Workout nutrition is a scam

There are many studies that show workout nutrition increases protein balance and muscle gains from training. Many studies expose the benefits of post- and pre-workout nutrition and many studies even show that there is an ‘anabolic window’: a time period around the training session in which consuming protein has extra effect.

Formulated otherwise, the anabolic window theory posits that protein intake in close temporal proximity to training sessions results in more growth than consuming the same amount of protein at other points during the day. The theory is that the training session somehow primes the body for nutrient partitioning to muscle instead of fat.

An often mentioned argument for this is that the protein balance regulation during the anabolic window is mediated by insulin. Readers of this site should already be aware that this is false and that there are no benefits to consuming carbohydrates post-workout. I have also previously shown that there are also no benefits to consuming BCAAs during this anabolic window. Now, I will show you that the anabolic window is not what most people think it is.

The anabolic window is a myth that is easy to fall for due to all the studies that seemingly support its existence. However, a closer look at the methodologies employed in these studies reveals that they do not support the use of workout nutrition at all. They just support the consumption of protein in general. Practically all of these studies employed one or both of these 2 methodological pitfalls.

  • Methodological failure 1: The studies didn’t have an appropriate control group. Usually, they compared a workout nutrition group to a placebo group. That’s fine for medicines, but what you really want for these studies is a control group that consumed the same amount of protein, only during a different time period. Without such a control group, you have no internal validity: you don’t know if the workout nutrition was beneficial because it contained protein or because that protein was ingested during the anabolic window.
  • Methodological failure 2: The participants weren’t given enough protein the days before and of the training session and fasted overnight until whenever they received their workout nutrition. In this scenario, receiving nutrition faster is obviously better because the participants were starving, at least in bodybuilding terms.

To demonstrate the presence of the anabolic window, what you want is a study that looks like this. Cribb & Hayes (2006) demonstrated that consuming protein in close temporal proximity to training at midday yields superior gains for body composition and strength than consuming the same amount of protein during the morning and the evening. That seems like pretty conclusive evidence for the importance of the anabolic window, so what’s wrong with it? The leading author, Paul J. Cribb, works for a notorious supplement company, AST Sport Science, that sponsored the study. They’re known for sponsoring/performing suspicious studies that exhibit the benefits of their products.  If you look at the result of this study, they’re suspiciously unidirectional and the effect sizes are suspiciously large. For example, the average results for the anabolic window group of advanced bodybuilders in a 10 week time period were: a 6.2 lb muscle gain, a 1.1% body fat loss and a 26.8 lb strength gain on the bench press. Mind you, these were not rookies. These bodybuilders on average already benched 279.2 lb (1RM) and were drug-free.  Sounds legit…

 

Other studies employing the same design as above but without financial support from supplement companies found something else entirely, namely that consuming protein right before and after training yielded the exact same results as consuming that protein earlier and later, respectively.

  • Verdijk et al. (2009) found that a group consuming protein immediately before and after training at midday did not gain more strength or more muscle than a group consuming adequate protein throughout the day without consuming anything during the ‘anabolic window’.
  • Wycherley et al. (2010) found that there was no difference in muscle retention, strength gains or fat loss between consuming protein right after training and consuming the same amount of protein 2 hours later during a weight loss diet in which adequate protein was ingested.

I know some people are going to complain about the samples in these studies not being representative of male bodybuilders, because everyone knows about about external validity yet few people pay attention to internal validity, even though there is often no reason why specific populations, such as the elderly or females, would respond differently to primitive physiological manipulations. So, I saved the best for last.

  • Hoffman et al. (2009) found that protein consumption right before and after training yielded the exact same results as consuming that protein several hours before and several hours after training. “Results indicate that the time of protein-supplement ingestion in resistance-trained athletes during a 10-wk training program does not provide any added benefit to strength, power, or body-composition changes.”

Before dismissing nutrient timing as a whole completely, there’s a caveat that I want to stress greatly. In all of these studies, the participants consumed protein somewhere before and somewhere after training. The take home message is that the exact timing of protein becomes irrelevant in many such scenarios, because you’ll be in a fed state all day. For that reason, these results do not support, for example, fasted training, and they do not imply that nutrient timing of all kinds is useless. I will cover nutrient timing and fasted training extensively in future articles.

 

Conclusion

There is no such thing as a miniscule window around your training sessions where you have to consume protein or lose out on your gains.

 


References

Cribb, Paul J Cribb & Hayes, Alan. Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 November; 38(11): 1918–1925.

Hoffman JR, et al. Effect of protein supplement timing on strength, power and body compositional changes in experienced resistance trained men. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2009 Apr;19(2):172-85.

