If you are a regular gym-goer, you may have heard the term “anabolic window” and/or “anabolic window of opportunity”. Simply put, the principle is that you break down muscle tissue during a workout, and there is a 30 to 60-minute window in which you should consume protein to achieve optimal muscle tissue repair and growth. Having been a popular theory for some time, various studies have been carried out, and while it seems like a logical idea, the scientific evidence is not conclusive.
However, we need protein to stay healthy, even if we’re more couch potatoes than elite athletes, so when should we be consuming it?
Protein is used for many important bodily functions: hormone regulation, blood sugar stability, energy creation and maintenance, and muscle mass. The body uses nutrients from our food to stimulate muscle growth for around four to five hours after eating. This means that, ideally, we should consume protein every four hours or so.
Few of us want to set the alarm for halfway through the night, so we should include a little protein at breakfast; we have gone all night without protein, so we need to top levels up before starting our day.
Return of the busy bee
During the Covid lockdowns, we all had much more time on our hands and, with heightened consciousness about the importance of being healthy, many of us used that time to work on a balanced diet and exercise as much as restrictions allowed at any given time.
Although working from home and hybrid working is still available to some, many of us are back to old working patterns, and life has returned to being busy, which means we are short on time again, which can make it harder to get our nutrient levels right.
If you worry about getting enough protein in your diet (perhaps you are vegetarian or vegan), a protein shake is a quick and easy way to boost your levels. But when should you drink it? Morning or evening? Before or after a workout?
Brief history of protein shakes
Protein supplementation as we know it today started in the 1950s when competitive bodybuilders started using egg protein to build muscle. At that point, it was very niche, but things picked up in the 60s as more research was conducted, meaning an increase in quantity and quality regarding protein supplementation.
During the 70s, a protein used within the bodybuilding industry continued to grow steadily. By the late 80s / early 90s, protein was becoming mainstream, and more and more protein powder supplements were available.
Fast forward to today, and protein is no longer seen as the preserve of hardcore muscle men but is used by all sorts of athletes and non-athletes who have seen its benefits for weight loss and muscle health. Not only that, but you also no longer have to make drinks from powder painstakingly; you can buy ready-to-eat bars, and ready-to-drink shakes, including vegan options, which are increasingly important as more people switch to a plant-based lifestyle.
How much protein do you need?
It is recommended that women consume around 45g of protein per day and men 55g, but it does depend on other factors. Indeed, if you use an online calculator to calculate your protein needs, it will ask for gender, age, weight, height and activity level. Athletes are recommended to have a higher intake, as are people aged over 40, as this is when muscle mass begins to decrease.
Protein shakes have their place
Protein shakes are useful, particularly for busy and/or active people. Some people may have time for beans on toast at breakfast, some nuts with lunch, hummus in the afternoon. But for many, life is hectic, and protein intake is not always first on your mind as you are dashing out the door first thing or flopping on the sofa after a long, hard day, and this is where a high-quality, ready-made, plant-based protein shake can step up to fill a gap (for vegans and non-vegans alike).
If you have tried shakes in the past and found the taste to be a bit predictable, some great new flavours are available from companies like B’liev. Look out for chocolate brownies, blueberry muffins, cookies and cream and always seek out shakes without added processed sugar or artificial flavours.
While protein shakes can have their place in a varied and healthy diet and lifestyle, do not rely on them exclusively for protein, and protein shakes should certainly not be used as a meal replacement.
Aria Beheshtaein is the founder of B’liev.