Why Your Post-Workout Protein Shake Is Overrated
I don’t care about being right; I care about finding the truth. After all, that’s what it means to be a scientist. And that means I’ve been willing to change my mind about a lot of assumptions about building muscle.
One such assumption is something called protein timing. Gym-heads will know all about this one, too. You see it play out all the time in the gym: Guys carry a protein shake around for an entire workout, then down the shake as soon as the workout’s done. And some guys get obsessive about this too. If they can’t get protein into their system right away, they’ll worry that all their hard work is going to waste.
That’s because, for almost two decades, dedicated lifters have operated under the assumption that they need to get protein into their systems within 45 minutes of finishing a strength routine. That’s supposed to help them grow their muscles best.
According to this theory of protein timing (also known as the anabolic window of opportunity), consuming protein in and around a strength training session will help muscles recover faster, which will better boost both muscle strength and size (hypertrophy). I used to buy into this line of thinking, too.
The New Anabolic Window
Now I know that the anabolic window of opportunity is less a tiny window and more of a large barn door that’s almost always swung open. Several years ago, my colleagues and I took a fresh look at the evidence behind protein timing and felt there was another side to explore. So, we carried out a meta-analysis (a review of an entire collection of randomized controlled trials related to a given topic) that challenged how the world of sports nutrition looked at post-workout protein.
Together, we analyzed 23 high-quality studies on protein timing, and at first glance, it looked as though protein timing did have a big impact on muscle size. But then we took several differences into account. We broke the studies down deeply, evaluating total protein intake, training status of the study subjects, and the length of each study.
And suddenly, the role of protein timing in muscle growth all but vanished. Truth be told (and even surprising to me), the quantity of protein that subjects consumed throughout the entire day explained the majority of variations in muscle growth far more than when they consumed it. So if you want the muscle to survive this chest burner, you need more than a post-lift shake.
Focus On Daily Protein Intake
If you’re chasing muscle gains, make that your focus. Intake at least 1.7 grams per kilogram of bodyweight daily as a priority.
Can immediate protein consumption help? Sure, but it was only a factor in studies where the non-timing group consumed less than their proper protein intake all day. And you’ll get more results from proper protein consumption throughout the day than you will from one well-timed protein shake after your workout.
Why? Because the anabolic, or muscle-building effects of a meal last for five or six hours, not a mere couple minutes after a workout. So as long as you’re replenishing protein stores regularly throughout the day in evenly-spaced protein doses — and lifting weights, of course — you should be all set for muscle gain.
And in case you’re wondering how much total protein you should be aiming for, our recent meta-analysis showed that resistance-trained individuals should get between 1.6 and 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. To put that in more concrete terms, a 185-pound lifter will need roughly 135 to 185 grams of protein every day. (Divide your weight by 2.2, then multiply by 1.6 and 2.2 to get your own range.)
Those are the keys to eating protein for muscle. So now go build some muscle.
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