How Young Athlete's & Adolescents Can Begin The Recovery Process After A Game or Training...

The optimum timing of post-exercise protein intake has long been at the core of the bro-science adopted by bodybuilders and gym-goers alike. At The Academy, we certainly stress the importance of achieving recovery nutrition through a mix of protein and carbohydrate, but how long after exercise do we really have to provide the body with this fuel?

Steak - The Youth Academy

Depending on which gym bro you talk to, the "anabolic window" is considered a critical period of 30 minutes to 2 hours after exercise to capitalise on exercise-induced increases in muscle protein synthesis. During this window, the body is supposedly best primed to direct the nutrients from food to muscle recovery and growth. Theoretically, this timing of protein intake should then result in better muscular adaptation to the session and therefore improved performance...

This may not always be the case, however, as unlike much of the bro-science we hear, the anabolic window is based on truths:

  1. Exercise increases muscle protein turnover
  2. Post-exercise protein intake increases muscle protein synthesis

Critically, however, it is the 30 minute to 2-hour window of opportunity itself where the anabolic window falls flat. In reality, rates of protein turnover have been demonstrated to be enhanced for 24 to 48 hours post-exercise.

Efforts to consume protein-rich food as soon as possible at the completion of a session may be a good strategy in initiating muscle recovery and synthesis, however, it is the importance placed on this post-exercise period above all else that is problematic. More specifically, as rates of muscle protein turnover persist much longer than bro-science convention would have us believe, meals even 24 hours later should be capitalised on to enhance muscular adaptation

Cookies - The Youth Academy

As the primary fuel during exercise, a further issue with the anabolic window is the lack of attention paid to carbohydrate. Aside from building muscle protein, another key aim of post-exercise nutrition strategies is to replenish glycogen stores via carbohydrate intake to support an athletes ability to back-up and perform well at the next session. Interestingly, though the anabolic window primarily focuses on the timing of protein intake, a limited window of opportunity may actually be of greatest relevance to carbohydrate as glycogen synthesis rates are greatest in the hour post-exercise.

So what can we take away from this?

There is no magic anabolic window to take advantage of muscle recovery and synthesis, or otherwise, miss the "gain train". There is, however, benefit in consuming a post-exercise meal or snack providing a mix of protein and carbohydrate within the hour post-exercise. Primarily, this will serve to maximise replenishment of glycogen stores to support performance at the next session, but will also initiate protein synthesis

And to truly take advantage of exercise-induced increases in muscle protein turnover, athletes should focus on including a source of quality protein at each meal and snack, not just the one immediately post-exercise

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Nick Maier