As low carb diets have become increasingly popular, I’ve been asked by clients whether high carb foods like cereal should be included in their diet.
As a nutrition coach that works with a lot of bodybuilders, I wanted to dive deeper into this topic to answer the following question…
Is cereal good or bad for bodybuilding? Cereal is good for bodybuilding because it is an easily digestible carb providing quick energy around a workout. Since cereal provides minimal protein and fat, it’s important to pair it with sources of each, such as milk or greek yogurt, for a balanced meal. As well, avoid cereal with a lot of sugar per serving.
There is a lot more to consider though, including the type of cereal you eat and when/how much you should eat based on your goals.
In this article, I will provide:
- The general health benefits and macronutrient breakdown for cereal
- 3 pros and cons of eating cereal for bodybuilding
- How much and when to consume cereal pre-and post-workout
- What is the best kind of cereal for bodybuilders?
Cereal for Bodybuilding: Overview
It’s important to first understand the nutritional information of cereal. Each brand and type of cereal will differ, for purposes of this article we will consider a generic relatively plain cereal such as Rice Krispies, Chex, or Cheerios
- Per 40g, or about 1 cup dry, cereal contains 170 calories, 2g of protein, 38g of carbs and 1g of fat.
Note: If you’re simply pouring the cereal from the box into a bowl, most people will far exceed the serving size outlined above.
This is why I recommend serious bodybuilders measure the cereal using a measuring cup to aid with their bulking and cutting goals. I don’t think this is necessary all of the time, but cereal is definitely one of those foods that people overeat.
3 Pros of Eating Cereal For Bodybuilding
Before we dig into whether cereal is good or bad for bodybuilding, let’s make sure we are keeping in mind what the primary goals bodybuilders are looking to accomplish.
Bodybuilders are looking to build muscle and lose fat to create the most optimal physique.
Let’s see how consuming cereal can help bodybuilders achieve these goals.
1. Cereal Is a Quick Carb Source Perfect for Pre–And Post-Workout
Cereal is primarily made up of fast-digesting carbs, making them the perfect pre-and post-workout.
A lot of sources of carbs also contain fat and protein, making it tricky to create a meal option for around a workout where the ratio of carbs to other macronutrients is quite high.
By choosing cereal as your carb source, you can choose the exact amount of carbs that you want to include in your meal without worrying about overconsuming protein or fat.
By including cereal in your diet pre-and post-workout, you can ensure you are always energized and able to perform your best at the gym, continuing to build muscle and increase strength.
2. Cereal Is Quick and Portable
Many sources of carbs, such as rice, potatoes, and oatmeal require time to cook and prepare. Additionally, they aren’t very portable as they require refrigeration. For anyone that is busy and on the go, this can be a major hurdle in your bodybuilding journey.
Cereal on the other hand can be easily portioned out into a container and eaten on the go, without any refrigeration or reheating.
This also makes it a perfect option to keep in your gym bag for any situations where you are in a pinch and need a pre-workout snack.
3. Cereal Is a Low Volume Carb Source
Carbohydrates are generally high in volume, this just means that the physical quantity of the food you are eating for the calories is quite large. Think of a spoonful of peanut butter vs a cup of rice, both are approximately 200 calories but the peanut butter is significantly smaller.
For bodybuilders, eating a high carbohydrate meal before a workout may be too much food and leave you feeling too physically full to have a good workout. In this case, cereal can provide the carbs needed to fuel a workout, with much less volume, allowing you to have a better workout.
This may also be beneficial when bulking. Many of my clients struggle to eat enough calories when bulking because they are feeling too physically full. In these cases, I recommend opting for low volume food, such as cereal.
For this same reason, I would not recommend it to my clients who are cutting as more food volume is optimal so you aren’t feeling hungry on a lower calorie diet.
By including cereal in your diet, you can get the carbs you need, without the physical volume that can impact the quality of your workout.
- Cereal is on our list of high calorie, low protein foods (click to read more food choices that fit this category)
4 Cons of Eating Cereal for Bodybuilding
While I’ll go through a few downsides to cereal, these can easily be mitigated by pairing cereal appropriately with foods that are high in healthy fats and protein.
1. Cereal Does Not Provide Enough Protein To Build Muscle
The most important factor when looking to build muscle is to consume sufficient protein so your body has what it needs for your muscles to repair and recover after a workout.
Research indicates that a protein intake of 2.4g per kg of body weight should be consumed to build muscle. For example, this means a 200lb individual (~90kg) would require approximately 206g of protein per day.
Most cereals contain less than 5g of protein per cup, making it not a significant source. To offset the low protein that is in cereal, I recommend ensuring you are consuming other protein sources throughout the day.
