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Should You Have a Post Workout Shake?

Do you slam a post-workout (PWO) shake within seconds of finishing the final rep of your session OR  rush off to eat  meal ASAP?

Nutrient Timing/PWO shakes certainly divides opinion.

Some people fixate on them to the detriment of other ‘bigger’ factors. They think that nailing a post-workout shake is the key to their gains. Others think they are of no value at all and think you are an idiot if you have one.

Who is right? Neither. This back or white thinking rarely leads us to the correct answer. With everything there are shades of grey when it comes to PWO nutrition.

Do you NEED to have a shake or meal immediately?

Short answer…NO!

But SHOULD you take on protein (and carbs) quickly after training?


Allow me to explain…

Cliff Notes version for those with little time:

  • If you are a newbie or you don’t have a solid diet in place then, nutrient timing/PWO shakes are not something you should focus on.
  • If you are a more advanced trainee, that has dialled your diet in then, a PWO shake/meal can enhance your results.
The full rundown for those of you that are interested

The “anabolic window” has long been known as a 30 minute window of opportunity after training in which you MUST consume a protein shake. If you don’t, all your efforts were in vain!

Well, that was the MYTH. This myth has been debunked by recent research.

You might thinking, “Hold up. I thought you said I should have a PWO shake Tom!?”

If optimal results are what you are after then, yes I believe a PWO shake OR a PWO meal (consumed within 60 mins of your session) are needed to maximise progress.

The £ ‘T’s of Nutrition

To build muscle there is a hierarchy of needs when it comes to nutrition. I often refer to these as the 3 Ts. In order of importance they go as follows:

  1. Total Calories
  2. Type of calories (macronutrient ratios.g., protein, carbs & fats)
  3. Timing of Calories (the and how often certain macronutrients are eaten)

You see Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) needs to exceed breakdown (MPB) for you to be in an anabolic state. As such, your key concern when looking at your nutrition over the day is to have MPS exceed MPB on average. To do this you must first consume an excess of calories throughout the day to build muscle and a sufficient quantity of protein. That takes care of total calories.

Of next importance is the ratio of these calories. Within that the most important macro is protein. Establish an optimal level of this before considering in the other two macros (carbs and fats). As a rule of thumb, 2g per kilogram of body weight is works very well as a protein target. After that number is in place you can focus on the ratio of carbs and fats.

Third up is timing. It is a lower priority than the other two, but to maximise results we should still pay attention to it. Just not at the expense of the foundations of our nutrition (calories and macro ratio).

While your total intake across the day and an appropriate ratio of proteins, carbs, and fats is more important than your PWO shake it does not render the PWO meal redundant. It is just the icing on the anabolic cake.

Pic courtesy of nufit.com.au
Take Advantage of the Window of Opportunity

While the mythical 30 minute anabolic window is just that (it extends out to a much wider window of several hours). There is some benefit to consuming nutrients around your workout. PWO you are more nutrient sensitive. This means your body is primed to absorb and assimilate nutrients, utilise them for repair and store them in muscle. You are less likely to store nutrients as fat PWO and more likely to shuttle them to muscles.

Why wouldn’t you take advantage of this fact?

If muscle growth is your goal then, you absolutely should use this time to your advantage.

This study showed a positive MPS to MPB ratio when protein and carbs were consumed immediately PWO compared to a group that waited 4 hours to consume the same shake. The study found this difference was more marked in trained versus untrained individuals. This isn’t that surprising. Someone who is new to training can grow off anything. Given you are reading this then, I’m guessing you are well past the newbie gains stage! That means you are more likely to benefit from a PWO shake.

So, what should go into your PWO shake/meal?

This depends somewhat on your size, body fat, and the training volume of the session you performed. However, I’d suggest a range of 20-40g of protein and 50-200g of carbs.

In the study referenced above, they had 0.3g of protein per KG of bodyweight and 0.8g of carbs per KG of bodyweight. So, on the basis of that a 100kg man would have 30g of protein and 80g of carbs. I suggest you begin with these values based on your BW and adjust based on your results.

Protein + Carbs is a Little Bit Like 1+1=3…

Incorporating carbs in your PWO shake has three main benefits:

  1. It helps to rapidly replenish muscle glycogen
  2. Boosts Insulin levels (briefly). Insulin is anti-catabolic. It reduces MPB. So, if MPB is down and we have increased MPS through Leucine and a whole protein source then, your net protein balance is positively enhanced. Long story short…you are temporality more anabolic. Insulin also regulates the blood stream. Hence, many people call it a “storage” hormone. The good news is that PWO you are more insulin sensitive so you can store more nutrients in muscle.
  3. Carbs are phenomenal at reducing Cortisol. They blunt cortisol extremely quickly. During training you release Cortisol. That’s fine. But you want to bring them down ASAP after training. Carbs do this better than anything.
Marginal Gains Territory

Assuming you are having a high quality protein source then, doing the above will take care of 90+% of the potential benefits of a PWO shake. However, there is a bit more detail we can go to eek out a few more % of optimality (is that even a word?).

In this article I cover all things protein and outline how to perfect your intake across the day.

This article by Jorn Trommelen highlights the benefit of Leucine in kickstarting the muscle building machinery (e.g., the mTOR pathway) and provides a theoretical framework for maximising MPS by supplementing with Leucine. In light of this he suggests taking 5g of Leucine before a meal to maximise MPS. If you want to take advantage of the marginal gains available I suggest you do the same. I have been utilising this approach for a while myself with clients and believe there is a benefit (it is small but noticeable).

To Conclude

If you want to build as much muscle as possible you should consume protein and carbs PWO. Aim to eat/drink these within 60 mins. In my eyes the sooner the better. Supplement this with 5g of Leucine to maximise MPS. Then, rest, relax, recover and GROW!

Want a great muscle building training plan to follow before that PWO shake/meal? Then go here to get hold of my MAX MUSCLE BUNDLE (it also includes a mass building nutrition plan).

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