"Sorry bro, I can't stay longer, my anabolic window is closing and I gotta RUUUUUUNNNN...!"
When people learn about the anabolic window, they get completely paranoid and as soon as they finish their workout they become possessed and start rushing things just to get home and put some food in their stomach as soon as possible.
Some smart bros bring foods with them at the gym, others chug down an incredible amount of whey protein the second they finish their last rep of their last set.
But, is that necessary? Is there really an anabolic window outside of which everything is lost?
Keep reading and we you will find out!
What Is The Anabolic Window?
BRODEFINITION OF THE ANABOLIC WINDOW
Seconds between your very last rep and the possibility to have done all that work for nothing.
Practically, this is the window of time where you should have your proteins so that all your workout doesn't go to waste and you can reap its benefits.
The protein you eat in the anabolic window will be used by your muscles and will make you bigger and stronger.
What about the scientific definition of the anabolic window?
To understand the anabolic window properly we have to look at some concepts that will make you understand how the whole muscle building thing works.
I'll be brief and I'll make sure that even if you don't have any scientific background, you will be able not only to understand it but also preach this at your bros next time you will go to the gym.
How Do Your Muscles Grow?
Whenever you work out, you damage your muscles. To repair them, your body needs protein. Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles and they are needed to make your muscles bigger and stronger.
The process by which your muscles create new proteins from the ones that you eat is called muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
MPS happens even if you just eat protein.
Though you might have noticed by now that just eating burgers or protein shakes doesn't make you look like Arnold.
You need to work out to make MPS so big that you will actually grow big guns.
At all the time, two processes are going on in your muscles: MPS and muscle protein breakdown (MPB).
Yep, you read correctly. Breakdown. Our tissues are dynamic. At the same time, the body builds and demolishes things. This is always in equilibrium.
Sometimes though one can prevail over the other.
If MPS is bigger than MPB you build muscles.
If MPB is bigger than MPS you are losing muscles (NOOOOOOO!).
Maybe you don't know it but during a workout, MPB is bigger than MPS. That's why it is very important to eat after a workout. You will spike MPS and reduce MPB. Another reason why fasted training is a dumb idea.
The Muscle Full Effect
You might think that the concept that eating protein increases MPS sounds very cool: if instead of one scoop of whey, you'd have two, then your MPS will be double.
I wish it was like that. We would all look jacked af by now.
The problem is that your muscles have a limit for how much protein they can use.
After a certain amount of protein (20g), the MPS levels off. This means that you can eat 40g of protein and have an MPS almost as big as if you were to eat 20g of protein. This is the muscle full effect.
Your muscles become "full" of proteins and can't do much more with extra protein that you eat.
The cool thing about working out is that it "increases" the threshold for when this "fullness" is reached. After exercise, indeed, the muscle full effect is "delayed".
After a workout, the muscle full effect doesn't happen at 20g of protein but at 40g (well, this is the biggest amount they tested in this study).
And this, my friend, is the anabolic window.
Only after resistance exercise (which is the fancy word scientists use for lifting) your muscles are ready to party. They are very receptive to nutrients and just want to be showered with proteins. Working out puts your muscles in the "mood" to grow.
THE MUSCLE FULL EFFECT
After your workout, your muscles are more receptive to proteins. These will be used in a higher amount to stimulate a higher MPS than you would have by eating the same amount of protein while not having exercised.
How Was The Anabolic Window Discovered Experimentally?
48 men had to do 8 sets of 10 repetitions of single
4 hours after they had the protein shake, small pieces of both the rested and the exercised leg muscles were taken to be analyzed.
The researchers found out that for the rested leg, 20g of whey increased the MPS compared to 0 or 10g. At 40g of whey, no difference with 20g was seen.
For the leg that exercised, though, not only the MPS was higher compared to the rested leg but it increased significantly up to 40g! (study)
This means that after exercise, the exercised muscles are way more ready to build mass. This is why you should eat protein after working out!
How Long Does The Anabolic Window Last?
This is a question that I get asked a lot and luckily, scientists looked into that.
The time in which you are in an anabolic state (which means you are building muscles) depends on your training status (study).
If you are a beginner which means that you just started working out and you have less than 3 months or so of experience in lifting, instead of talking about an anabolic window I'd say you have an anabolic blackhole.
Your MPS will be high for even 72 hours.
So for you, no problem, just freaking eat and you'll grow, you lucky bastard.
