Take It From Arnold: No Need to Guzzle Protein Right After Lifting

The legend weighs in on the mythical "anabolic window"

Jeff Bridges talking to a shirtless Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is curling a barbell.
Don't let the specter of a narrow "anabolic window" upset you...or your stomach.
Bettmann Archive/Getty

We’re big fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new(ish) daily newsletter, The Pump Daily, in which he dishes out wellness wisdom free of charge. A nugget from this morning’s edition dredged up an important debate over the proper way to replenish one’s body after a strength training session.

Straw-poll the bros on your local gym floor, and they’ll likely pledge allegiance to protein-guzzling in the half hour immediately after they’ve finished their lift. Some come armed with shaker bottles, some have a tub waiting at home. Others buy directly from the gym: Most studios have some sort of protein bar on-site, if not a vending machine.

But this sort of protein hysteria, fueled by the idea that if you don’t fuel up, your muscles won’t be able to recover and grow (i.e., your workout basically didn’t count), is an old, pesky myth.

As Schwarzenegger points out, “The ‘anabolic window’ is quite a bit longer than 30 minutes. Eat 1-2 hours before your workout or within 3 hours after your workout. That’s it.”

He’s referring to concepts like nutrient timing and protein synthesis here, and challenging the idea that consuming the right protein-packed foods or powders, at the right time, “in a supercompensated fashion” (as one study put it) can “enhance both body composition and exercise performance.”

It’s Never Too Late to Start Lifting. Here’s How.
As intimidating as strength training may seem, it’s relatively easy to get a steady regimen off the ground

On the contrary, the science suggests that for lasting results and recovery, it’s just important to have a general commitment to meeting your caloric needs: protein, carbohydrates and the like. If you’re working out a lot, you better be fueling up accordingly. That’s how you make progress, or at the least, avoid a condition like RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport).

Fortunately, lifters tend to listen to Arnold. Internalize this latest tip: You do not have a slim, precarious window to make (or purchase) a protein shake in between working out and heading to work. Where did that idea come from, why has it persisted and why does does it give strength trainees a degree of anxiety?

Well, like so much of our accepted “knowledge” in the fitness world, it’s something that’s been sold to us. As Schwarzenegger opines, “The short version is, your body doesn’t care about this stuff nearly as much as your mind. That could be my answer to 90% of the questions I get about health and fitness, because most of the rules people ask me about were made by somebody who was selling. The 30 minute rule was almost certainly made up by companies trying to sell you something.”

How did Arnold used to refuel in his peak bodybuilding days? He wasn’t rushing to the next thing. He was taking time to process the work he’d put in: “We never really schvitzed about this, even in the old days. Sometimes after training we laid out on the beach for a couple hours before eating.”

A lift in the gym and a nap by the water. That’s paradise. Don’t fret your protein, don’t upset yourself or your stomach. The curls still count if you wait an extra hour or two to eat your eggs.

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