One of our Lakers players saw me reading this article about the new study showing that fast food is equally effective at helping the body recover after exercise as protein powders and supplements. He asked me about it and became giddy when I explained that the author of the article actually suggested "these findings indicate there's no real difference between eating an order of fries versus a bucket of supplements." He was already planning which burger joint he would visit after our weight room work/practice. 

Blindly reaching for the latest, greatest pill or powder is a mistake that many exercise enthusiasts make. Each time you do that, you are missing an opportunity to provide your body with nutrient intense real food. Instead, you refuel with something that came out of a lab - a supposed magic bullet based on the best current understanding of complex nutrients. I am pleased to see that the author of this article and other articles that reviewed this study are giving the cue to be more selective in supplement usage but then miss the greater point. These articles leave the impression that because supplements may not live up to the hype and may appear to offer similar nutritional value as an extra-value meal (according to this small, somewhat flawed study), you may as well just go to that burger joint after your tough training sessions.

After I convinced the player to postpone his trip to refuel on a burger and fries, I was able to give him the message that the author should have: 

  • Maybe...Maybe not. Maybe fast food and supplements are about equal in their ability to refuel glycogen stores...maybe not. It is impossible to make that conclusion from this one limited study.
  • All supplements are not created equal. Powders, bars and pills shouldn't be the go-to for refueling from exercise but there are times when a high quality supplement is necessary to address specific deficiencies or assist in reaching certain performance/body composition goals.
  • Real, fresh, local food should be your first choice. In addition to providing your body with the tools to refuel in the most desired easy to use package, real food brings with it the building blocks for making the structures of our body more robust and healthy. Nobody can claim that Quarter Pounders or low quality powders offer either of those things. 

The player was bummed to admit that he couldn't argue with these points and that he was going to skip the drive-through. He went in search of a real meal instead of fast food. 


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Tim DiFrancesco, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and Founder of TD Athletes Edge, where he provides fitness, recovery and nutrition guidance to aspiring and professional athletes. For training advice, visit www.tdathletesedge.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram through @tdathletesedge.

References:

Hunt, K. (2015, April 2). Fast Food or Vitamins After a Work Out? It's a Toss Up, Study Says. Retrieved April 4, 2015.

Pomeroy, R. (2015, April 1). Need to Recover from a Workout? Fast Food Is Just as Effective as Supplements. Retrieved April 4, 2015.

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