Recovery from exercise

Switch your sports drink for cereal & milk

You have just returned home from a long bike ride or run, do you reach for the big brand sports drink or sit down to a nutritious bowl of wholegrain cereal and milk? The results from a recent study in the US could change your mind and improve your bank balance. The researchers found the readily available and cost effective recovery option of cereal and low fat milk was comparable to sports drinks in refuelling muscles with glycogen, and may be better at helping tired muscles build protein.

Originally designed to offset dehydration in elite athletes, sports drinks are marketed strongly and have high product awareness amongst the general public and elite athletes. They contain sodium, potassium and chloride plus around 6% carbohydrates and are formulated to aid rapid recovery by providing energy for active muscles and electrolytes for re-hydration. Available in an endless range of flavours to suit individual preferences, sports drinks may help to encourage drinking and re-hydration through their preferred taste compared to water.

Lynne Kammer and her team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin set out to research the effect of using ordinary foods after moderate exercise (as performed by an average fit individual) to support recovery processes. Endurance exercising causes short term changes to occur in the body, particularly in the muscle. Energy stores are depleted and muscle proteins are broken down to make way for new, stronger muscle proteins. Optimal recovery of muscle energy stores and muscle repair requires eating the right foods at the right times.

The researchers fed 12 healthy trained subjects with either 1200mL of sports drink or 73g (about 1 1/3 cups) of wholegrain cereal and 350mL of skim milk after 2 hours of moderate cycling (60-65% VO2Max). They found no significant differences between sports drink and cereal and milk, except for one marker of protein synthesis. The results of this study suggest that wholegrain cereal and milk is as good, and in some aspects may be better than, commercially available sports drink at kick starting muscle recovery after exercise, especially when refuelling at home, where cereal and milk is often freely available.

The important take home message from this study is not only that ordinary whole food sources such as cereal and milk may offer a more cost effective recovery strategy than commercial sports nutrition products, but also that the combination of protein and carbohydrate from whole foods provide an easily digestible, high quality source of protein and carbohydrates with naturally occurring nutrients, as compared to extra calories provided from a somewhat expensive sports drink. Other protein-carbohydrate recovery foods might include low-fat yoghurt and fruit, low-fat flavoured milk/smoothie or a sandwich with meat/cheese.

Kammer et al, Cereal and nonfat milk support muscle recovery following exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2009, 6:11

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