LeBron James has a strict diet that definitely involves zero McDonald's or fast food of any kind, but according to a new study, he'd be perfectly fine if he chose a Big Mac over a Muscle Milk after a workout. Muscle Milk and other nutritional supplement companies sell us on how much more beneficial their products are than normal food (or water), and we lap it up. Armed with Gatorade, PowerBar, and Cytomax "energy" powder, but also burgers, fries, hash browns, and hotcakes, University of Montana graduate student Michael Cramer decided to put the multi-billion dollar sports supplement industry to the test against fast food.

Here's how his study went down: Cramer took 11 "highly-trained" athletes, had them fast for 12 hours, and then worked them out for 90-minutes. To recover for another workout, he fed one group of athletes hotcakes, orange juice, and a hash brown, and another Gatorade, organic peanut butter, and Cliff Shot Bloks. Two hours later, the fast food group ate a hamburger, Coke, and fries, and the supplements group had a gut-busting meal of Cytomax powder and PowerBar products. (All meals were roughly equal in calories, with the fast food containing slightly more sodium and fat.) Another two hours after that meal, Cramer had all 11 athletes ride 20 kilometers on a stationary bike.

A week later, the subjects repeated the experiment, but the fast food group ate the supplements and vice versa. Throughout the experiment, the athletes had muscle biopsies and blood work done to help gauge results. Here's what Cramer found: 

  • The fast food group finished their workouts just as quickly as the supplement group. 
  • The fast food group had higher, but not statistically significant levels of muscle glycogen (the energy in your muscles needed to fuel performance).
  • The fast food group had no difference in insulin, glucose, cholesterol, or triglyceride levels. 

But what about sour stomach? There's no way a burger and coke stays down during a 20 kilometer bike ride, right? Wrong: Cramer says all athletes reported similar amounts of stomach discomfort.

Granted, this was a limited sample size, and everyone has different bodies (of course "highly trained" athletes were fine eating fast food), but know that GNC's not all that. Your body can't tell the difference between simple carbohydrate from a burger and a simple carbohydrate from a PowerBar. You can, but that's just product packaging, marketing, and taste. 

Anyone else up for a killer run and some McGNC​? I think I've got some 2 for 1 cheeseburger combo meal coupons in my desk. 

Send all complaints, compliments, and tips to sportstips@complex.com.

[via RealClearScience]