Verdijk LB, et al. Protein supplementation before and after exercise does not further augment skeletal muscle hypertrophy after resistance training in elderly men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb;89(2):608-16.

Wycherley TP, et al. Timing of protein ingestion relative to resistance exercise training does not influence body composition, energy expenditure, glycaemic control or cardiometabolic risk factors in a hypocaloric, high protein diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2010 Dec;12(12):1097-105.

56 Comments

  1. Chirolifter says:

    All I know is that I start half way through an 90 minute lifting session with about 50g of maltodextrin and sip it throughout and that sustains my energy levels through the end of the workout.  I have tried without and notice a huge difference.

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      90min is definitely stretching it though and you'd be better off dividing such sessions into 2 (or more). If that is impossible to schedule, a fast absorbing and easy to digest carb source may be beneficial to sustain your workout, as you said.

  2. Chirolifter says:

    I lift for an hour than conditioning/ core/stretch/foam roller for about 20-30.  My lifting is Olympic lifts 1-3 reps 70-90%, O-lift pulls 4×3, pull up 3×7, arm work.  2 days later rear squat 5×5 or 5×3, Glute ham,  2 press exercises. throw 2-3 days/week.  I am Professional Highland games athlete..  Explosive exercises always.  Also 40 yr. old.  Been lifting for 35 yrs. Body building/ Powerlifting/ now O-lifting..  285 lbs. 15% BF 6'2"…

  3. Wood says:

    but the people who follow every bb bs are muscular, and the other smart guys are not. Why?

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      Most of the stuff that doesn’t work doesn’t hurt either. Plus, most hardcore bodybuilders are A) super dedicated and B) on androgens/slin/hgh (steroids). You know how many scrawny guys there are that follow bodybuilding dogma though? You only see the successful ones, but the vast majority of people in the gym are unsuccessful.

  4. Kevin Kane says:

    Menno, very enlightening!
    I respect your data-driven approach. You're exposing bodybuilding fallacies.
    Can't wait to read more of your articles. Amazing job!
     
     
     

  5. Chirolifter says:

    I too admire your research.  Keep at it and Thank You!

  6. gmarch says:

    Menno, love your insight. After your "Principles of Exercise Selection" article you mention you might post some of your favorite exercises for each muscle. Any chance of seeing that soon?

  7. BBoris says:

    And again a very interesting article from you Menno, i have read them all with great pleasure and i admire you for your knowledge and the research which you have done.
    You give me a whole new view on all the confusing myths there are in the BB world.
    Im looking forward to your next articles.
    I think every serious BB-er, no matter pro or amateur must be pleased to see for once the reality in all the 'commercial' research-BS which is floating for years trough our internet and magazines, whereafter he can decide himself what will be the best for him.
    Eindelijk eens wat Hollandse nuchterheid.

    • Marvin says:

      Copied my content too. This is the third time. I tried contacting the web host jaguarpc.com but they never reply to my emails. Keep having to email the web host that what he's doing is illegal but still continues to do it. 

  8. Nate says:

    I can't believe someone would so shamelessly copy and paste someone else's great work to their crappy website… even stole one of the pictures.  That is just sad.
     
    In any case, thanks for the great article.  I enjoy reading articles by people like Alan Aragon, Martin Berkhan, Anoop Balachandran and others (people who look at the science and methodology of nutrition/fitness studies) and I am happy to add you to the list of reliable sources of information of the subjects.  I have my doubts about your conclusion to the "1g/lb protein" article, but after a few hours of research, I couldn't find anything substantial to refute your claim.
     
    Thank you again for your research and well-written articles.
     
    P.S. – I would also be interested in knowing what websites and/or authors you enjoy reading that provide reliable information on bodybuilding and nutrition.

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      You have put me in good company. Alan Aragon is probably the most scientific nutritionist out there. I also like Martin Berkhan. I’ll have a look at Balachandran, because this is the first time I’ve heard of him. As for other sources of information, most of what I know comes from journal articles, but I also regularly read: Charles Poliquin’s blog, Bret Contreras’s site, T-Nation and ergo-log.com. As for authors, Jonny Bowden is good with nutrition and Mark Rippetoe is good with the practicalities of training. The rest of my information comes from more or less random sources. I like Christian Thibaudeau’s older stuff and some of Lyle McDonald’s writings as well.

  9. Tobias says:

    I have always been a big believer in instinctive eating… 
    It never felt right to me to consume some kind of post workout meal directly after the workout. My hunger always kicks in about 1-2 hours later. It just didn't felt right to consume something before this time. 
    So these are good news :)
     

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      Glad at least some people see the positive side in the debunking of myths. Most people just get angry.

