Nutrient Timing for Bigger Muscles

Nutrient Timing for Bigger Muscles

Have more and more clients been asking you about whether they should eat before or after a workout?

It leads to a lot of questions that you want to answer for yourself and your clients:

“Can I work out in a fasted state?”

“Is it always necessary to get protein right after a workout?”

“Do I need to eat before and after a strength training session?”

Maybe you’ve heard of nutrient timing and the anabolic window, but the theories about when and how to use it are confusing.

Nutrient timing is real - You just have to know how to do it effectively to see muscle gains.

So what does recent research and science say about these questions?

Aragon and Schoenfeld reviewed the sports science literature in 2013 and set out to decipher the mystery of the anabolic window (the period after exercise that nutrition can shift the body from a catabolic to anabolic state).  

What they found will surprise you.

First, there are three factors to consider when you plan pre- and post-training nutrition:

Nutrient Timing Factors 

  • Personal preference. Within the window of opportunity, personal preference dictates just how much you eat, when exactly you eat, and the calories and nutrients you need based on your body type and training goals.
  • Lifestyle. How you live and how you train will also dictate your pre- and post-workout nutrition. The timing and duration of your strength training come into play when deciding what your nutrient needs are.
  • Nutrient Timing. Finally, nutrient timing is the key to maximizing muscle hypertrophy. Regardless of how you work out and what your training goals and body type are, you need to get certain nutrients into your body within a window of time of your training session.

What does all this mean?

That there is no single best answer for how to utilize the anabolic window.

BUT! There are several tips that can help you figure out your best plan for nutrient timing and create a plan for each of your clients.

Here are three research-based strategies you can use

According to the study by Aragon and Schoenfeld, there are several different scenarios for nutrient timing that maximize muscle repair and growth after a workout.

Nutritient Timing Strategies

The fasted workout

If you prefer to get your training in first thing in the morning after a night of fasting, go for it.

However, what the research says is that you need to consume protein right after your workout if you’ve been fasting. Doing so limits muscle breakdown and promotes hypertrophy.

TAKEAWAY: If you fast before your workout, eat protein right after you hit the gym.

Eating before training

If the idea of working out in a fasting state makes you uncomfortable, don’t sweat it. You can get the same good results for muscle building if you eat a protein-rich meal one to two hours before training.

Researchers found this: consuming 20 grams of whey protein plus 6 grams of essential amino acids before a workout sustains amino acid delivery well into the post-workout period.

This also means you don’t need the immediate post-workout snack, but you should get some protein in within an hour or two of the training session.

TAKEAWAY: If you want to eat before training, have a protein shake.

Eating 4 to 6 hours before training

If you train several hours after eating, your anabolic window will be closed by the time your workout is done. You need that immediate post-workout protein snack to boost muscle gains.

TAKEAWAY: If you workout at after work and before dinner, have a protein bar.

But keep reading to make sure you’re not consuming too little… or too much.

So how much protein should I consume before and after a workout?

The researchers in this study answer to that:

0.4 - .05 g of protein per kg of Lean Body Mass

0.4 – 0.5 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass

This number provides you a customizable solution for you or your client.  

Just calculate the Lean Body Mass and you can give anyone an answer for how much protein to consume for maximum muscle building.

And just how big is that anabolic window?

The strategies for nutrient timing vary with individuals, but researchers were able to come up with an answer to this question that can be applied to anyone.

Nutrient Timing Anabolic Windows

The anabolic window is approximately 3 to 4 hours for a training session that lasts between 45 and 90 minutes.

Thus, your pre- and post-workout protein should not be separated by more than three or four hours.

The window can be extended to 5 to 6 hours if you get your protein as part of large, mixed-nutrient meal before working out

Of course, the most important thing to remember is to make sure each person is consuming the appropriate amount of calories and the right proportion of protein - no matter how it fits into your lifestyle.


Christina Klein


Aragon, Alan. Schoenfeld, Brad. “Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10.5 (2013): p 1-11

Antonio, Jose., Ciccone, Victoria. “The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10.36 (2013): p 2-8

Baker, Lindsay., Heaton, Lisa., Nuccio, Ryan., Stein, Kimberly. “Dietitian-Observed Macronutrient Intakes of Young Skill and Team-Sport Athletes: Adequacy of Pre, During and Postexercise Nutrition.” International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 24 (2014): p 166-176