We’ve all heard of the infamous ‘window of gains’, the ‘window of opportunity’, or the ‘anabolic window’. The so-praised window of post-workout gains, in which you, by all means, need to consume protein to see any muscle growth or training adaptation whatsoever. Is there any truth to this? And how much protein do you need? We’re certainly guilty of running the grocery store after a workout to snag a protein bar full of sugar, to not lose out on all the hard-earned gains. Let’s investigate.
Protein and Muscle Growth
Yes, you need to consume protein to stimulate the growth and repair process of your muscles. In fact, protein consumption alone can activate muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Protein consumption combined with resistance training, on the other hand, is undoubtedly superior. Since maximal MPS is critical for optimal adaptation and recovery after exercise, the amount of protein required has been extensively studied.
So, do I need to consume protein right after my workout?
The exact size of your window of gains depends on how much protein you’re still digesting. If you’ve been exercising on an empty stomach, you’ll be in a negative protein balance, and a post-workout shake or meal is essential. A negative protein balance means that the muscle protein breakdown (MPB) is greater than the muscle protein synthesis (MPS). The ratio of MPS to MPB determines whether muscle is built or lost. When MPS is greater than MPB, muscle growth occurs, and vice versa. Resistance training causes local muscle tissue damage. Hence, new protein synthesis is required for the recovery and adaptation process to replace and repair damaged proteins in your muscles. While consuming protein right after your workout may or may not be 100% necessary, it won’t hurt.
How much is optimal?
The research has concluded that a protein intake of 25-40 grams is optimal for muscle growth. But why the big range? Recent studies have suggested that exercise involving a more significant amount of muscle mass may increase the quantity of protein needed for maximal activation of MPS. So don’t spare on the protein after a full-body workout; increasing your intake up towards 40g might be beneficial. In the worst-case scenario, you’ve consumed an extra 15-20g of protein, which equals around 60-80 calories. Since the amount of muscle mass activated may determine the amount of protein you should digest for optimal MPS, one could speculate that a large adult needs more protein than a smaller one. However, more research is required to guarantee this is the case.
While the window of gains is bro-science, building muscle still requires a positive protein balance. If you exercise in a fasted state, make sure you consume protein shortly after. If not, you don't need to stress. There's enough time to get home from the gym, cook food and eat at your convenience. If you have access to protein powder, great! The high-quality protein found in e.g., Evolve's Incredible Whey or WPI, will be utilised by your body and kickstart the recovery and adaptation process post-workout. Whether 100% necessary or not, it can't hurt. When it comes to the optimal amount, make sure you're hitting 20-40g. Aim for the higher end depending on your size and the amount of muscle activated during your workout.