Okay, so you’ve just finished up a great chest session at the gym. You PR’d your bench press, assaulted your pecs with cable flyes, and you even saw that cute girl at the front desk admiring your feats of strength. But all is not right in Gainsville. After driving home from the gym, you’re ravenous and you need that carb- and protein-heavy, post-workout meal to recharge your muscles and lock in those gains, but alas! You slacked on stocking the fridge this week, and you’re all out of your pre-cooked chicken and sweet potato carb-bombs!
You desperately rummage through your pantry looking for any signs of starch, but no such luck. Your anabolic window is rapidly closing and there’s no time to drive to the grocery store and back. You drop to your knees in despair and mourn the loss of your sweet, sweet gains. Your glycogen-depleted body knows that catabolism is surely around the corner…or is it? Fear not! There may be hope for you.
Is the Anabolic Window a Myth?
Contrary to what most lifting bros believe, the body is less dependant on meal timing than one might think. Sure, the insulin spike from carbs is conducive to muscle growth, but it’s more of a cumulative effect, rather than an instantaneous one. The “anabolic window” (although it does exist to an extent) is grossly exaggerated. 
One instance where meal timing might be of importance is if you’re an endurance athlete who is training for hours at a time for something like a marathon or triathlon. In that case, it might be a bit more important to keep your glycogen stores topped off by ingesting carbohydrates while training.
But what we’re really talking about here is meal timing and its supposed effect on body-composition and strength in conjunction with resistance training. Your total intake of macronutrients for the day matters more than what time you ingest them. [2, 3] That being said, structuring your meals around your workout can also be beneficial for some. For instance, it’s probably not a wise idea to crush a box of cereal and a pound of chicken if you tend to get queasy while training in a fed (vs. fasted) state.
What Works for Your Gym Buddy May Not Work for You
It really comes down to a matter of knowing your body and how it reacts to certain foods, which can take some time, experimentation, and patience. Will you put on extra fat if you eat carbs on a rest day? No. Will your hard efforts in the gym be for nothing if you don’t ingest most of your carbs and a heavy dose of protein within 20-45 minutes of training? Also, no.
Remember, what works for your friend, mentor or gym partner may not work for you, so take all that Men’s Health advice with a grain of salt—if it’s not based on science, it’s everyone’s best guess.
- Is the Anabolic Window a Myth? http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/is-the-anabolic-window-a-myth, July 27, 2015
- Insulin and muscle protein turnover in humans: stimulatory, permissive, inhibitory, or all of the above?http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18628353 July 27, 2015
- The Meal Timing Myth? http://www.bornfitness.com/the-meal-timing-myth/, July 27, 2015