In this blog you’ll learn everything you need to know about the muscle full effect, why it’s important and I’ll prove the anabolic window is real.
Remember when you started out?
In those first few months in the gym your strength skyrocketed. If you could keep it up, you’d be squatting world records by the end of the year.
Yet that didn’t happen. You’re not gaining strength at the same rate as you did when you started out.
Neurological improvements will only take you so far.
Those neurological improvements are responsible for the big increase in strength at the beginning of your career. Your body didn’t know what it was doing, but it learned and it became better at squatting, benching and deadlifting.
If you want to keep lifting more and more weight you better pack on as much muscle as you can. Although you can get stronger without getting bigger, the opposite isn’t true.
Now that I mention it, you probably gained a lot of muscle in those first months as well. It was as if your body was a muscle magnet.
And yet you’re no Schwarzenegger yet. Gaining muscle is a lot harder than when you just started out.
Understanding the muscle full effect might help you.
What Is The Muscle Full Effect?
Before we can answer the question of what the muscle full effect is we need to take a look at what happened when you’ve put the dumbbells back in the rack and walk out of the gym.
And for that we’ll turn to Atherton et al. and the paper called Muscle protein synthesis in response to nutrition and exercise.
During your training you damaged your muscle fibers and you’ve put your body in a most anabolic state.
I know that’s sounds counterintuitive but after your training your body wants to record and will do anything to make those muscle grow, so it can withstand similar stress in the future.
That’s why you always need to up the weight and increase the volume.
Anyway, after training new muscle needs to be grown. This process is muscular hypertrophy and the main driving force behind that complex process is muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
So you train, and after you grow muscle. That’s all there is to it then?
Not quite I’m afraid.
It’s not as if you go to the gym once and you keep growing muscle for the rest of your life.
So this muscle building process is of finite duration.
Another driving factor behind MPS is the availability of amino acids in your bloodstream.
The purpose of that is to compensate for muscle protein that is lost during fasted states where your body will burn amino acids for energy.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, but you already knew that right?
So even if you didn’t go to the gym ever, you’d still need to eat protein to make sure your muscle mass remains more or less constant.
But again, the MPS that is triggered by a protein rich meal is of a finite duration.
Else you could grow muscle by just eating protein all the time… But we both know that isn’t true as well.
It’s what the image below indicates.
The black dotted line indicates available amino acid in the blood stream and the red line indicates MPS.
As you can see, after you’ve eating there’s a 30 minute lag and once the amino acids hit the blood stream, MPS is right there with it.
But after 90 minutes or so MPS drops, despite there still being more than enough amino acids in the blood stream.
This phenomenon is called the muscle full effect. But it gets more interesting
Training + Protein
Remember when I said you need protein after training to grow new muscle? Well if you don’t then you just damaged your muscles by training and are not giving them a chance to recover.
In time this would lead to more muscle protein breakdown (MPB) than MPS. And that’s the exact opposite we’re after. We want more MPS than MPB.
Let’s say that not training gives a ‘baseline’ of zero between MPB and MPS, assuming you eat protein, your muscle mass will roughly remain the same.
Once you train, you are actively starting MPB, because a lot of that energy will come from burning muscle protein.
So training will put us in the ‘negative’ so to speak. In a catabolic sate. That means that we first need to overcome a state of extreme MPB to grow additional muscle to cope with future trainings
It follows then that training delays the muscle full effect because we first need enough MPS to get back to ‘baseline’ before we can exceed it and grow additional muscle.
All this means that eating protein after training will increase both the magnitude and duration of MPS.
That’s what Atherton et al. show in the figure below.
On the left, the dotted black line shows that MPS rises more and also takes longer to drop back to baseline.
Atherton et al. also mention that it probably doesn’t matter if the feeding is given pre-, intra- or post-workout since this delay of the muscle full effect appears to last even 24 hours after training.
But I’m not so sure about that!
The Anabolic Window Is Real
There is in fact quite some literature that shows that the effect of MPS diminished with increased training age.
Tang et al. for instance show this in their paper called Resistance training alters the response of fed state mixed muscle protein synthesis in young men.
But also the Japanese researcher Mori in his paper Effect of timing of protein and carbohydrateintake after resistance exercise on nitrogen balance in trained and untrained young men.
And let’s not forget the paper Damas wrote with our great protein hero Stu Phillips: A review of resistance training-induced changes in skeletal muscle protein synthesis and their contribution to hypertrophy.
The last paper I mentioned concludes that MPS peaks earlier and is shorter of duration with increased training age.
So this indicates to me that the myth of the anabolic window is not a myth at all. The anabolic window is real, but it still isn’t necessary to start drink you protein shake ad fundum the second you put the weights down.
I didn’t mention it yet, but it almost goes without saying that MPS does only occur in muscles that are trained. And since the anabolic window shortens with training age, it’s only logical to increase your training frequency to maximize the effects of MPS after each training.
If you’re just starting out MPS is probably raised for 72 hours after training, it quickly becomes 48 hours, then 24 hours and probably even less than that if you’ve been training for a long time.
In the end training more often is the only way forward if you want more muscle and strength. The research to back it up is here. Don’t let the latest training program hype fool you otherwise.
A while ago I wrote about blog post called 3 Reasons High Frequency Training Is Objectively Better, and in that post I mentioned the muscle full effect.
Not quite in depth as in this blog post though, but I also do mention 2 other reasons why increasing training frequency is probably a good thing.
Feel free to check it out and I would love it to hear from you. Just hit me up on Facebook or shoot me an email.