Things get a little bit more tricky the more advanced you get. In fact, the longer you have been lifting, the more your body has been adapting and the shorter your anabolic window will be.
In experienced lifters, the anabolic window lasts around 10 hours with a peak around 4-5 hours with MPS being around 150% higher than the rest condition!
This means that you should eat most of your protein in this time
Look at the graph below to get the idea (UT is untrained, T is trained).
How Much Protein Should I Eat In The Anabolic Window?
Established that you need to eat 1.8g of protein per kg of body weight per day (or max 2.4g/kg body weight/day if you are just starting out), let's now see how much protein per meal do you need and how much you should eat in the anabolic window.
If you are a beginner, you can skip this part, since, as we have seen, after you train you are constantly in the anabolic window so just think about hitting your protein target and don't worry too much about the rest.
From the study above you might conclude that you'd need 20g of protein outside the anabolic window and 40g in the anabolic window. Not so fast to jump to conclusions, brah.
You are looking only at one part of the equation, which is the MPS.
Forgot already about the MPB?
Remember, muscle growth is an equilibrium between MPS and MPB.
One study, in fact, showed that even though 40g of protein after a workout elevated the MPS as much as 70g did, the total protein balance was higher for the 70g group.
What does it mean? It means that the 70g had a lower MPB compared to the 40g group.
So the more protein you eat, the more you decrease the breakdown of your muscles (which remember, will still happen even if your MPS is super high!).
That extra protein you are eating in your anabolic window is not going to waste but it's going to prevent more of your muscle tissue from being broken down.
How much is too much is not known yet since 70g is the maximum amount this study experimented with. Anyway, we can draw some guidelines from this as you'll see later on.
There is also another aspect to consider and that is: how many muscles you trained.
A study shows that if you do a full body routine, 40g of whey help build more muscles compared to 20g.
So if you are doing a bro-split you won't need as much protein as you'd need for a full-body routine. And if you think about it, it makes sense since more muscles have been "activated" and therefore more protein is required in a full-body routine.
Is It Better To Have Protein Pre- or Post-Workout?
What matters is that you have a lot of
As a practical advice, just sandwich your workout between two meals so that you have 1-2 hours between your training session and your pre- or post-workout.
I normally have 200g of quark cheese with some fruit before my workout. Cheese, yogurt, and milk contain casein which is slower to digest so that at the end of my workout I'm pretty sure its aminoacids are there ready to rock.
Practical Applications Of The Anabolic Window
- If you are a beginner, you don't need to worry too much, just hit your protein target (max 2.4g protein/kg body weight/day) though I still recommend you to have your biggest protein meal after a workout.
As few weeks pass by, try to have your training session within 6 hours between two meals.
- If you are an intermediate or advanced lifter, try to have the biggest protein meal after your workout within 10 hours of your workout, best within 5 hours.
- Outside the anabolic window, have meals with 0.3g protein/kg of body weight.
As an example, if your body weight is 80 kg, your meals outside your anabolic window should have 0.3 * 80 = 24 grams of protein.
- Inside the anabolic window just eat the remainder protein that you need to eat to hit your goal of 1.8g/kg of body weight.
Therefore be smart and don't use up all your "protein allowance" outside the anabolic window.
- The more advanced you get, the shorter the anabolic window, the more
importantit is to eat your protein around the training.
BONUS: How To Be Building Muscles All The Time
If you understood the concept of the anabolic window described so far, you might already see an implication to "hack" it.
Especially since the more advanced you get, the shorter the anabolic window becomes. This means that you will be building muscles only in a limited timeframe.
As we have seen, working out puts you in an anabolic state which is a time in which you will actually build muscles.
ANABOLIC WINDOW HACK
Wanna get the MPS going all the time (and eat a lot)?
Increase your frequency!
The more you train, the longer you will be in the anabolic window and the more your muscles will grow!
The anabolic window is real.
By reading this post now you know how it works and how you can optimize your nutrition to get the best results out of it.
With these little tricks, you will now be able to make all that sweat in the gym pay off and build the great physique you dream of.
It's easy and here you have the science-based techniques that I use for myself and my clients.
If you want to know more about how to optimize your nutrition to get you quicker to your desired physique, download my free ebook "Eat Like A Human, Look Like A God". It's free and it comes also with a bonus meal plan! Click here to download it.
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(big thanks to Mårten for proof reading it!)
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