Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

Protein is likely the macronutrient that gets the most attention in the fitness community. Along with this spotlight comes a lot of misinformation.  Some people believe that if it sounds like it makes logical sense that must mean that it’s true – right? Wrong. Don’t get me wrong, as health professionals, we always need to be aware so that we don’t stumble into these assumptions either. It isn’t always as simple as exercise, drink a protein shake, and build muscle. Even in the process of research, what we know to be true is consistently challenged. So, what holds true today when it comes to timing and quality of protein around physical activity?

The Anabolic Window

For those of you who have never heard of the “anabolic window,” it refers to a period of time (thought to be less than one hour post work-out) when your body has the capacity to use amino acids found in protein in an accelerated fashion to build muscle exponentially. Sounds pretty great right? But, before you race home after your workout today to down a protein shake, there is some new research that has been making waves in the fitness community. One study has found that the timing of protein isn’t nearly as critical is the total doseof protein, which I discussed in a previous blog . Rather, the need for an immediate post-exercise protein dose is dictated more by what you ate prior to your workout. 

So, What Does That Mean?

Say, for example, you generally like to workout early in the day before work and tend to only have time to gobble down a banana (if you’re lucky). I suggest that emphasizing the post-workout window (within two hours of completing your workout) is more important for you. Consider having at least 20 grams (for women) to 30 grams (for men) within one to two hours of working out to ensure that you are supporting your muscle mass and recovery. These Sunny Burritos, which pack a 20 gram punch of protein, are a great post-workout breakfast.

On the other hand, if you tend to exercise shortly after lunch or supper when you typically enjoy a balanced meal, such as chicken breast with rice and cooked veggies, and Greek yogurt for dessert, having that source of protein right after your workout likely isn’t as crucial since your protein needs were met shortly before your workout. Ultimately, the total dose of protein in the day seems to be much more important than ensuring that eating protein is well timed.

Current recommendations of 1.6-2.2g/kg per day are still the best guide when trying to determine your own protein needs as an active individual. Keep in mind that it is still important to eat within a two-hour period around activity, but don’t get too stressed if this isn’t timed exactly 30 minutes after your workout. 



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Barbara Ingliss, RD

Registered Dietitian

Barbara (BSc, RD) is an Edmonton-based registered dietitian and blogger for Nourish Move Thrive®. She enjoys helping her clients develop healthy relationships with food and themselves.

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