The Protein Window: When’s the Best Time to Eat Protein Bars?

When is the best time to eat a protein bar?

Well – that depends on several factors: from who you ask to what your goals are.

If your goal is to use protein bars as a healthier alternative to common snacks, you can eat them whenever you want. However, if you’re aiming to build muscle and maximise your ‘gains’, it’s worth being aware of a time window that bodybuilders call the ‘protein window’.

However, before you start timing all of your protein intakes for that specific, narrow time in your day, remember that the protein window is not actually a proven fact and is, at best, a sensible theory that leverages essential bodily functions.

What is the protein window?

When you do strength training activities, your body’s muscle fibres are damaged and then slowly repaired. The fusion of damaged fibres strengthens and increases their mass and size – which results in muscle growth. Most studies agree that consuming 1.6-2g of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight daily will aid in this process.

That process is known as ‘anabolic’ – a term to describe your body’s molecules being formed into bigger, more complex molecules. It’s the opposite of catabolic, where molecules become smaller.

Theories suggest that this anabolic process occurs most readily in the 30 minutes following a workout. The same theories also suggest that during the anabolic window, the body’s ability to synthesise protein is at its best – but the breakdown of protein is also at its max.

The theories around protein bar timing stem from the idea that maximising protein intake in the first 30 minutes post-workout will A) decrease muscle protein breakdown and B) increase muscle protein synthesis.

However, the science is out on this theory. Many studies, including this meta-analysis, have shown that while there is an increase in protein synthesis following a workout, it’s not necessary to eat protein in that window to prevent muscle breakdown. The research states that: “these results would seem to refute the commonly held belief that the timing of protein intake in the immediate pre and post-workout period is critical to muscular adaptations”.

The only proven occasion that this is true is if you’ve worked out in a fasted state – where studies have shown that fasting significantly increases post-workout muscle breakdown.

When to eat protein bars

The science discussed above essentially supports the idea that while protein intake is important for muscle growth – timing is far less relevant.

With that in mind, timing your protein bar intake is relatively simple. Pre-workout protein bars are a good idea for those who know they will be hitting the gym in a few hours but want a snack that won’t be overly indulgent. Protein increases feelings of satiety, so it can help stave off hunger cravings until you’ve done your workout and can eat a full meal to refuel.

Pre-workout protein bars are also beneficial thanks to their carbohydrate content – especially those that use good sources of carbohydrates, such as our bars made using oats. These carbohydrates will help fuel your workout while your body will use the protein to synthesise protein and rebuild muscle fibre.

Post-workout protein bars are also a good idea – they’ll help itch that ‘snack’ craving or stave off hunger and get calories back into your body post-workout when you aren’t enjoying a meal for a few more hours.

When is the best time to eat a protein bar?

Honestly, this answer seems to entirely depend on you and your own body. There is no real ‘best’ time – protein bars are perfect as both pre-workout and post-workout snacks, although those looking to optimise nutrition fully will want to choose the more carbohydrate-heavy protein bars for pre-workout and options with fewer carbs for post-workout.

The ‘best’ time depends on you: some people can’t manage a full breakfast in the morning – in which case protein bars are a great replacement to ensure you still reach your protein intake goals. If you’re time-precious,  protein bars make for good and accessible replacements.

While studies are not conclusive, pre-workout protein bars will likely assist with energy in the gym. In contrast, post-workout protein bars help increase protein availability to boost protein synthesis.

Enjoy a protein-packed flavour sensation when you try any of Oatein’s protein bars – from our popular Millionaire’s Crunch to the gym user’s favourite snack available with vegan flavour choices, the Oatein Hype.

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