This week, we examine a delicious recovery tool for the athlete’s toolbox: Cereal!

Following depleting exercise, there’s an opportunity to accelerate glycogen replenishment when high amounts of carbohydrate are provided.

Taking advantage of this first phase of glycogen replenishment increases in importance when an athletes next session is within close proximity – same day or <24 hours.

After intense exercise, appetite is usually very poor and the desire to eat a solid meal is typically very low. Therefore, carbohydrate drinks are recommended as it bypasses a lack of appetite and can initiate the replenishment process.

But what happens if you introduce foods that are semi-solid and highly palatable such as cereal? Do they work just as well?

To find out, Kammer et al (2009) recruited trained cyclists + triathletes and measured the recovery differences for both cereal (Wheaties) with low fat milk (391kcal, 77g carbs, 19.5g protein, 2.7g fat) and sports drink (317kcal, 78.5g carb) following a 2 hour cycle at 60% VO2max.

Pre, during and post cycle, the researchers did various blood tests and muscle biopsy’s to assess markers of recovery.

Unsurprisingly, glycogen replenishment didn’t differ between the carb drink and cereal as the total carbohydrate amount was the same. However, the main signalling protein for muscle protein synthesis (mTOR) was increased with cereal only.

Yet again, this is unsurprising due to the higher protein content in the cereal+ milk Vs zero protein in the sports drink. Therefore, suggesting that if you want to initiate muscle recovery and adaptation, whilst replenishing glycogen stores to the same extent as a sports drink, cereal is a very cheap and palatable option.

This study only measured recovery during the first 60 mins. This is perhaps a limitation as an athlete has heightened rates of glycogen replenishment for 3-4 hours following depleting exercise.

From a practical standpoint, it’s recommended to consume 1-1.2g/kg of carbohydrate every hour for this duration. Knowing this, a combination of liquid, semi-solid and solid foods would be needed to hit the carbohydrate quota to maximise replenishment.

Of which, cereal is certainly one of my recommended ‘feedings’ during this period to maximise recovery.

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