One of the most common questions I get is:
What Should I Eat After I Workout?
And this really is my answer 99% of the time:
Food…That’s always good. It’s what I like.
The next question is:
But what about post-workout bars, shakes and the all mighty ANABOLIC WINDOW?
Don’t I need to eat right after I workout?
If I don’t eat immediately wont I lose all my GAINZZ?
Wont I shrivel up and die?
How We Got Here:
In the mid to late 90’s workout nutrition became a “thing”.
It used to be, go workout and go eat and that was that.
Then MetRx came to the forefront and basically created the workout nutrition market.
Sure there were protein powders, desiccated liver tablets and the such out before MetRx, but when they came on the scene it was like a virtual A-Bomb had been unleashed and by the early 2000’s the performance supplement market was a massive industry and blenders were working overtime.
*You see kids, back then, in the way way back time (circa 1992-1999). You had to mix your protein shake with a blender. Otherwise you would have just giant clumps of chalk. No, it wasn’t uncommon for folks to have one blender and 4-6 pitchers for the blender, and a dishwasher full of them. And you thought times were tough before the Blender Bottle…..
*Click on this link for a great interview with Bill Phillips, the creator of the Body for Life program (you know you tried it) and one of the driving forces of the early days of performance nutrition. He talks about those early days at length and this atrocity, when the best lifting magazine out there, turned itself into a turd in a single issue and the whole thing went to sh@t.
Bill Phillips was rich as sh@t and names like, EAS, Muscletech, and Optimum Nutrition were known to just about every dude in the gym.
Hell, around this time, Muscle and Fitness magazine was 50 pages long with 15 of those pages being “content” and the other 35 being supplement ads…….Ohh, wait, it’s still……. sh@t…never-mind. Just forget I brought M&F up, K?
Point is: With money comes “research” , with “research” comes “products”, with products comes more money.
And the king-maker of everything sports and performance nutrition products were: Post Workout Nutrition Supplements
This came from research that the “Anabolic Window” existed and it resulted in this book was published: Nutrient Timing: The Future of Sports Nutrition
Anabolic Window: 101
The Anabolic Window was this magical period of 20- 60 minutes after working out, where your muscles were super primed to receive the nutrition that your
chalk bucket MetRx shake was prepared to bestow upon them.
The theory was/is:
You tear the muscles up
Your body responds by releasing anabolic hormones to repair the damage
You take in a quick liquid bolus of food so that it can be digested quickly/ easily, create an insulin response and hence preferentially shuttled into the muscles.
This quick response would ensure that you got the most out of your anabolic window and you were optimizing your muscle growth and recovery.
This was Nutrient Timing: timing the intake of nutrients to support recovery and performance.
This was the generally accepted view of the world until This Paper came out just a few years ago:
despite conflicting evidence, the potential benefits of post-exercise supplementation cannot be readily dismissed for those seeking to optimize a hypertrophic response. By the same token, widely varying feeding patterns among individuals challenge the common assumption that the post-exercise “anabolic window of opportunity” is universally narrow and urgent.
So they’re not saying that the post workout shake is BS, just that maybe the “anabolic window of opportunity” isn’t what we thought.
Meaning (for the meat heads): You no longer had to
well maybe never had to run over all your bros to “get your shake outta your locker for you lost all your gainzzz”
You could probably go home, shower, make a decent meal and actually sit down, eat and…… enjoy it…
If you read the whole paper, positive outcomes tend to point to overall protein intake through the day, not just in the hour after working out.
And a lot of folks, “on the ground, in the trenches” myself included, agree.
I’ve seen too many people get MUCH bigger, leaner, stronger and never once worry about an anabolic window.
I’ve seen LOTS of folks give the “Anabolic Window” priority, and they remain stuck in place.
What the hell you’re consuming the other 23 hours of the day.
Based on the current body of research, and PN’s experience with more than 30,000 clients, I’ve come to realize that nutrient timing isn’t particularly important for most people trying to look and feel better. – Brian St. Pierre
Perceived hypertrophic benefits seen in timing studies appear to be the result of an increased consumption of protein as opposed to temporal factors.- Schoenfeld, Aragon, Krieger
So the Post Workout Shake is Dead?
Well for you, probably.
