If you go to Burger King and “have it your way” or leave KFC with that “finger-lickin’ good” taste in your mouth, you wouldn’t argue that fast food is ingrained in Western society—and is, unfortunately, a large component of many people’s diets. Though we Americans are great at inventing and exporting ideas, the exportation of our fast food has resulted in increased risks for type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease mortality in folks as far away as Singapore.1
In contrast to the unhealthful effects, how does fast food compare with a protein shake? Yes, that seems like blasphemy, but scientists evaluated that very question. Are you lovin’ it? Here is what they did.
Twenty-four healthy men, aged 19 to 35, performed resistance exercise for 12 weeks—one-hour training sessions, three times a week. 2 The participants were randomized to eat extra protein every day, 33 grams of whey protein for 132 calories, or a fast-food meal of 1,350 calories with 41 grams of protein. The researchers measured their body composition with Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry and assessed their resting metabolic rates. What happened?
The average bodyweight increased from 165.2 to 173.1 pounds, with no differences between the groups. Resting metabolic rate increased from 1,787 calories per day to 1954. The scientists stated that the increase in resting metabolic rate far exceeded what would be expected from the increase in lean body mass.
In this case, lean body mass went from 131.3 pounds to 140.0. That’s pretty impressive if I do say so myself. So eating a Happy Meal is as good as whey? Hold on, buddy. Now the downside: Fasting serum-insulin levels increased in the fast-food group compared with the extra-protein group. Apolipoprotein B, an indicator of heart disease risk, increased in the fast-food group only.
So the downside is that your internal health won’t be so good. Interestingly, a long-term follow-up after 12 months showed that resting metabolic rate, bodyweight, total fat and lean body masses did not differ from baseline. Thus, one can conclude that weight training for 12 weeks increased resting metabolic rate and lean body mass similarly whether due to an increased energy intake or a protein supplement; however, the increase in resting metabolic rate was higher than expected with the increase in lean body mass. Perhaps resistance training could potentially decrease the risk of obesity, according to the authors.
This study shouldn’t make you think that a fast-food meal is an equal alternative to a bucketful of whey protein, especially with the harmful health effects. What it does suggest is that if you give your body enough calories and protein, when coupled with proper training, you will get an anabolic effect. It would be interesting to see if a protein dose equal to the calories in the fast food would have a different effect.
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University in sunny South Florida.
1 Odegaard, A.O., et al. (2012). Western-style fast food intake and cardiometabolic risk in an Eastern country. Circulation. 126:182-8.
2 Hambre, D., et al. (2012). A randomized trial of protein supplementation compared with extra fast food on the effects of resistance training to increase metabolism. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation.