Your Post-Workout Protein Shake Might as Well Be a Big Mac

A study claims that eating fast food after exercise causes the same physiological effects as many sports supplements.

(Photo: Matthias Clamer/Getty Images)

Apr 12, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

You can go ahead and dump that 10-pound container of Flex-O-Gainer 9000 whey protein powder in the trash and start stocking your gym bag with double cheeseburgers. According to a University of Montana study published in the March issue of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exericise Metabolism, they’re basically the same thing.

Researchers had 11 athletes cycle for 90 minutes; two hours later, they either consumed sports supplements or a calorically equivalent fast-food meal. After a four-hour rest period—what normal people might call a temporary food coma—the cyclists peddled a 20-kilometer time trial to test the difference in performance. A week later, the same group of athletes repeated the process but flip-flopped their post-workout meals. There was no difference in blood glucose levels, insulin response, or performance in the groups that ate fast food versus taking sports supplements.

Though the results seem counterintuitive, especially because athletes such as LeBron James say they’ve phased out fast food entirely, many supplements have almost identical nutrition stats to fast-food items. MET-Rx’s Super Cookie Crunch Big 100 Colossal Bar has 410 calories, 32 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, and 25 grams of carbs. A McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger boasts 430 calories, 24 grams of protein, 21 grams of fat, and 35 grams of carbs.

After exercise, your muscles are essentially starved of carbohydrates, you need insulin to shuttle those precious nutrients—along with amino acids—back into your 22-inch biceps. All it takes to spike insulin is a rush of glucose, the most basic form of energy found in all foods. The phenomenon the researchers observed is the same that had Arnold Schwarzenegger downing whole pies after workouts in his bodybuilding days.

The study stresses that the data only points to burgers and fries as a “short-term food option to initiate glycogen resynthesis,” not a dietary lifestyle. So if you haven’t been htting those high-rep deadlifts and and pause squats—you should probably eat a salad.