What are things one should not do immediately after a workout session at the gym?

Thsi question orignally appeared on Quora. Answer by Tim Ernst, Fitness Expert and Founder of TurnAroundFitness.com.

After a workout session in the gym, you should absolutely do nothing! no protein shake, no food, nothing. Here’s why…

How many times have you read or heard, “As soon as the weight hits the floor you’ve got a 30 minute anabolic window to chug down a protein shake?”

This has been taught through word of mouth, fitness magazines, and yes even bodybuilders. We have been told repeatedly that we need a protein shake (or some other form of protein) in order to keep our muscle gains after a workout. Supposedly the anabolic window is a period of time after your training when your body is primed to accept nutrients better and shuttle it towards muscle. The problem with this is that your body needs to go through the catabolic process in order to recover properly.

Two things happen within the body that everyone needs to consider:

  1. Cortisol
  2. Triglycerides
  3. GH

Today, I’m going to show you why you may be making a huge mistake when trying to optimize your muscle gains through the touted “anabolic window” of opportunity by consuming a shake within 30 minutes.

Fact 1: Cortisol, The Magical Hormone

Cortisol has been one of the most misunderstood hormones in the body. In general, cortisol is a catabolic hormone or more commonly called the "stress hormone” and is elevated when doing any type of popular strength, 8 minute body-weight circuitsor weight training.

These catabolic processes are critical to activating the maximum anabolic state.When given the chance to work properly, it can become what I consider to be a “magical hormone.” In the absence of insulin, cortisol helps mobilize body fat. It allows catecholamines to be more effective at mobilizing fat and intramuscular glycogen stores.

You want cortisol to be able to do its job post workout. Studies have shown that your results in the gym strongly correlate with how high your cortisol levels are during training more than any other training and more strongly correlated than testosterone and growth hormone.

There is substantial evidence that cortisol, being a catabolic trigger, is hormetic. Your body requires this slight damaging process so that when it recovers, there is a greater effect. You need the hormetic effect of training set in for at least an hour, and just let the body naturally recover and perform the necessary healthy processes to better prepare you for the next days training. Plus as an added benefit, this gives your body time to clear triglycerides from the blood that were released during training, allowing you to lose more body fat while still becoming bigger and stronger.

Fact 2: Total Protein Consumption Is More Critical For Optimal Athletic Performance

A recent study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition examined the anabolic window. Researchers reviewed 23 previous studies on protein intake and timing and what they found may surprise you.

When it came to protein timing after resistance training, there was no evidence that supported an increase in lean muscle mass. Across the board, ALL groups who ingested protein after training showed no significant increase in muscle mass when compared to the group who consumed protein throughout the day.

Here’s that study The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis.

Another study showed that drinks consumed right after the workout ((Tipton et al., 2001) versus those who waited an hour (Rasmussen et al., 2000), were very surprising. The group who consumed a protein shake right after the workout showed a decrease in protein synthesis by 30% when compared to those who waited after an hour.

This study also proves total protein consumption was more important than protein following the workout. I would like to point out that several studies concluded an individual only needs 1.66 grams of protein per kilogram of body-weight. This would mean that a 200 pound male only needs about 150 grams of protein to build lean muscle mass per day. This also debunks the myth of your typical “bro science” approach of consuming 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of body-weight.

Fact 3: Muscle Protein Synthesis Elevated Up To 24 Hours

As we’ve already discussed above, some experts say that you should consume protein 20-30 minutes post-exercise. You’ve already discovered the shocking truth that you got a bit longer. In fact, one 2012 review study by McMaster University showed that muscle protein synthesis may continue to be elevated for 24 to 48 hours post-workout. One can argue that protein synthesis is at its peak within the so called, “anabolic window,” but we’ve already debunked that myth and saw a decrease up to 30 percent when ingesting a protein shake.

Moreover, McMaster states this shocking truth below:

Muscle Protein Synthesis is elevated in humans by 50% at 4 hours following a bout of heavy resistance training, and by 109% at 24 hours following training. It is concluded that following a bout of heavy resistance training, muscle protein synthesis increases rapidly, is more than double at 24 hours, and thereafter declines rapidly so that at 36 hours it has almost returned to baseline”


See that study here: The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise.


GH Growth hormone is elevated for about 30 to 60 minutes after lifting weights. It’s also an anabolic hormone. Working through insulin-like growth factor(IGF-1), it stimulates protein synthesis and expands muscle fibers.

Eating carbohydrates right after the workout will interfere with growth hormone. It would be a complete waste to do all that hard work training in the gym and then eat afterwards interfering with GH. This is the best case scenario if you are looking to optimize body composition. Your next question might be, “well what do I do after my workout?” That’s a good question.

What you really want is an amino acid supplement that will work synergistically with the higher levels of growth hormone to stimulate protein synthesis and new muscle fiber formation. I would recommend an essential amino acid supplement like BCAA’s. So you may be thinking, “Is there any exception to eating or drinking a protein shake after a workout?” The answer is yes!

The Only Exception: Training While Fasted

If you train while in a fasted state and practice intermittent fasting (such as myself) then you’ll want to consume a shake or eat food following your workout because muscle protein breakdown rate is significantly heightened.

Training fasted basically means you prolong eating and typically don’t consume your first meal until after training. This method helps those who want to lose fat while building lean muscle mass and is also more commonly called “intermittent fasting.”

Conclusion: The Perfect Post Workout Formula

  1. You need to wait at least one hour before consuming any post-workout nutrition. Just drink water.
  2. Once you do consume your post-workout shake, you need a massive insulin spike to stop protein catabolism to increase protein synthesis and restore muscle glycogen over the next four hours. This is the time to get your carbs.

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