Fast Food for Post Workout Recovery! Really?

When two people (thanks, Troy and James) send you links to two different articles claiming that fast food is just as good as supplements for post workout recovery you’ve got to sit up and take a look.

Big Mac

In “Post-exercise Glycogen Recovery and Exercise Performance is Not Significantly Different Between Fast Food and Sport Supplements” by Cramer et al, the researchers found that, as the title suggests, post-exercise glycogen recovery and exercise performance is similar if you have sports supplements or fast food as your post exercise meal. In this study, participants started with a 90 minute glycogen depletion ride on a cycle ergometer. As soon as they’d finished they either had fast-food meal or various sports supplements with the same amount of absolute macronutrients as the fast food. Only big difference was the amount of sodium (nearly double in fast food) and then repeated this 2 hours later. Another 2 hours after this they performed a 20k time trial. Performance, blood glucose and insulin response was similar for both groups. So this study really only looked at glycogen replenishment and performance within a 4 hour window for endurance exercise. Here are 5 reasons why we shouldn't be to quick to start wolfing down Big Mac Meals.

  1. Only looked at short term performance. Maybe a chronic diet of fast food after training might be detrimental to long term performance. Anyone seen ‘Supersize Me!’
  2. Glycogen replenishment is not a big issue after weight training or any type of anaerobic training.
  3. The macronutrient balance of a fast food meal might not be ideal. By giving the supplement meal  the same macronutrient balance as the fast food meal the researchers may have lost some benefit of taking a post workout supplement with a different macronutrient profile.
  4. The fast food used may not be representative of a typical (what ever that is) fast food meal. A big Mac has 23g of fat, 42g of carbohydrate and 26g of protein whereas the hamburger used in this study only had 9g of fat, 31g of carbohydrate and 12g of protein.
  5. Supplemental nutrition before and during training impacts on other important issues like protein synthesis and catabolism not measured in this study.
Otherwise, a well controlled study and I don’t think the relatively small sample size is an issue. None of this, of course, stopped the good people at from picking up this ball and running with it. ‘The recovery market has a fake food problem’ they proclaim. Real food is almost always the best. Now that might even be true but just doesn’t follow from the study by Cramer et al.  which looked at fast food. Likewise, insist that fast food is just as effective as supplements for recovery from a workout. Catchy headlines but misleading none the less. Is a fast food meal good for you post workout? Probably not if you make a habit of it. And it’s much better to have a healthy whole food meal in that post workout window. However, there are big advantages to be had from intelligent approach to pre and during workout nutrition as I’ve outline here, here and here.