Is eating before your workout important? Do you need to eat immediately after working out?
The most extensive and conclusive information on nutrient timing I ever found was these two meta-analyses by Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld:
What makes this kind of research special is that it looks at all the studies done on a particular subject and draws a conclusion based on all of them. I highly recommend you read them in full.
One quote from the papers summarizes protein timing perfectly.
“In light of these findings, when training is initiated more than ~3–4 hours after the preceding meal, the classical recommendation to consume protein (at least 25 g) as soon as possible seems warranted in order to reverse the catabolic state, which in turn could expedite muscular recovery and growth.
However, as illustrated previously, minor pre-exercise nutritional interventions can be undertaken if a significant delay in the post-exercise meal is anticipated.”
What they basically recommend is that you shouldn’t let more than 6 to 8 hours pass between your last pre-workout meal and your post-workout meal.
If you had at least one meal before working out, then you don’t need to have a protein shake in the locker room. You still have amino-acids in your bloodstream from the previous meal and protein synthesis can start even if you delay eating post workout.
This recommendation would seem to go against fasted training. When training completely fasted, protein breakdown is accelerated and delaying the post-workout meal even more certainly doesn’t bring any benefits.
To avoid muscle catabolism while training fasted you can take 10g of BCAA or Leucine or have a protein shake before or during training. More on this here.
Protein Timing in the Real World
This is what the science says it’s optimal but to be honest I don’t know how much of a difference breaking these rules makes.
For example a lot of IF guys train fasted and have their post-workout meal 1-3 hours after. And they make excellent gains regardless.
Some people train early in the morning on an empty stomach and don’t eat until lunch and still make good muscle gains. My hypothesis is that muscle catabolism is prevented by the fact that they have a large protein meal in the evening and still have amino-acids in their bloodstream by the time they work out.
Now, could they make better gains if they didn’t train fasted and didn’t delay that post workout meal?
But the effect would still be very small. We still need to remember that nutrient timing is much less important than hitting your macros for the day:
Early Morning Training is Intermittent Fasting
Personally I wouldn’t train fasted in the morning and have my post-workout meal around lunch. Even if it doesn’t affect growth and recovery in any way I couldn’t shake the thought that I’m leaving some gains on the table. Because of this research I couldn’t help but think that delaying my meals is actually hampering my progress.
If I was forced to train early in the morning, I would just have a protein shake after or during my training and have my post workout meal at lunch.
Another option would be having BCAA strategically until the first meal but this seems to much of a hassle in my opinion.
Conclusion on Protein Timing
Protein Timing is MUCH LESS IMPORTANT that eating adequate amounts of protein during the course of one day. Our body is very smart and knows how to conserve energy and nutrients to support the needed adaptation.
My recommendations for protein timing would be these:
- Don’t let more than 6-8 hours pass between your last pre-workout meal and your post-workout meal
- It would be best to have your post-workout meal within 3-4 hours after training
- To be prudent, I wouldn’t recommend delaying your post-workout meal more than 1-2 hours after working out
- BCAA and Leucine can help prevent accelerated protein breakdown when training fasted. 10g of BCAA or Leucine or a protein shake can be taken pre or during workout if your post-workout meal is delayed a few hours.
What’s your take on protein timing? Do you think it matters? Do you make an effort to have protein as soon as your workout is over? Let me know in the comment below!
The Program I use for muscle growth
The program does use a fair amount of nutrient timing to prevent fat gain. Intermittent Fasting and Calorie Cycling are a big part of it.
It does offer a lot of flexibility however. You never have to take protein shakes or worry about your meal times. The fact that it leads to rapid strength gains on a few key movements inevitably leads to muscle growth.