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Today, after a high intensity leg workout, I had to wait 45 minutes before I could take in any food. Usually, I go with a fish/meat dinner, or simply a protein shake.

I was wondering, how does this affect my restitution in the short term? Will my workout have a diminished effect because I didn't take in protein straight after finishing?

Also, what would be the long term effect if I consistently didn't take in protein until an hour (give or take) after finishing a weightlifting workout?

And for perspective, what if I had to wait 4 hours every time?

Specifically, how would my muscles cope with longer periods (consistently) of no protein intake after a heavy workout?

The regular advice is "protein shake ASAP after workout", but I'm wondering where this is coming from.

Assume regular dieting beforehand. Nothing protein heavy. Just a bog standard bread breakfast and bread/fruit lunch.

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The regular advice is "protein shake ASAP after workout", but I'm wondering where this is coming from.

As a guy who has a financial interest in the supplement industry, I can tell you where you're getting that message from: supplement manufactures and retailers. The idea is to make you think that unless you consume a given product you won't be maximizing your "gains".

And for perspective, what if I had to wait 4 hours every time?

Specifically, how would my muscles cope with longer periods (consistently) of no protein intake after a heavy workout?

You probably have enough protein in your blood at that point. Follow my math on this. With the exception of whey, which is rather fast-absorbed, most natural sources of protein take somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-7 hours to be broken down, so protein is slowly being released from your gut, broken into amino acids, and sent into your blood.

So if you had ham and eggs at 6 in the morning, even by noon (6 hours later) you still have amino acids moving around in your blood. If you slammed a whey shake at 10 in the morning, you have a lot of amino acids rushing around come noon time.

The general idea for "eat protein every few hours" is to have a steady state of amino acids rushing around through your blood since repair work is done slowly over a period of hours and days.

Directly answering your question:

You probably are not going long periods without protein. Provided you have a balanced diet, enough protein, and eat throughout the day (don't sweat the details on that part), you've got amino acids floating around able to keep up.

I'm a big believer in supplements, but they're not magic beans, and I don't like how the marketing spin makes people think that if they don't use a tub of powder every day they'll shrivel up to a 120lb weakling.

  • Is it safe to assume then, that if I've consumed a good deal of protein a couple hours before training, that I'll still reap similar benefits when the workout is over? – Alec Dec 1 '14 at 9:45
  • @Aleksander, yes, especially if you ate real food that's slow to digest. Most proteins fall into this category except for whey. – Eric Dec 1 '14 at 12:54
  • Ah, so a protein shake (which is usually whey) is indeed best served right after the workout? – Alec Dec 1 '14 at 13:05
  • @Aleksander yes. Again I wouldn't sweat the timing so much as the overall daily intake, real food minimizing the timing impact a lot because of its slow release. – Eric Dec 1 '14 at 15:12
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If you are weight lifting to build muscle strength, according to a 2012 study, "Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training," published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, timing and type of protein makes a difference in MPS: Maximal Protein Synthesis.

In general, protein supplementation pre- and post-workout increases physical performance, training session recovery, lean body mass, muscle hypertrophy, and strength.

If you don't have time to eat, at least consider drinking milk.

  • Timing

    The study looks at pre and post workout protein intake.

    These data show that there is a limited time window within which to induce protein synthesis before a refractory period begins. With this in mind, an ideal protein supplement after resistance exercise should contain whey protein, as this will rapidly digest and initiate MPS, and provide 3–4 g of leucine per serving, which is instrumental in promoting maximal MPS.

    Once a protein has been consumed by an individual, anabolism is increased for about three hours postprandial with a peak at about 45–90 minutes [14]. After about three hours postprandial, MPS drops back to baseline even though serum amino acid levels remain elevated

  • Post Workout:

    An ideal supplement following resistance exercise should contain whey protein that provides at least 3 g of leucine per serving.

    ..studies using protein sources with a carbohydrate source tended to increase LBM more than did a protein source alone.

    • Pre Workout

    In contrast, the consumption of essential amino acids and dextrose appears to be most effective at evoking protein synthesis prior to rather than following resistance exercise.

  • Type of Protein:

    Whey protein showed increases in strength. Casein did not. (Milk contains both whey and casein.)

    fat-free milk post-workout was effective in promoting increases in lean body mass, strength, muscle hypertrophy and decreases in body fat

    3–4 g of leucine needed to promote maximal MPS

  • Regarding addition of carbohydrate with protein ingestion:

    A combination of a fast-acting carbohydrate source such as maltodextrin or glucose should be consumed with the protein source, as leucine cannot modulate protein synthesis as effectively without the presence of insulin [27,28] and studies using protein sources with a carbohydrate source tended to increase LBM more than did a protein source alone [33,37-41]. Such a supplement would be ideal for increasing muscle protein synthesis, resulting in increased muscle hypertrophy and strength.

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