You’ve probably heard about the so called golden post workout “window of opportunity” theory, and how vital this meal timing is to muscle growth.
I’ve heard all sorts of suggestions, from it being crucial to consume a certain ratio of protein and carbs the moment your workout ends and the weights hit the ground, to having up to an hour to consume a post workout meal.
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The post workout window theory has struck fear into the hearts of many. The thought that you have just minutes to consume a post workout meal before the optimum window for muscle growth slams in your face is an anxiety provoking concept.
I’ve seen guys finish their workout and run straight to the gym locker room in a blind panic to gulp down a protein shake… I used to be that guy. One occasion, I walk into the locker room and there was a guy sitting eating a tin of tuna fish. Post workout meal paranoia has reached epidemic levels!
But, is this rush to consume food immediately after training really necessary or just a myth?
Well, let me tell you that the “window of opportunity” is not within 1 minute, 20 minutes, 45 minutes or even an hour after working out. Protein synthesis (muscle growth stimulated by weight training) is in fact elevated for more than 24 hours post workout!
Here’s an example study…
The duration of elevated protein synthesis rates following resistance training was analyzed by Chesley and colleagues (Chesley et al., 1992). Their results show a 50% and 109% increase in protein synthesis rates at four and 24 hours post-exercise respectively.
I think one of the main reasons the short post workout nutrition myth has exploded is through bodybuilding supplement companies. They have huge leverage to get whatever message they want out there in a convincing way… magazines, internet publications, supplement advertising, sponsored athletes and pro bodybuilders all telling us these post workout supplements are necessary for optimum muscle growth.
Sports and Bodybuilding supplement companies are masters at convincing people to buy crap they don’t need. This is one of the reasons most people obsess over post workout nutrition. Supplement manufacturers have people living in fear that they need to buy these supplements all the time, to gain best results from the hard effort they put in at the gym.
Post Workout Protein for Growth
Some people claim that we must consume a fast digesting protein right after training so that the protein will rush to our muscles and start the recovery and growth process. But there’s a big flaw with this claim, because even the fastest absorbing whey protein will take hours to digest and reach your muscles, so the claim that somehow downing a protein shake immediately post workout will reach your muscles within minutes is wrong.
It takes 1.5 hours for whey protein to reach the part of the gut that can start to absorb it. The maximum rate at which the protein can be absorbed into the bloodstream is around 10 grams per hour. Now, if you were to drink a post workout shake containing 50g of whey protein it will take around 5 hours for the protein to get absorbed.
The reality is, the protein that will start to repair and grow your muscles after working out will be the protein consumed PRE WORKOUT (before training). This is one of the reasons pre workout nutrition is so important. Providing you eat a pre workout meal with high quality protein and carbohydrates, it will provide you with proper macronutrients to fuel your workout and amino acids to reduce muscle breakdown and cover protein synthesis needs post workout.
What about Muscle Glycogen?
Another argument I hear for an immediate post workout meal is to consume fast acting carbs in order to replenish used glycogen stores. This is not something we need to be concerned about because, 1: Your muscle glycogen stores will not be completely depleted after intense training and 2: Your muscles will be receiving adequate replenishment from carbs consumed in your pre workout meal.
In fact, a study by Tesch et al. (1986) used 9 bodybuilders and had them perform an intense leg workout consisting of 5x front squats, back squats, leg extensions and leg presses to failure. They took biopsies of muscle tissue before and after the workout and found that glycogen was just 26% lower post workout.
What you should Consume Post Workout
Now, I’m not saying you should ignore post workout meals, I think we can all agree that consuming protein after an intense workout is crucial for growing muscle. But, there’s really no short “post workout window of opportunity” that we need to stress over. Plenty of studies have proven this.
As long as you’re consuming your daily macronutrient and calories needs to fit your goal, and eating every 2 – 3 hours you’ll have a constant supply of protein (amino acids) to cover any post workout protein synthesis (muscle growth), energy and depleted glycogen requirements.
What and When to Eat?
Your pre workout meal is just as important as post workout, if not more! So lets start here. Eat a good pre workout meal around 1 – 2 hours before training consisting of around 60 – 80g medium/slow digesting carbs such as oats, whole wheat bread or pasta. Take in 30 – 40g lean protein such as chicken, eggs or whey protein.
If you had your pre workout meal at 9am, then trained one hour later at 10am, you’re post workout meal should be around 12pm. It’s not that there’s any special post workout window timing here, it’s just that you don’t want to go without food any longer than 3 hours, especially post workout when protein synthesis levels are elevated.
All you need to do is make sure that your next meal (post workout) is within 2 – 3 hours of your pre workout meal and you get your meals on for the rest of the day to cover all your calories and macronutrient needs, and you’ll be primed for optimum muscle growth all day long.