Cereal is a popular choice for breakfast, but it can be eaten throughout the day, as it is easy to prepare and relatively inexpensive. Because most cereal is not intended to be used in conjunction with sports and exercise, it may not necessarily be ideal for athletic activity. However, cereal does have some benefits for exercise, so certain types can be used without hurting your exercise routine.
Each type of cereal has its own nutritional values, but most cereals tend to be low in fat and protein and rich in carbohydrates. The carbohydrate content varies widely. With some cereals, such as Fiber One original, are rich in fiber but low in sugars. Other cereals have a significant portion of carbohydrates coming from sugar, such as Fruit Loops, which contains 15 g of sugar.
Carbohydrates are your body's main source of energy, so cereal can be beneficial for exercise. Research from the July 2010 issue of "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care" found that consuming a variety of carbohydrate types before exercise can improve performance. Cereal typically contains a variety of carbohydrates, such as complex carbohydrates from grains as well as sugars.
In addition, research from the May 2009 issue of the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" found that consuming cereal and skim milk after exercise was just as effective as consuming a sports drink at promoting muscle recovery.
Cereal may not be ideal for resistance exercise, as it is low in protein. Supplement and nutrition researcher Dr. John Berardi notes that consuming higher levels of protein along with athletic activity can trigger the release of insulin-like growth factor 1, which may encourage increased muscle gain when in a caloric surplus and increased muscle retention when dieting.
In addition, some cereals are high in sugar, which may be detrimental to performance. The rowing organization Yorktown Crew specifically discourages consumption of sweet cereal before athletic activity, as sugary foods may "cause stomach upset and may trigger reactive low blood-sugar levels."
Consuming cereal with milk or protein powder may be beneficial for post-exercise recovery, thanks to the combination of protein and carbohydrates. Although some sugary cereals may not be appropriate for pre-exercise meals, finding a low-sugar cereal that is made from whole grains may be beneficial, as it can provide sustained energy for your activities.