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A soon-to-be published study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise has raised a few eyebrows with its findings suggesting fast food is just as effective as sports supplements for replenishment of glycogen stores following endurance exercise1. As the body’s major fuel source for any type of endurance exercise that’s above moderate intensity, scientific research has some very well established guidelines when it comes to replenishing glycogen following exercise. These guidelines involve specific timing and amount of carbohydrate, with the general consensus that individuals need to ingest 1.2g/kg/hr of carbohydrate in the 4 hours following exercise if ones seeks to maximise glycogen resynthesis.

But one area, where there hasn’t been a great deal of research is the effect of the type or quality of carbohydrate on glycogen synthesis. That is to say, does it matter as to where the carbohydrate comes from, i.e. french fries or a fancy supplement?

To this end, researchers from the University of Montana took eleven recreationally active males and subjected them to two different glycogen repletion protocols in a randomised cross-over design, following an initial 90-minute cycling interval-based glycogen-depleting protocol.

One glycogen repletion protocol involved the use of fast food, while the other utilised various sports supplements during a 4-hour recovery period after a glycogen depletion ride. The respective food sources are outlined below. As you can see, each protocol was designed to have the same macronutrient composition and total calories. On average, this amounted to 1.54, 0.24, and 0.18g per kg bodyweight for carbohydrate, fat, and protein, respectively.

Fast Food Feeding

Fast Food

0 Hr

Energy (kJ)

Fat (g)

Cho (g)

Pro (g)

Qty

Sodium

Hotcakes

1464

9

60

8

1

590

Hashbrown

628

9

15

1

1

310

Orange Juice

328

0

34

2

1

0

Total

2720

18

109

11

 

900

2 Hr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamburger

1046

9

31

12

1

480

Coke

837

0

54

0

1

45

Fries

962

11

29

3

1

160

Total

2845

20

114

15

 

685

4 Hour Total

5565

38

223

26

1585

 

Sport Supplement Feeding

Sport Supplement

0 Hr

Energy (kJ)

Fat (g)

Cho (g)

Pro (g)

Qty

Sodium

Gatorade (20 oz)

544

0

34

6

1

270

Cliff Kit’s Organic Peanut Butter Bar

837

11

25

6

2

95

Cliff Shot Bloks (1 blok)

139

0

8

0

4

17

Total

2775

22

116

12

 

527

2 Hr

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cytomax (1 scoop, 10 oz)

377

0

22

0

2

120

Power Bar Recovery (Peanut Butter Caramel Crisp)

1088

10

30

12

1

180

Power Bar Energy Chews

837

0

46

3

1

30

Total

2678

10

120

15

 

450

4 Hour Total

5565

38

223

26

1585

 

Following each 4-hour re-feeding protocol, subjects undertook a 20km time trial to evaluate exercise performance. Muscle biopsies were taken at the end of the 90-minute cycling workout (to confirm glycogen depletion) and following 4 hours of recovery (to assess glycogen repletion). Interestingly, no significant differences were found when glycogen levels following re-feeding with fast food were compared with glycogen levels following re-feeding with sports supplements. What’s more, there were no significant differences in time trial performance or in blood markers of insulin and glucose. Lastly values for total cholesterol, high-density, low-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides at 0 hours and 4 hours post-exercise were the same.

Naturally, this type of study has rustled a few feathers of some of the big endurance sports supplement companies such as PowerBar, but even though the study was relatively well designed, there are a few vital points to consider.

The major one being the lack of use of a quality protein supplement. The PowerBar Recovery Bar used in the sports supplement re-feeding protocol was the only item to provide any sought of quality protein. The bar included a ‘TriSource Protein Blend’ (that provided a blend of whey protein, calcium caseinate and soy isolate) which judging by the nutritional panel and ingredient list probably provided around 10g of protein. 25-30g of whey protein is generally considered to be the preferred amount to maximize both glycogen resynthesis and muscle protein synthesis following exercise. It would have been very interesting to see what effect (if any) this amount of protein would have had if included as part of the sports supplement mix.

More specifically, there is a body of research suggesting that whey protein hydrolysate can help improve glycogen replenishment above carbohydrate alone2-6. For example, studies have shown that certain branched-chain amino acid containing dipeptides can promote increase uptake of glucose in muscle2. While much of this research has been conducted in rat models, there is one human study5 as well as sound mechanistic and theoretical grounds to expect that use of whey hydrolysates post-exercise can provide superior glycogen replenishment over carbohydrate alone or even normal whey protein.

The other obvious concern with resorting to fast food as one’s preferred post-workout snack is the long-term health implications. It is widely accepted that regular consumption of fast food can pose as a significant risk factor for development of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

 

1.Cramer MJ et al. Post-exercise glycogen recovery and exercise performance is not significantly different between fast food and sport supplements. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2015 Mar 26. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Morifuji M, et al. Branched-chain amino acid-containing dipeptides, identified from whey protein hydrolysates, stimulate glucose uptake rate in L6 myotubes and isolated skeletal muscles. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009;55(1):81-6.

3. Morifuji M, et al. Dietary whey protein increases liver and skeletal muscle glycogen levels in exercise-trained rats. Br J Nutr. 2005;93:439–445.

4. Morifuji M, et al. Post-exercise carbohydrate plus whey protein hydrolysates supplementation increases skeletal muscle glycogen level in rats. Amino Acids. 2010;38:1109–1115.

5. Ivy JL, Goforth HW Jr, Damon BM, McCauley TR, Parsons EC, Price TB. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate–protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. 2002;93:1337–44.

6. Morifuji M, et al. Comparison of different sources and degrees of hydrolysis of dietary protein: effect on plasma amino acids, dipeptides, and insulin responses in human subjects. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2010;58(15):8788–8797.

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