The Great Protein Timing Debacle
"You need to consume some protein within an hour after your workout!"
"There is something called an 'anabolic window' when your body is primed for protein intake!"
"Stay away from fats and casein protein, they slow digestion. You need the fastest-digesting whey protein you can find."
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
If you exercise, have either looked into supplements before, have talked to a supplement store salesperson, or even carried on a conversation with someone about health and fitness then you have probably heard one of these statements, or least something along the same lines.
Basically, what we are lead to believe is that you will lose any and all of your potential gains if you don't ingest some protein within an hour after your workout. I think this sentiment has become something that is repeated so often that it must be true!
It just makes so much sense, right? You are working hard during your workout, your muscles are burning, your muscles are pumped, you feel fatigued, it must mean that your muscle tissue is damaged and ready to start rebuilding. Unless of course you don't eat some protein within an hour following your workout, in that case, your muscles are going to....shrivel up and decay!
That's ok, because all you need to do is invest in some of that fast-digesting whey protein. Oh, and definitely don't forget your BCAAs to take prior to your workout, especially when working out in a fasted state, you wouldn't want your muscles to shrivel up during your workout. Stack on this supplement, and that supplement, and the next thing you know, you are dropping hundreds of dollars a month just so your muscles don't waste away and you can build the biggest, most badass muscles around.
I have actually already written about why I think BCAAs are more hype than not, so head on over there to read about that.
Here are the 2 main problems I have with the current reasoning behind post-workout protein consumption:
- The theory is that consuming protein immediately following a workout is best for muscle protein synthesis (MPS) due to micro tears or trauma caused by resistance training. In actuality, MPS takes place over a longer period of time. In fact, the net intake of protein during a day is far more important than how much or when protein is taken in following a workout.
- Regardless of how fast your protein digests (whey vs. casein, for example), your muscles benefit more from readily-available amino acids in your bloodstream throughout the day rather than how quickly the protein can be absorbed.
One of the best papers to cover this topic, in my opinion, can be found over at the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN).
So what can we learn and summarize from not only this article, but from the topic of nutrient timing?
- If you are working out (resistance training) during a fasted state, it is beneficial for you to consume some protein as soon as you can following your workout. If, however, you have eaten some protein during the day and are working out in the evening, for example, then you have a greater "window" of opportunity (about 6 hours) in which it is beneficial for you to consume protein.
- Protein intake should be spread out throughout your day. A "steady drip" of amino acids in your bloodstream give your body and muscle tissues the tools required to rebuild.
- Having said that, regardless of how quickly protein digests and/or is absorbed into the bloodstream, muscle protein synthesis is a very slow process, generally lasting for a couple of days so the "speed" at which you can get your protein into your bloodstream is of little value. Your intestines absorb close to 95% of your ingested protein and can actually 'slow' the absorption rate in order to ensure your use as much as you can from the food you ate.
- Ingesting protein following or even prior to a workout should not hinder your results by any means, in fact, it may hold some benefits. However one should not place too much emphasis on when they consume their protein nor should they listen to the hype about how fast a protein digests and/or absorbs.
- Glycogen depletion is still a very relevant issue, and if you are an athlete who wishes to either perform for long periods of time, multiple times in the same day, or even perform on back-to-back days, then you should consider immediate glycogen replenishment after a training session or competition to perform at your very best.