Today’s study tries to uproot one of the most sacred tenets of strength training. It flies in the face of everything we call holy, including Sunday afternoon cookies at grandma’s house, and possibly even Jesus. Today’s study, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, asks the question, “Do you really need a post-workout meal?”
The primary purpose of post-exercise nutrition is to replenish glycogen stores. Glycogen is one of the primary fuels for muscular contraction. Just 3 sets of 12 reps can almost cut your glycogen stores in half. Most strength workouts encompass far more volume, and can deplete glycogen even more severely. Refueling lost glycogen is critical to your next training session, and the two hours after your workout has traditionally been taught as the most critical time to start this process. Countless studies show that consuming a protein and carbohydrate mix post-workout is the optimal solution.
The authors of this study reviewed the literature and found this mantra to be well-proven, but only when exercise was repeated again within eight hours. Those who trained only once per day were getting adequate glycogen recovery, but the recovery was spread over many hours. And starting the process with a post-workout meal seemed to be irrelevant, as long as total caloric needs were met during the next 24 hours.
Another hallowed purpose of the post-exercise meal is to promote anabolic muscle growth and prevent the catabolic tissue destruction that can follow a workout. The authors found this to be true. However, post-workout meals may only be helping when pre-workout nutrition is already inadequate. Previous studies have shown conflicting results on whether post-workout protein consumption jump-starts muscular growth.
The authors don’t quite succeed in destroying the perceived necessity of post-workout nutrition. A post-workout meal certainly won’t hurt you, and is probably going to help. But they do succeed in illuminating the fact that pre-workout nutrition and total caloric intake are equally important factors. If an athlete is training fasted, then a post-workout meal is critical. If an athlete is training multiple times per day, then a post-workout meal is critical. But for athletes who train once per day, get adequate calories throughout the day, and ensure they consume a solid pre-workout meal, that hallowed two-hour window to suck down a protein shake may not be as important as we once thought.
1. Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?: post-exercise nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
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