If you’ve spent any time around the weight rack, you’ve likely heard people talking about “the anabolic window”
That brief period after training during which your muscles are especially receptive to protein.
Depending on who you ask this could be as short as the second after your last rep and as long as an hour after training
But even though everyone might disagree on how long the window is we can all agree that if you want to pack on lean mass, improve your recovery, and regulate cortisol it’s important that you consume protein during that window (Whey Protein shakes being most optimal).
Miss it and you’ll never have chiseled abs – or so they say…
Is there really any truth to the anabolic window?
What about protein throughout the rest of the day?
And How much should you even aim for?
We’ll get into those but first, let’s understand what protein is and why it’s so important
Protein and Why it Matters To You?
Proteins are large, complex molecules made up of thousands of smaller units called amino acids.
These long chains of amino acids play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in our cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
Your ability to see, think, hear, move, and do just about everything that you consider part of life requires your nerve cells to send messages back and forth to each other
Sending these messages between your nerve cells requires chemicals called neurotransmitters and those neurotransmitters are made of, guess what?….PROTEINS!
On top of being so valuable for all of these different bodily functions, protein is by far the most satiating nutrient. It helps you feel full longer with less food which will help you eat fewer calories throughout the day. This is caused by the improved function of weight-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin and is especially helpful during a diet or cutting phase.
Eating more protein may reduce cravings and desire for snacking.
Convinced yet? What about if I told you that the more protein you eat the more calories you burn?
Protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts and seeds, could help increase your metabolism for a few hours because these foods are harder to digest so it takes extra energy (calories) to break them down in your gut!
This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF), the number of calories needed by your body to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients in your meals.
Research shows that protein can increase your TEF by 15-30% compared to carbs 5-10% and fats 3% .
So not only can a high protein diet help you eat fewer calories but it can also help burn extra calories!
Now that we understand the importance of protein let’s talk about timing!
When it comes to building muscle it has been well established that how much protein you eat in a day is way more important than how that protein is distributed in your meals.
BUT that’s not to say that protein timing doesn’t matter at all – in fact, your muscles could get an extra boost from this.
To build the most muscle possible you want to maximize Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) while limiting muscle protein breakdown
MPS is a process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise. It is an opposing force to muscle protein breakdown in which protein is lost as a result of exercise.
Some studies show that 20-40grams of protein distributed over 4-5 meals a day can improve MPS with a similar study also showing that eating 3 meals with 30grams of protein was better for promoting MPS than eating in a skewed pattern throughout the day.
Maybe these bodybuilders are on to something slamming their protein every 2-3 hours
Or maybe more isn’t always better…
In another study, researchers continuously induced protein into 6 people for 6 hours.
They found that MPS peaked at about 2 hours in and rapidly dropped back to baseline levels despite continually elevated levels of protein in their blood
This means eating protein too frequently is not optimal for muscle growth since MPS will always drop after 2 hours; so spreading your protein intake at least 3 hours apart would be more ideal to maximize the amount of muscle you rebuild – here’s a handy illustration to picture that:
How Much Protein Per Meal?
Research shows that eating 20-40 grams of protein will maximize MPS – anything more doesn’t really have any extra benefit and anything less isn’t doing enough!
Eating 20 grams of protein every 3 hours was found to be better than eating a smaller amount of protein every 1.5 hours or eating a larger amount of protein every 6 hours.
Although we typically eat most of our protein at lunch and dinner, for optimal energy, muscle gain, and satiety it’s best to spread out your protein over the course of the day.
Usually between 20 and 40 grams of protein for each main meal (depending on the individual), particularly if it’s after physical activity.
Can Too Much Protein Be Harmful?
Can too much protein be harmful? The short answer is yes. As with everything in life, there can always be too much of a good thing.
Eating too much protein in one sitting over and over again can stress your kidneys which could lead to dehydration.
The general rule of thumb is to consume between .7g-1.2g per pound of body weight depending on your goals and activity level.
Here’s a table to help you find what your ideal might be:
What happens if you eat more than the recommended amount?
Some studies show that very high protein intake may cause harm to people with diagnosed kidney disease, but the same doesn’t apply to those with healthy kidneys.
In fact, one group of healthy individuals were given twice the recommended amount of protein (2.4g per pound of body weight!!) daily for 2 months and had no negative health impacts as a result!
So unless you have a pre-existing kidney condition you will probably be alright for the most part.
However, studies have also shown that there are no added benefits to having more than 1.2g/lb of BW protein to your diet so stay in the 0.7-1.2g/lb of BW range using the table provided for you and you should see the benefits protein has to offer!
My Advice To You
The evidence is clear here that getting adequate protein is central to your fitness goals and overall health!
If your goal is to gain muscle or if you want to optimize lean muscle tissue (to get that toned look) then aiming for 20-40 grams of protein spread throughout the day is ideal
But if you feel like that is too much for you and unrealistic for your schedule – then don’t worry about it!
The most important thing is to hit your protein goal for the day, usually .7g – 1.2g per pound of body weight – as long as you do that you’re golden!