‘Protein timing’ refers to the precise time at which you consume your protein – most often in shake form.
For years we have been taught that the best way to consume protein shake is to down it straight after a workout. More recently though, many experts are suggesting that it may actually make more sense to consume protein just before a workout. Why? Because it can take anywhere up to 90 minutes for that protein to reach the blood and the ‘anabolic window’ following a workout isn’t that long. In other words, for your protein to be available at precisely the right time, you need to consume your shake just before you actually want it.
Then again, there are others that claim the whole thing was a myth all along and that there’s no such thing as protein timing. They say you can enjoy your protein whenever you like. But on the other side of the fence are those using carb backloading who think that you should consume all your food straight after training so that it will go to the muscles and not the rest of the body.
Wow, that’s a lot of different opinions…
Does it really matter though? Well, apart from the fact that protein shake is rather expensive and you probably want to try and make the most of it, it actually does matter quite a lot seeing as some studies suggest that if a repair needs to be made in the body and you don’t have the necessary amino acids at that time, the repair will never be made.
What to Make of it All
With all this conflicting evidence and all these differences in opinion… who do you trust?
Often the best place to look will be to the pros. When do the professional bodybuilders eat their protein?
If we look at the king to start with, Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly used to eat his meals and his protein all throughout the day. His reasoning? He didn’t like stuffing himself and would only want one steak at a time. So Arnie would have five+ meals in a day, each one regular sized. Eating this way, it’s likely that he would naturally have had some protein pretty close to training and pretty soon after. We shouldn’t rule out the role of anabolic steroids here though, which would have helped him to make better use of the protein throughout the day.
So what does the science have to say? In one review of 23 studies on protein timing, it was found that protein timing had… no impact on muscle building (1).
This isn’t to say that the importance of protein timing can be completely ruled out. What it does suggest though is that the effect of timing is at least not drastic. And this also seems to be what the evidence online tells us – seeing as there can be so many different views with everyone still happily building muscle.
The conclusion? It may be that the anabolic window has some truth to it but if it does, then it will almost certainly make such a minor difference as to almost not matter. So what do you do? You eat as much protein as you can and eat it at times that suit you!