Almost a decade back, I used to carry protein foods such as protein powder, protein bars, almonds, etc. whenever I left my house.
This was to ensure that I never miss eating a protein-rich meal every 2-3 hours!
I was super-dedicated with this way of eating, as I was convinced that this is the only way to achieve a perfectly lean and muscular body.
I habituated myself to eating 5-7 smaller protein-rich meals a day.
I planned/prepared and cooked all my meals in advance, and I even set the alarm for every three hours to remind me to eat.
I followed through with this pattern of eating for a very long time (almost a decade), but then eventually it started to affect me.
It started to affect my work, as the moment I finished my meal, I started thinking about the next one.
Worst of all, I hardly saw any results!
Sure there are other variables when it comes to building a lean and muscular physique, and these variables are not limited to nutrient timing.
Still, something inside of me was screaming that there is a better approach than this.
While my friends and family appreciated my dedication, somewhere deep inside, I used to worry about how I will be able to live like this in the long-term!
If you have read my story, I ditched conventional wisdom somewhere in the year 2010-11 and started doing my research to find better and smarter ways of building my physique.
And one of the things that I learned was that meal frequency matters less when it comes to muscle building.
Armed with this fact, I limited my feeding window to only 8 hours a day and ate only two main meals and 1-2 snacks a day.
You may have heard of Intermittent fasting. I discuss it in this article.
For the sake of this article, let’s limit our discussion to protein timings, and with the help of a few high-quality studies, let’s truly understand whether this nutritional strategy is vital to accelerate muscle growth and strength or not!
We shall explore the following in this article:
-Defining the term Protein Timing
-Are Pre-workout and Post-workout Shakes/Meals important for muscle building? (Evidence-based)
-Conclusion and My recommendation
Protein timing is a dietary strategy of consuming protein at a specific time to maximize the results we seek.
The specific time could be before your workouts, during, and after workouts.
It could be right before bed, or the moment when you wake up, or in some cases even waking up in the middle of the night to drink your protein shake (yeah, I have done this too…a few times).
When the concept of protein timings comes up, it usually is associated with building muscles by accelerating muscular repair and recovery.
Are Pre-workout and Post-workout Shakes/Meals important for muscle building? (Evidence-based)
Consuming your protein shake immediately post-workout is a very controversial topic, and people do have very strong opinions about it.
For example, your gym trainer will most likely suggest a conventional method where you will be required to ingest a fast-acting protein most likely a whey protein 30-45 minutes before your workout and most importantly a serving immediately (within 1 hour) post-workout to maximize muscle building or else you’ll lose your gains!
You may have heard of the term anabolic’ window of opportunity’ or the golden ‘window of opportunity.’
It has been claimed that there is a limited time available–usually around 60 minutes in which a trainee should ingest fast-acting proteins and simple carbs that will enhance and optimize training-related muscular adaptations.
This ‘window of opportunity’ was considered the most critical part of nutrient timing, especially for trainees, whose main goal is muscle hypertrophy.
The experts who supported this nutritional strategy provided the following logic:
1. Working out and exercising breaks down muscle fibers.
2. Exercising also results in the depletion of glycogen and amino acid reserves.
Therefore a high-quality protein and simple carbohydrates in a given ratio usually 1:2 is essential to prevent further muscle breakdown and even super compensate for these effects and facilitate the process of muscle tissue regeneration and re-store glycogen stores.
In 2013, top researchers in the field of bodybuilding nutrition Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld published a study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition titled: Nutrient timing revisited: Is there a post-exercise anabolic window?1<https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-10-5>
The purpose of this paper was to review the existing scientific literature available that supports the claim of this anabolic window and to draw conclusions and provide recommendations on how one can maximize muscle growth through nutritional interventions concerning nutrient timings.
Key Findings of this study:
-The evidence that supports the “anabolic window of opportunity” is far from definitive
-Only in the case of fasted training (usually an overnight fast), it would make sense to have an immediate post-workout shake consisting of simple carbohydrates and protein.
-Since not many people engage in fasted training, the timing of a post-workout meal/shake will vary on what a person had before his workout.
If a trainee has a pre-workout meal 1-2 hours before their workout, this meal can easily act as both a pre and post-workout meal.
-A study2<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11440894?dopt=Abstract> stated that only 6g of essential amino acids taken before exercise was able to elevate blood and muscle amino acid levels by roughly 130%, and these levels remained elevated up to 2 hours post-workout.
Another study3<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16896166?dopt=Abstract>showed that by ingesting 20g of whey protein just before exercise elevated muscular uptake of amino acids to 4.4 times than otherwise and did not return to baseline until 3 hours after training.
So overall, if a trainee consumes a pre-workout protein shake or has a meal (which is protein-based), then this meal is sufficient enough to also act as a post-workout meal.
-The anabolic effect of a meal is for approximately 3-6 hours4<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15640518?dopt=Abstract>
This means if your pre-workout meal is at least 3-4 hours before your workout, then the need for a post-workout meal becomes vital to maximize muscle growth.
Keep reading until the end….
