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Post Workout Nutrition - Milk and Cereal?

Posted Jul 10 2009 10:43pm

Every once in awhile (ok, well; often) a client will pass along a news story that’s so far off the mark that it makes me go Super Saiyan.  Here’s the latest one:

Cereal and Milk is the New Sports Supplement, Says Study.

Briefly, the new study looked at using a whole foods source - in this case, skim milk and Wheaties - to replenish muscle glycogen vs. a sport drink (probably Gatorade - the full study is available here ).  The end result?  Milk and cereal worked just as well to replenish muscle glcoygen and even better at promoting protein synthesis than the sports drink.  In other words, Wheaties builds more muscle and refuels your muscles just as well as Gatorade (!).  So we should all be having a bowl of Wheaties after our workouts, then; right?

Yeah, not so much.

Let’s break this down in a science-y way:

We know from years and years of research that ingestion of carbohydrates post-workout speeds refueling of muscles by supplying muscles with the very fuel they need - glycogen (sugar).  Both the Gatorade and the Wheaties contain carbohydrate; hence they both work well to replenish muscle glycogen stores.  No mystery there.

Now the issue of protein synthesis (read: building muscle): We know from Jeff Volek’s research that ingestion of carbohydrate alone actually retards protein synthesis - it results in a net negative nitrogen balance - while a combination of protein and carbs accelerates protein synthesis.  Cereal and milk contains some protein along with copious amounts of carbohydrate; hence it worked to build muscle better than the Gatorade.  Mystery solved.

I applaud Dr. Kammer’s efforts to promote eating real foods as opposed to food supplements.  Where the problem lies is in making the mental leap in saying that you should have cereal and milk as your post-workout nutrition.  Yeah, it contains (scant) protein - but what about all that carbohydrate?  Why not, say, eggs and fruit?  Or chicken and a sweet potato?  Or a post-workout shake a la John Berardi with 2 parts carbohydrate to each 1 part protein?  Why skim milk and Wheaties?

Oh, because the study was sponsored by General Mills.

Why does this ruffle my feathers so?

1. News outlets consistently misreport the latest food findings.  They either distort the findings to make them more newsworthy (creating an unnecessary confusing maze of nutrition for the layperson) or flat out get it wrong.

2. It’s dreadfully difficult to get most people to eat enough protein.  If they aren’t worried about the purported (false) health risks of consuming meat, they (incorrectly) think that eating a salad with one chicken breast  is “enough protein.”  By the way, please don’t be this person.

Here’s an alternative: Tell people to eat a mix of protein and carbohydrates after exercise (and how much).  They’re smart; they can figure things out on their own.

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