The Anabolic Window: Do You Really Need A Post Workout Protein Shake?

protein shake

When you work as a nutrition coach for 10 years or so you tend to find that people usually ask a lot of the same questions. They want to know about carbs. They want to know about protein and why I’m making them eat so much. And they want to know if they really need to drink protein shakes after a workout.

I mean, for lots of people when they think of post workout protein they think of a jacked to the gills bro slamming down shots from his shaker bottle. And for some people that isn’t the image that they’re looking to chase.

And this is a fair question for many people most of the time, actually. It’s never as simple as you a hard yes, like most people may assume.

So let’s set the record straight once and for all: do you really NEED a post workout protein shake? Or protein of any kind?

Here are some basic things you need to know before shoveling down a steak and washing it down with a shake of whey.

Research shows that post workout whey protein consumption helps to increase recovery from hard training sessions. Which is definitely a good thing.
Research shows that a post workout shake is more beneficial when you haven’t eaten a few hours prior to your training session. Which intuitively makes sense.
Research tends to show that there is no real difference in muscle protein synthesis when drinking a shake 30 minutes after a workout compared to 6 hours after a workout, as long as someone has eaten 2 hours before a training session.

So, those are three basic facts about post workout protein consumption, and those facts lay out just about everything you need to know when it comes to whether or not you need to buy protein.

Put simply: you really don’t have to. It’s not a necessity. Sure, if it makes you feel good and you feel like you get something out of it, then keep on using it. But don’t feel like you’ve got to be knocking people down on the way out of the gym in a hurry to squeeze in a shake just to make it fit within that anabolic window.

What should you do instead:

  • If you’ve got your schedule down so that you typically eat some meal of some sort before a training session, then you can typically count on the fact that you’ve got protein in your body still breaking down after a training session. Which means that you can comfortably wait to have your post workout shake whenever it’s most convenient.
  • If you typically train first thing in the morning when you’re still fasted, you want to try and get protein of some sort in as close to being done with your training session as you can.

Those above points are the major take home points to this whole piece. What matters most of all when it comes to post workout protein is when your last meal was. Which is why most people who train early in the mornings are probably smart to wash down a protein shake as soon as possible, and people who train in the evenings can wait a little bit longer to fit in whenever they’re comfortable.

So, get an idea of what your training schedule tends to look like and dial in your meals and protein needs without having to put up nonsense nutrition advice that does you no good whatsoever.

Tanner is a fitness professional and writer based in the metro Atlanta area. His training focus is helping normal people drop absurd amounts of fat, become strong like bull, and get in the best shape of their life.