  10. Behzad says:

    I can't wait until this is posted on T-Nation. Hehe…
    Groeten uit Eindhoven.

  11. Willem says:

    Menno,
    this is an interesting read. Because there is no anabolic window, intermittant fasting could be done by eating in the morning (7-15h) and training in the evening? This would be easier for me because of my working hours (home at 19h) and the fact I train better on a relatively empty stomac and can't sleep if I've just eaten.
    thanks
     

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      My next article(s) will deal with your issue, but I can tell you in advance that eating everything in the morning and training afterwards is not optimal. Note that all of the studies in this article looked at groups eating protein *somewhere* before and *somewhere* after training.

      • Willem says:

        Okay. Thanks. Looking forward to reading said article ! Especially interested what 'not optimal' exactly means.

  12. Richard Krain says:

    I love articles that follow the paper trail and debunk dubious science designed to separate weight trainers from their hard earned money.
    Any chance you'd like to do a no-holds barred investigation on the fantastic claims that Biotest made about their Anaconda supplement a couple of years ago?

  13. Rob J says:

    Hey Menno,
    Great articles you have posted, I especially have found your Muscle Hypertrophy Specfic article most helpful.  Just wondering what your thoughts about the Elite Evogen line of products produced by renowned trainer Hany Rambod (as these seem to fall under the category of workout nutrition).  I've been training with the full set (Glycoject, EVP, and Cell K.E.M.), and have noticed more focus in the gym, resulting in decent gains.  The preworkout EVP is a no stimulate product too.  I want to know if my money is better spent else where, as these are very "high quality" products, but steep in price as well. 
    Thank you!

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      I can’t say anything about named products (I also don’t know the products you’re talking of), but if you post their ingredients I can tell you if they work or not.

      • Rob J says:

        Here's the breakdown of each in the group of products:
        EVP (preworkout) : Potassium, Calcium, Vitamin B 1, B2, B3, B6, B 12, phosphorus, Pharmaceutical Ultra Soluble Leucine, L-arginine alpha-ketoglutarate, L-arginine Monohydrate, Creatine Gluconate, Citrulline Malate, L-Arginine Pyroglutamate, Pharmaceutical L-glutamine, Carnosyn (beta alinine), Thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, L-Tysonie, Cyanocobalamin.
        Glycoject (glycogen injection matrix): Karboly (derived from potato, corn, rice), citrulline malate, guanidinopropionic acid, cinnulin cinnamon extract, 4-hydroxyisoluecine
        Cell K.E.M. (Cellular Kinetic Expansion Matrix): 4:1:1 Growth Acceleration Compex-pharmaceutical grade ultra-soluble BCAA complex, isoleucine, valine 4:1:1 anabolic ratio, glutamine, ascorbic acid, resveratrol, creatine gluconate, L-norvaline, Sodium citrate, Di-Potassium Phosphate, Di-calcium phosphate, Tru-Magnesium Phosphate, Sodium Chloride
        Thanks for your input, here is the product website as a better reference:
        http://www.evogennutrition.com/

  14. Pat says:

    I love your articles. I've completely changed my approach to bodybuilding thanks to your hard work and analysis. Thank you very much!
    I do have a quick question if you have the time for it. I'm considering changing my daily routine to better fit my schedule and want to go to the gym in the mornings. I'd like to lift on an empty stomach (I might eat a small fruit like an apple) since I'm not hungry when I wake up and would rather save my calories for later. However, I know you've said most of the studies you reference involved subjects that ate protein sometime before and after lifting. Does this mean I should consume something like half a scoop of protein before going to the gym instead of the apple since my last protein source most likely would've been 8-9 hours prior? Thanks in advance!

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      Thanks! I would indeed recommend some protein – 20 grams should be sufficient – before training and some caffeine (~100 mg). If your daily routine remains consistent, you should still be able to progress (very close to) optimally in that scenario.

      • Nick says:

        Hi Menno,

        I do intermittent fasting, so my first meal of the day is around 12. I train at 7 in the morning.

        Based on above comment, I now have 1 scoop of whey just before training. Is that enough, considiring i have my first big meal at 12? Or should I take more whey just after training?

        Thanks in advance!

  15. Big Vince says:

    Hi, thank you for the great articles on simplyshredded, you are obviously a very smart person when it comes to bodybuilding. This article enlightened me, and I would really appreciate if you could tell me your thoughs on this. I was wondering if it would be catabolic to lift weights (45-60 minutes) and then do cardio (20 minutes) right after training and eat a bit later (I eat at least every three hours). I normally eat right after lifting (no research was done about cardio right after lifting not being detrimental) but this semester my schedule isn't allowing me to do so. Thank you.