But, like most things fitness related, it depends on some factors.
#1: Nutrition, but for these purposes lets stick with, Protein, Through the Course of the Day:
In fact, if the post workout Anabolic Window does exist, and I think it may in certain cases, it’s probably much longer:
Due to the transient anabolic impact of a protein-rich meal and its potential synergy with the trained state, pre- and post-exercise meals should not be separated by more than approximately 3–4 hours, given a typical resistance training bout lasting 45–90 minutes. If protein is delivered within particularly large mixed-meals (which are inherently more anticatabolic), a case can be made for lengthening the interval to 5–6 hours. – Aragon, Schoenfeld
As long as you’re eating and getting adequate nutrition (protein), you’re gonna be ok.
If you’re not, a post workout shake is going to be a good idea for you.
At best a post workout shake would have a positive impact, at worst neutral.
As nutrient timing defender, and Editor in Chief of the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, Jose Antonio Ph.D says in this article, which is really a rebuttal to the Aragon and Schoenfeld paper(s):
A simple maxim that I teach my students to follow vis a vis sports nutrition strategies is as follows: “If it helps or has a neutral effect, try it.” Or better yet, do it. So if you go beyond the mere dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, you’d ask yourself the following questions. 1) Is there any advantage to NOT utilizing a protein timing strategy? Answer: No. 2) Is there a potential benefit to using a protein timing strategy? If you answered ‘yes,’ then go to the head of the class. There is no downside to protein timing as a strategy.
#2: Special Snowflakes (of which you probably are not one)
I DO think Nutrient Timing may matter for some.
Endurance athletes training for several hours at a time, strength sport athletes who are creating massive muscle damage and the very lean, like competition lean, who have respectable amounts of lean tissue also.
For them, I do think the, soon after training, post workout “meal” is still important.
For those groups, they’re already getting the vast majority of things right with their diet and training.
They’re looking, searching, scraping away to find that one “thing” that can lead to a 2-4% improvement and be a difference maker at the very end against other elite performers.
We’re not talking about the 98% here, but the 2% at the very edge of the margins.
The difference between 1st and 2nd place at the elite levels:
As Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition puts it:
Nutrient timing may be important for “elite eaters”
Some people are already very lean, compete at the elite levels of physique or athletics, and have nailed down items #1 to #5 above.
For folks like pro bodybuilders, physique competitors, and/or weight class athletes, an extra half-percent of body fat can mean the difference between winning and losing.
These athletes often engage in training or events lasting longer than two hours at a stretch, where added carbohydrates, electrolytes, and a little protein can go a really long way.
For the average person, when it comes to Post Workout Nutrition and the Anabolic Window it’s just not a necessary “thing” anymore.
So instead of worrying about racing to your locker and
choking down something after the last rep worry about the other 23 hours of the day.
Sure you can still slam a shake if you want or need one in order to get to your protein requirements. <—-which are NOT the RDA and are MUCH higher if you’re training hard—-> about 1gram of protein per pound of body weight.
That’s a difficult number for most to reach without the help of a protein supplement.*no protein supplementation will NOT funk up PROPERLY functioning kidneys..
Full Disclosure: It’s not uncommon for me to drink 2-4 servings of protein shake a day.
I literally keep a bag of Chocolate Muscle Milk in my trunk.
If I’m on the floor training for 3-5 hours at a stretch and need the protein/ calories or if I just get done training myself and have a client coming in, or I commit the worst foul of all
…running out of food during the day,
A fully accurate depiction of me when I run out of food……..via GIPHY
I can mix a shake up quick and at the very least, I’m not going postal at 4pm.
Better than nothing?
A protein shake can be fast, convenient and, contrary to popular misconception, it’s no longer 1995 and protein shakes today do not taste like the sweat off of a Monkeys Nut Sack.
But remember, a solid 98% of your gainzzz will come from your nutrition through the day.
Not some magic powder in a giant tub. <—-fun fact I used to buy 50lbs bags, yes you read that right, 50lbs bags of protein powder from True Protein, now True Nutrition back in the day.
Your focus should be on eating whole, nutritious, food that actually fuels your body its growth and recovery and does more than just Fit Your Macros.
Day in, day out.
Day after day.
7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for years on end.