After exercise, fast food helps you recover just as well as sports supplements

Probably best avoided, in any case.
Probably best avoided, in any case.
Image: AP/Rex Larsen
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Skip the protein bars and sports drinks after your run—you might as well go ahead and grab a burger.

A study published March 26 in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise found that fast food is just as good at stimulating recovery from the depleted nutrients after a workout as foods marketed as post-exercise meals.

In the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montana, 11 male recreational athletes did a challenging 90-minute workout on a stationary bike, followed by a four-hour rest period in which they ate either fast food—including hotcakes, hash browns, hamburgers, fries, and Coke—or sports supplements such as Gatorade and Power Bars. (The after-workout meals had approximately the same nutritional content—about 70% carbohydrates, 10% protein and 10% fat.) Then, they completed a time trial of 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) on the bike. Each test subject completed the process twice, separated by a week.

The researchers found that it didn’t matter whether the athletes ate fast food or supplements: There were no noticeable differences in blood sugar levels, glycogen recovery rates (a proxy for how quickly one recovers from excise fatigue), or the resulting trial times.

The point is not to promote McDonald’s burgers as health food, Brent Ruby, one of the paper’s authors, wrote to Quartz in an email. But sports nutrition products aren’t necessarily healthy either, Ruby said. When it comes to refueling after a workout, the best policy may be not to put too much stock in the claims made by sports snack and drink companies.

“Most of this is dictated by marketing that tells you what you must have as an athlete,” he said.

He also emphasized that the study was done with subjects who regularly work out and needed a nutritional boost to refuel after exercise.

“These results do not apply to unfit or overweight people—that is a very important point,” Ruby explained. “Yes—they should worry about eating fast food because the consumption of large amounts of fast food would be counter to assisting them to lose weight and become healthier.”