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      Thanks! Cardio after weight training is indeed catabolic due to the extreme volume in a single session. You’ll also reduce your body’s response to the weight training, so I would definitely recommend not doing that if bodybuilding is your goal. There’s a new article of mine that answers your question in great detail pending publication right now, so keep an eye out for that (subscribers get an email when new articles are published).

  16. Cheeky_Gemeni says:

     
     
    Very interesting article, I am a 42 year old male who has been battling with GAD (general anxiety disorder) since my teens, as a result I am on Paroxetine daily, which I believe interferes with my energy levels hence training. I have been training for the past 4 months and I must say I hate it with a vengeance!! I have no energy whatsoever regardless of what supplements or carbs I take before workout.  I follow my diet as per what the norm bodybuilder.
    Do you have any info/knowledge articles that involve weight training with anti-depressants (SSRI's) 
    Looking forward to reading all your articles

    • Menno Henselmans says:

      SSRIs are nasty drugs. I assume your symptoms must be severe, otherwise it may be better to deal with them than suffer from the sides of SSRIs. My advice is to get your testosterone-levels checked. HRT is extremely beneficial if your free t is low and should help with all the symptoms from GAD and the sides of the SSRI. Also check out the tryptophan to other LNAA-ratio in your diet. If it’s high, decrease it. Finally, you may want to look into low-dose ephedrine to help with the lethargy and keep your caffeine consumption low as per my article. Stimulants can be fantastic, but they’re easy to abuse. Hope that helps!

  17. Menno Henselmans says:

     

  18. Peter Heesbeen · Follow · Top Commenter · Den Bosch, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands
    Mindblowing stuff

  19. Irawan Johan · The Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School
    This is interesting, very cool research. Thank you.

  20. James Minor · Top Commenter · Independence, Missouri
    Now provide me with something
    positive. We need more info on what will help in addition to what
    won’t.

    You have good information and its nice to see the research so lets find what will help.

  21. John Paul Belmont
    Very interesting and useful info. I’ve been interested in this topic for some time now.

  22. [Automatic import of Facebook comments performed.]

  23. steve says:

    Hey Menno! Big fan of your work! Can you eat fats in your post workout meal, such as eggs and bacon for example? Or is this bad?

  24. samir says:

    I know you advise high fat intake but I know you are not a fan of ketogenic diets. if one wanted to do a cyclical ketogenic diet would that not be very effective also?

    I am just confused as you have pointed out carbs are unnessary so does that mean there is no benefit to them besides the pure enjoyment? (Like if I just ate alot of fat and protein like really fatty meat, got in my fiber and non starchy vegetables) it would be just as anabolic as a diet with carbs?

    • samir says:

      ? Would like to know as I love eating fat!

    • It’s not that black and white. Ketogenic diets have very useful applications, they’re just not for everyone.

      Carbs have effects on neurotransmitters, but for your body composition they in general won’t do much that fats can’t do as well. Food choice in many cases is more important than the fat vs. carb dichotomy though.

      • samir says:

        ah I see. so if you are a guy that loves getting in your fatty cuts and avocados etc.. obviously that is hard to keep your fats down if you are doing the whole iifym style, would you recommend just adding a bit of carbs like a banana or potato (but not many at all) just to get the neurotransmitter effects?

  25. thanks so much for that information.. nice to read it.

  26. its that a scam after all….

  27. Jonah says:

    Hey Menno,

    Great work, as always. I found you through Jeff Nippard, and have probably listened to every single interview you have had on youtube now. Your references to the literature are extremely helpful.

    Quick question: How long approximately does protein take to hit your bloodstream? Or – how long approximately before a workout should you eat a meal? I am fairly advanced, and am timing 80% of my protein before & after my workout, and before bed. I workout at 3:30 PM, Wake up at 6 AM. Bed at 9.

    Thanks!

    • This depends on the meal in question. A whey shake may cause peak hyperaminoacidemia in an hour. A mixed meal may take twice as long.

      • Jonah says:

        Thanks for your reply Menno.

        I eat lunch around 12pm every day. I have either chicken or ground turkey, with some cheese and veggies. Then I workout at 3:30pm. Would you recommend having the meal closer to the workout?

        Or do you have some sort of reference on how long a type of protein takes to cause peak hyperaminoacidemia?

        • That should be fine. As per my previous comment, the time to peak hyperaminoacidemia depends on the meal: protein source, dosage, the addition of other nutrients, etc. all impact it.

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