You may never have heard of the “anabolic window” (the short period of time during which your muscles are particularly receptive to protein after a workout), but... its a thing. This critical window can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes (or possibly longer, according to recent studies), but the advice remains the same: Want to pack on some lean mass? Consume more protein. Miss it, and you’re almost doing more harm than good.
Your muscles need protein, and lots of it, to grow. So how do you optimize your intake timing to stay strong but also lean? Follow these three simple rules.
1. Prioritize overall daily intake goals
A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who consumed one post-workout protein shake each day for 12 weeks gained 2+ pounds of muscle vs. those who didn’t. However, protein becomes even more important when factored into boosting your total daily intake.
Working muscles function in a constant state of renewal. Every time you train, you cause the protein in your muscles to break down and build up faster than they do without activation. And building requires feeding, and muscles love protein. After a workout, your total daily protein intake is critical to replenishing lost protein and building stronger muscle fibers - not just in the anabolic window!
2. Eat more protein each meal
Introducing lifting and intense exercise requires a daily increase in protein intake of approximately 1 gram (up to 1.4) of protein per pound of lean mass. While the average American woman consumes 70 grams of protein per day, for instance, an active 120 pound, moderately fit woman should be consuming closer to 100 grams (95). And those numbers are tougher to hit than you’d think! Dividing your recommended daily protein intake into multiple smaller meals throughout the day makes this type of increase more feasible.
3. Consume protein every 5-6 hours at minimum
Consuming protein every 5-6 hours is optimal for muscle building. If you eat a protein rich lunch at work, work out after work, and then eat a protein rich dinner, you’re golden. But many people will select fatty or carb-rich foods after a workout to satisfy hunger cravings until a late dinner, or forego a protein-rich shake or meal after a training session in favor of a quick coffee and muffin. If you haven’t eaten for too many hours preceding your workout, or too many hours after, you enter the catabolic window - where your muscles cannot effectively repair or build.
At the end of the day, this is a simple concept. No matter what type of training you do, protein intake increase will help maximize performance and growth goals. Start today!