As easy-to-understand as cereal and milk
Many dietitians live by the mantra of, “food first.” We encourage and prefer that our patients or clients obtain their nutritional needs through food versus supplements because most often, real foods can supply nutritional needs and are safer, more affordable, more accessible and can often be more palatable. Nevertheless, athletes and adults who engage in physical activity and are hoping to optimize training seek out the latest and greatest supplement that will give them “an edge” over competitors. It is important to remind athletes and adults that a solid diet is no match for any sports supplement on the market. Combine a well-balanced diet with proper pre- and post-workout nutrition and both athletes and adults can meet nutrition needs through real foods and maximize training efforts. Though they can be convenient, supplements are not necessary, especially for “average” adults (as opposed to elite athletes) and kids who engage in 1 to 3 daily hours of physical activity.
Athletic training coupled with proper meal and nutrient timing, especially proximal to physical activity, can result in greater strength gains, enhanced performance, improved body composition, better workout recovery and even better mood, post workout1. Many questions still remain, however, as to the best fueling protocol. Studies are conflicting and there are many factors to consider, such as whether the individual is an untrained versus trained athlete, is engaging in strength versus endurance activity and whether it is an older versus younger athlete, all of which have unique needs and respond differently to training, fueling and refueling 1, 2. Additionally, there are mixed results pertaining to complex versus simple (or low glycemic index versus high glycemic index) carbohydrates and pre- versus post-workout timing and even the oft-cited “30-minute post-workout window,” for refueling3.
Despite the many considerations, there are two important nutrients we can agree upon—protein and carbohydrate. Consumption of protein and carbohydrate foods before and after a workout results in increased protein synthesis, maximum glycogen storage and even improved immunity3. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends 6 to 20 grams of high quality protein and 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrate before and after exercise for maximal benefits 1.
Based on these recommendations and in keeping things simple, affordable and accessible for the average adult, a great pre- and post-workout snack for kids (or adults) is cereal and milk (or yogurt). In fact, a study from The University of Texas at Austin found that consumption of cereal (the study tested corn flakes) and milk resulted in improved protein synthesis, compared to a carbohydrate-only sports drink when consumed post-workout 4.
Some of your favorite cereals may be a good source of carbohydrates to sustain energy. Look for "100% whole grains" on the ingredients list. If you are gluten-free (GF), oatmeal or corn based cereals (check the label to certify if they are gluten-free) are a great option too. Also, consider looking at the sugar content in the nutrition facts label, try to keep it under 10 grams per serving (which can be anywhere between 2/3 of a cup to 1 cup).
A great source of protein to pair cereal with is yogurt. There are a few different types of yogurt (some with a lot of sugar and some with little to none added). In the last several years, high protein Greek yogurt and Icelandic Skyr have thicker consistencies and 8+ g of protein in a serving (some have as much as 20 g per cup or the equivalent of a chicken breast). Double check the label to keep the amount of sugar down or get plain yogurt and add sweeteners as desired.
1. Kerksick, Chad et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 5 (2008): 17. PMC. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
2. Hulmi, Juha J, Christopher M Lockwood, and Jeffrey R Stout. “Effect of Protein/essential Amino Acids and Resistance Training on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy: A Case for Whey Protein.” Nutrition & Metabolism 7 (2010): 51. PMC. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
3. Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient Timing Revisited: Is There a Post-Exercise Anabolic Window?” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 10 (2013): 5. PMC. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
4. Kammer, Lynne et al. “Cereal and Nonfat Milk Support Muscle Recovery Following Exercise.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 6 (2009): 11. PMC. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
Kym Wroble is an in-store registered dietitian for Hy-Vee (a large, Midwestern grocery store chain). She completed her undergraduate coursework at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois and completed her internship with Iowa State University. She has also worked for Scoot County WIC, prior to Hy-Vee.
Kym played varsity volleyball at Dominican University and also at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. She continues to enjoy a very active lifestyle: playing indoor and outdoor hockey, running, weight lifting, taking exercise classes and training for the JDRF Race to A Cure Diabetes century ride every summer. She is extremely passionate about sports nutrition and hopes to one day be the registered dietitian for the Chicago Blackhawks.