I will provide you with a complete list of practical guidelines based on various lifestyle choices and how you can use nutrient timings, particularly protein timings, to maximize muscle growth and recovery.
Lastly, there was a lack of cohesive data that suggested that total carbohydrate intake was more important than the timing of during pre or post-workout meals/snacks.
Study 2: In 2009, a study5<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19478342> was done by Hoffman et al. on the effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body composition changes in resistance-trained men.
Thirty-three resistance-trained men were randomly assigned to either ingesting protein supplement in the morning or evening.
In contrast, another group was asked to drink protein shakes before and immediately after workouts.
The third was a control group and did not use any protein supplements.
At the end of the 10-weeks, the authors concluded that no significant differences were seen between groups.
There was no change in body fat percentage nor any added strength, power, or hypertrophy gains.
Study 3: In 2013, a meta-analysis6<https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879660/> of only randomized controlled trials (the gold standard when it comes to the quality of studies) was conducted by Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon, and James Krieger.
This is the first meta-analysis that studies the long term effect (6 weeks and more) of consuming protein around workouts and its impact on strength and hypertrophy adaptations.
The sample size was large—478 subjects for strength outcomes and 525 subjects for hypertrophy outcomes.
Key Outcomes of this Meta-Analysis:
-Evidence does not support the claim that pre-workout or post-workout consumption of protein enhances strength or muscle building.
-The anabolic window of opportunity is much bigger 4-6 hours post-workout instead of <1 hour as earlier believed to be (already concluded in Study 1)
-The overall protein intake in a day matters the most rather than when it is consumed
Lastly, there is a study that concluded that the intermittent fasting way of eating, which requires a person to limit their feeding window, does not affect muscle growth.7<https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/90/5/1244/4598111>
Conclusion and My Recommendation
Protein is awesome!
It has essential functions in the human body. When you start to get active, protein requirement increases.
If your goal is to lose fat and build muscle mass, you must intake between the (1.2 to 2)g/kg range every day.
Before worrying about protein timings, try and build your dietary habits that ensure your total protein intake is within the above range.
Err towards the higher range, i.e. (1.6 to 2)g/kg if you are into strength training, CrossFit, or any other high-intensity workouts.
Once you can consistently intake between the above protein range, only then worry about protein timings.
Practical Guidelines for Protein Timing to maximize muscle growth and recovery
Let’s help Rocky to get his protein timing right based on his preference, tolerance, and lifestyle choices.
Rocky is 70kg, and his goal is to maximize muscle strength and hypertrophy.
Let’s put Rocky in three lifestyle scenarios and understand the best strategy in regards to protein timings.
Lifestyle #1: Fasted Workout in the Morning
7 am: Morning Fasted Workout
8 am: Immediately post-workout 24g protein, ideally a fast-acting Whey Protein.
Note: If you don’t take supplements then have a breakfast high in protein soon after your workout
9 am: Breakfast. If Rocky does not have a supplement immediately post-workout then it becomes imperative that he consumes his breakfast as soon as possible to avoid muscle breakdown.
For the rest of the day, Rocky can focus on eating around 1.6 to 2g/kg of his body weight of protein divided into a few meals.
Lifestyle #2: Afternoon Workout
10 am: A High Protein Breakfast
1 pm: A Pre-Workout Snack comprising of 30g of protein
3 pm: Workout
Now the question is, should Rocky consume his post-workout snack/meal immediately post his workout or he can delay it?
Based on the above research, we figured out that the anabolic effect of a meal lasts between 3 to 6 hours. If it is a small meal/snack, then the result is between ~3 to 4 hours, and for larger meals (usually between 500 to 1000 calories with protein intake close to 50-70g), the anabolic effect lasts between 5-6 hours.
Rocky at 1 pm has a small meal, and so he needs to consume a post-workout meal/snack immediately after his workout or at around 4 pm.
He prefers to have a post-workout whey protein, which has roughly 24g of protein.
Recommended doses of pre and posted workout protein intake is close to 0.4-0.5g/L.B.M.
Since Rocky is 70kg and let’s assume his body fat percentage to be 15%, his lean body mass is 59.5kg. Let’s round it off to 60kg.
Ideally, Rocky should consume 0.4*60= 24 g in both his pre-workout and post-workout meals, and these meals should not be separated by more than 4 hours.
Lifestyle #3: Evening Workout
1 pm: Heavy Lunch.
5 pm: Workout
Now, Rocky has a meeting post his workout for about an hour. And his partner has made a sumptuous dinner for him. Rocky estimates that it’ll be close to 9 pm until he has his meal.
What should he do in this case?
Even though Rocky has a heavy lunch and the anabolic effect of this meal could last for up to 6 hours, which is until 7 pm.
To maximize and support the hypertrophy gains, he needs to have a post-workout at 7 pm. But then he thinks that this post-workout may spoil his appetite for dinner.
In that case, he should have a pre-workout shake ~24g 30-45 minutes before his workout, which will give him ample time to have his dinner!
What do you think about this article?
Have any questions? Let me know in the comments below.
Sources & References [ + ]