Ultimately, whether you need protein right after a workout or not depends on your overall protein intake and your training demands, says PT Ben Carpenter…

If your goal is to build muscle, you may have heard of the ‘anabolic window’ that occurs after your workout. Some people believe that the period after your workout is so crucial for ingesting nutrients such as the best protein powders that what you consume then is even more important than what you eat for the rest of the day.

If you train in a commercial gym, chances are you have seen people slamming their protein shakes as soon as their workout finishes, as if every minute passed is a minute wasted.

The theory is sound. Exercise is a stress on the body, and consuming some protein and possibly some extra carbohydrates could help kickstart the recovery process by raising insulin levels, replenishing muscle glycogen, decreasing muscle protein breakdown and increasing muscle protein synthesis.

Basically, if you want to grow as much muscle as possible, you should drink protein immediately after your workout when your body needs it the most.

Protein timing: why it might not be as important as you think

But the importance of this hinges on what the rest of your daily food intake is like. For example, if you train fasted, then of course it makes sense that your body would benefit from some protein post-workout.

But what if you ate a high-protein meal shortly before training? If you have some protein before your workout, those amino acids are still in your body doing their thing, and consuming protein immediately post-workout is now suddenly less crucial.

In fact, if two groups of people follow the same workout programme, and one group consumes a protein shake immediately pre-workout and the other consumes it immediately post-workout, both groups appear to get similar results.1 This suggests that although the workout window probably is important, the timing isn’t as narrow as people previously believed.2

If you are in the teeny tiny percentage of athletes who trains twice per day, then consuming something immediately after your first workout makes a lot of sense. Likewise, if you are a professional athlete who wants to stack every single odd in your favour then having a post-workout shake or meal is a great idea.

If you’re a recreational trainee who prefers not to stress about minor details, though, rest assured that eating protein near your workout (either pre- or post-) is a smart move and removes the importance of immediately chugging a shake as soon as your final set finishes.

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