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Can Fast Food Help You Recover From a Workout?

Apr 02, 2015 03:39 PM EDT
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Fast food may be able to help you recover from a workout just as well as dietary supplements, according to a new study.

After a long, grueling workout, avid athletes and everyday exercisers may regularly reach for post-exercise supplements such as energy bars, protein powers or recovery drinks. However, eating greasy burgers or chips, believe it or not, may be just as beneficial.

In a study recently published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, University of Montana graduate student Michael Joseph Cramer and his colleagues tested the inane theory on 11 elite male athletes. The athletes were asked to fast for 12 hours, and then undergo a rigorous 90-minute treadmill workout. Afterwards, half of the participants were given a diet of some of the most popular supplements, including Gatorade, PowerBar, and Cytomax "energy" powder.

Meanwhile, the other half of the athletes were given a diet that most of us would avidly avoid, such as hotcakes, hashbrowns, hamburgers, fries and Coke. Two hours after they finished eating, the subjects rode 12 miles (20 km) on stationary bikes as fast as they could. A week later, the athletes repeated the experiment on the opposite diet.

It should be noted that each meal the athletes ate actually contained about the same amount of calories, carbohydrates and protein - although the fast food diet had more sodium and slightly more fat.

At various intervals, the researchers assessed muscle tissue and did blood tests to check glycogen levels. (Scroll to read on...)

(Photo : Flickr/USDA)

Cramer was surprised to find that despite the vastly different diets, the athletes completed the exercises just as easily and quickly after scarfing down sloppy cheeseburgers as they did after ingesting expensive dietary supplements. In fact, the subjects showed higher levels of muscle glycogen - a key energy source - after eating fast food than they did after eating the more nutritious diet.

Moreover, the researcher found no difference in insulin, glucose, cholesterol, or triglyceride levels, while neither group reported any serious stomach discomfort.

"These data are novel in demonstrating effective glycogen recovery benefits from fast food menu items comparable to products most often advertised to enhance recovery," Cramer wrote. "In addition, these data suggest that a wide range of appropriate nutritional strategies can be implemented to initiate exercise recovery and prepare for subsequent bouts of performance."

Although, Cramer is quick to point out that the findings don't mean for all athletes and workout gurus to ditch a healthy diet completely and feast solely on greasy fast food. The experiment included a fairly small sample size, and the long-term effects on workout recovery of eating fast food over other, healthier food sources of food remain to be seen. Also, the results may not apply to less-trained individuals.

"Food sources that are marketed differently have similar potential for providing basic recovery needs of the muscle and may offer a convenient and economical approach to glycogen recovery under some circumstances," Cramer concluded.

So if you're debating whether to opt for a simple PowerBar or a mouthwatering cheeseburger and fries, don't be afraid to indulge every once in a while. It won't ruin your workout, and good news is, it just might even be beneficial.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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