About Those Real World Numbers…

by Ray Gowlett

Real World Numbers?

“Hey Coach, I’ve read in quite a few places that in order to maximize muscle gains, I should be eating protein within a half hour of working out.  Is that true?”

I get that question a lot.  I’ve read enough answers from coaches and blogs to know that people really like talking about this topic.  Before I even try to answer that question, I’ll ask the person if they’re aware of the following concepts.

First, are you reading primary research?  If not, you’re more than likely not going to get a very trustworthy answer.  The best writers will provide links to any of the research they are talking about.   Read the primary work and make up your own mind.  Specifically, systematic reviews if you can find them.

Second, are you aware that some results can be real, statistically significant, but not worth your time and money?  We’re talking about the difference between statistically significant results and real world relevance.  Here’s another way of thinking about it.  Can you express the results of the study you’re reading in real world numbers?  Do you know exactly how much of a change you’ll be spending your time and money on.

Third, are you willing to change your mind if presented with better evidence?

For example, to hear that we have a statistically significant effect size of 0.19 that favours protein timing can sound pretty exciting.  Is it?  So how much extra muscle could that add?  In real world numbers?

According to the following review, not much extra muscle at all, depending on your values.   About 20% of the movement of one standard deviation…or about an extra 0.4 lbs  after 5 months of work.  Maybe.  …and the difference may go away completely if we factor for total amount of protein consumed.  Is it worth the extra time and money?  Maybe, but at least now you know what your time and money is buying you.

Getting comfortable with the strengths and limitations of evidence can be frustrating at times, don’t let that stop you.  You’d never tell someone to not try CrossFit because it looks scary.  You’ll get there.   Here’s a way you can start to organize the results of what you’re reading into real world numbers.


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