Fast-food lovers everywhere are celebrating! Researchers at the University of Montana released a small study that showed there was no difference in blood glucose, insulin response, and glycogen recovery between cyclists who ate a small portion of fast food after a workout versus those who consumed a sports-recovery product like Gatorade or energy bars.
But before you run out and place a super-sized order, let’s take a closer look at the results. In the study, 11 male cyclists (yes, only 11) completed two experimental trials followed by a four-hour recovery period. Immediately following each ride, and again two hours later, participants were either given sports supplements (like Gatorade and PowerBars) or fast food (like hamburgers, French fries, and hash browns).
Although results didn’t show remarkable differences between blood glucose levels, insulin responses, or rate of recovery, it’s important to recognize what those fast foods are made of: A hamburger is protein, while French fries and hash browns are made up of carbohydrates and fat. Perhaps the reason the athletes recovered just as well after eating these fast-food items as they did when eating foods designed to replenish nutrients after exercise is because they were consuming a snack that contained all three of these nutrients.
Meals and snacks that provide the most value, whether you’re running in a marathon or running for the train, are those that contain a balanced combo of protein, carbs, and fat. But I think we can all admit that opting for fast food is not the healthiest way to get this important trio. If you’re looking to consume foods that provide energy along with a healthier nutrient profile, your body will thank you for munching on these snacks post workout:
Almond butter on whole-grain bread. This snack is portable, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and it is so easy to make that even a child can throw it together in minutes. The protein and fat in almond butter will help keep you fuller longer, and the fiber and carbs in the whole grains will help re-energize you.
A bowl of cereal and milk. Go for a cereal that has whole grain mentioned as a first ingredient and less than 6 grams of sugar and 5 or more grams of fiber per serving. If you have a hankering for the types of cereals that have cartoon characters on the front of the box (and lots of sugar listed on the back), add just a small amount of this sugary mix to a bowl of a better-for-you variety. Use skim (non-fat) or 1 percent (low-fat) milk.
Milk or chocolate milk. If you don’t know by now, hydration is essential when you’re active, especially in warm climates. Milk contains a powerhouse of nine essential nutrients including calcium and potassium, which are depleted during exercise and will help you regain energy. It also contains carbs and protein, and in some cases, as in 1-percent milk, fat. Recent studies have shown that chocolate milk, with double the carb and protein count of regular milk, may be the ideal recovery beverage. Make a DIY version at home by adding a touch of chocolate syrup or cocoa to white milk, instead of spending extra money on the super-sweet varieties sold in stores.
If you go for an energy bar, make it one that is well balanced and contains recognizable ingredients. Some popular brands on the market are loaded with sugar that can zap energy instead of providing it.
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