breakdown

Opposing muscle protein synthesis is muscle protein breakdown (or MPB) and, as the name suggests, is when muscle is broken down into amino acids.

A visual of the above paragraph
Perfectly balanced, as all things should be

Protein timing and the anabolic window

In the early 2000s, a few studies suggested the post-workout period is when the trained muscles were most sensitive to take in nutrients. And the further away you got from consuming nutrients in this window, the less effective post-workout nutrition became.

What to make of all of this?

The most important takeaway is total protein intake matters more than protein timing. Ensure you’re consuming enough protein every day to maintain a positive protein balance. This will ensure your body always has enough amino acids to use for repair and growth.

Post-workout protein TL;DR

  • Avoid extremes. The ‘anabolic window’ might not be as short as once believed, but this isn’t a reason to abuse it. I still recommend my clients have some protein before and after training to err on the side of caution. If nothing else, it’s a convenient way to hit your protein targets, especially for those who are busy and can’t always sit down to eat a meal. Additionally, if you train early in the morning, a post-workout shake can help reduce hunger.
  • Spread your protein intake evenly across multiple meals. How many meals you eat will come down to your personal preference, but anywhere between 3–5 meals per day will suffice. This, along with consuming enough protein every day, is more than enough for 99.95% of you reading this. And yes, I totally made that percentage up.
  • If you’ve consumed protein 1–3 hours before your workout, post-workout protein becomes less critical. As long as you have some protein within 1–3 hours of finishing the workout, you’ll be fine.
  • If you train fasted in the morning, post-workout protein becomes more important. In this case, aim to consume some protein as soon as it makes sense for you (ideally within 0.5–2 hours of completing the workout). Though the sooner, the better.
  • If you haven’t eaten 4–5+ hours before training, have some protein (like whey) 30–60 mins before you work out. You can then push the post-workout meal back by a few hours.

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Coach. Fitness writer | physiqonomics.com

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