This comprehensive guide on the anabolic window will cover all the important subjects regarding this matter. So stay tuned if you want to build bigger muscles the right way!
This very minute, in a gym not far from your house, a young man is working on his biceps. He’s lifting heavy, straining to curl the preacher bar to his shoulders.
As soon as his last set is done, he drops the bar, fails to put away the plates or wipe the sweat from the bench. He sprints to the locker room and, hands shaking with impatience, he quickly adds water to his shaker cup and downs the gritty sludge.
Ahhh. He’s done it. He’s taken advantage of the anabolic window. Within a couple of days, his arms will be huge, and he’ll be busting out of his t-shirt! Or will they?
There are several things our young grasshopper is lacking, and it’s not the desire to look good. It’s not the intensity in the gym.
Even though he’s taken advantage of the so-called anabolic window, is his body going to change as quickly as he thinks? Let’s explore this idea.
What Is The Anabolic Window?
The idea that eating specific macronutrients – carbohydrates and protein in particular – within a certain time of finishing a workout is referred to as the anabolic window. It can also be referred to as the metabolic window or nutrient timing.
The general recommended post-workout nutrient ratios are two parts of carbs to one part protein. The fast-acting carbs are thought to quickly replace depleted energy stores in the exhausted muscles, dragging the protein nutrients along with them.
Anabolic means to build up. In terms of working out, anabolic means to put on muscle and/or improve their performance.
The theory, behind the anabolic window, relies on the fact that your muscles are depleted of glycogen (energy) at the end of your workout. The faster you consume the right amount of proteins and carbohydrates, the better you’ll recover from your workout, and the faster you’ll build muscle.
And the sooner you ingest carbohydrates, and to a lesser degree protein, the quicker you’ll turn off the catabolic (breaking down) effect of your workout.
How Long Is The Anabolic Window?
It’s thought that the anabolic window occurs within the first 45 minutes after a workout.
During that time, research has shown that muscles absorb calories faster, primarily in the form of carbohydrates first, protein second.
Adequate carbs build up muscle energy stores. And a healthy supply of protein ensures that torn muscles are rebuilt. The boost in insulin from carbs halts catabolism and triggers anabolism.
Is The Anabolic Window Real?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this. But for the most part, no, the traditional anabolic window is not that important.
For the most part, the average gym-goer doesn’t need to worry themselves about nutrient timing. There’s no urgency to rush out of the gym and gulp down a post-workout protein shake. Sorry, Bicep Boy!
In the past, studies on the anabolic window were very short term. They looked only at results that occurred within a week or two.
Recent research results have looked at the long term effects of using the anabolic window to improve muscular gains and athletic performance. Rather than studies that are 2-weeks long, researchers monitor participants for three months or longer.
After three months of prioritizing the anabolic window by ingesting a carefully measured protein/carb source within 30 to 45 minutes, studies show there is no measurable difference in muscle building and athletic performance.
However, there are some instances where a post-workout meal taken in under an hour of training is beneficial.
For example, if an athlete is performing in extreme endurance events or engaging in two workouts a day, nutrient timing and the anabolic window become important for optimal results.
What Does It Mean To Be In An Anabolic State?
Being in an anabolic state is the process of building up the body at a molecular level. The result of a maximized anabolic state is more muscle mass, less fat mass, and better performance.
Our bodies cannot be in an anabolic state during a training session. When we lift weights or exercise intensely, our muscles are being broken down. This is the catabolic state.
When the workout is over, recovery begins almost immediately, the sooner, the better. Do you know the 23 hours or so of the day spent outside of the gym? This is the time for repair and rebuilding. This is the time of anabolism.
So if that window isn’t necessarily 30-45 minutes for someone who workouts once every 24 hours at best, how long is it?
If It Ain’t Real, What Do I Need To Do?
Although there is some evidence that suggests a small percentage of athletes may benefit from smart nutrient timing within the anabolic window, the rest of us have other things to worry about.
- First of all, how many calories are you eating overall, specifically in the other 23 hours of your day?
- Next, what are you eating? Could you be making better food choices to support your fitness goals and overall health?
- Thirdly, are you getting enough sleep, managing your stress, and drinking enough water?
- And lastly, consider fueling your body before you hit the gym by eating the right pre-workout meal. You can choose to consume a pre-workout drink or eat a carb/protein-based, easily digestible snack before you train.
The nutrients consumed in the 23 hours before a workout are more important than the nutrients consumed in the 30 minutes after a workout.
Before you start to worry about post-workout nutrition immediately after a workout, ensure that your calories, food choices, and other lifestyle habits are in place. Only then does post-workout nutrition within the anabolic window make a difference.
The Final Word
These individuals would likely benefit the most from eating within the post-exercise anabolic window. These include:
- Athletes who engage in very long duration, moderate to high-intensity workouts;
- Those who train more than once in 24 hours;
- People who train in a fasted state.
For the rest of the people at the gym, and likely the majority of the people reading this article, the anabolic window is a lot bigger than researchers initially thought.
Fortunately, more research has gone into the anabolic window concept. New studies have shown that there’s no need to rush home haphazardly to ingest a post-workout meal.
Instead, focus on your nutritional intake over 24 hours. For now, don’t worry about the 30-45 minute window after a workout.
Rather, ensure that you’re eating the right quantities of nutritious carbs, lean proteins, and healthy fats in the hours outside of the gym.
If Bicep Boy followed this advice, who knows, maybe he will need bigger t-shirts in a couple of months!