One of my favorite ways to get more protein with cereal is to add a scoop of protein powder. I find chocolate protein powder goes well with just about every type of cereal, as long as you’re mixing it with milk.
- I wrote an article on how you can get more protein from eating cereal. Check out Can You Mix Whey Protein With Cereal?
2. Cereal Is a Fast-Digesting Carb Source
Cereal is quick for your body to digest, which means it provides energy within 30-60 minutes of consumption. While this is great in the short term, it can lead to an energy crash and hunger within 2-3 hours after eating.
This is why I recommend eating cereal either pre or post workout for bodybuilding, but not at other times throughout the day.
This spike and crash of energy can make weight loss challenging as your body will look for another quick energy source once it begins to crash to get your energy levels back up. These quick energy sources it begins to crave are usually sweet treat that can be quite high in calories.
Luckily, we can reduce the effect by eating cereal along with foods that have fat and protein. The best source of both fat and protein to pair with your cereal is full-fat dairy such as milk or greek yogurt.
- Want to more about greek yogurt? Check out my article Is Greek Yogurt Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
3. Cereal Does Not Have Enough Fat for Healthy Hormones
Cereal is made up of mostly carbs and provides minimal fat, which is critical for your body’s hormone functions. While this may seem like a very minor point, hormones health is critical for processes like appetite regulation and weight loss.
For a bodybuilder that is looking to lose weight, you can imagine that it would be a struggle without good hormone function. Not to fear, it’s quite easy to mitigate this by ensuring you consume foods that are high in fat and low in carbs at other meals throughout the day.
Some good examples include nuts and seeds, full-fat dairy products, avocados, and olive or coconut oil.
On the topic of whether nuts are good for bodybuilding, check out my other article: Are Nuts Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
4. Cereal’s Nutrition Can Vary Significantly Based on Brand
Walk down the cereal aisle in any grocery store and you will quickly notice the vast variety of options available. This also means that the nutrition information on each cereal varies as well so you have to be careful about which one you choose.
If you aren’t reading the label and choose a higher calorie option, this can pose a big downside for bodybuilders as these calories can add up very quickly.
As you can imagine, if you are consistently choosing a high-calorie cereal option, this could be problematic for weight loss goals. These extra calories are also usually from fat which is not optimal pre or post-workout.
To avoid this, I recommend always reading the label and opting for a cereal that has less than 3g of fat per serving. It’s also important to pay attention to the serving size and ensure you are consuming the correct amount.
Want to know which cereal is best for bodybuilders? Check out my recommendations later in this article.
- Check out our guide How To Gain Weight Without Eating Sugar (Sample Meal Plan)
Can You Eat Cereal Before Workouts?
Yes, you can consume cereal before a workout as it is a quick energy source to fuel your muscles. Cereal is best to consume 30-60 minutes before the start of your workout. Ensure you pick a cereal that has less than 3g of fat and fiber per serving and is lower in sugar.
Is Cereal Good or Bad to Eat Before Workouts?
Before a workout, it’s best to stick with a meal high in carbs since this is what is easiest for your body to quickly break down and use for energy during your workout. It’s also important to keep the fat and fibre low as they both slow down the digestion process, delaying the energy available.
Cereal is a fast-digesting carb source that is low in fat and fibre, making it an ideal food to consume pre-workout.
You may be wondering when the best time before your workout is to consume cereal. We asked Registered Dietician, Breda Paralta, her thoughts on this.
“Cereal is an easily digestible carb that helps you supply energy during the workout. You can include it even 30-60 minutes before the activity.”
How Much Cereal Should You Eat Before Workouts?
The amount of cereal that you are eating before a workout should be based on the number of carbohydrates you are aiming to consume in that meal.
Since cereal is primarily a carb source, there is no real limiting factor to the quantity you can eat, outside of the number of calories you need.
The general rule of thumb for a pre-workout meal is to eat approximately 1g of carbs per kg of body weight.
This recommendation is based on the number of carbs your body needs for optimal performance. It may need to be adjusted depending on if you are bulking or cutting. When bulking, I recommend increasing this amount to 25% – 30% of your daily carbohydrate intake.
When cutting, I would aim for as close to 1g of carbs per kg of body weight as possible as you are likely to start sacrificing performance if you consume much lower.
At a minimum, ensure this meal contains 35% – 40% of your daily carb intake. Utilizing this recommendation, you are likely to eat the majority of your daily carbohydrate intake around your workout.
For example, a 175lb/80kg athlete should consume around 80g of carbs pre-workout which is approximately 2 cups, or 80g, of cereal. Always make sure you are keeping in mind the other food you are consuming pre-workout, if it also contains carbohydrates ensure you adjust the amount of cereal accordingly.
- Check out other carb sources for bodybuilding: Are Yams Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
Can You Eat Cereal After Workouts?
Yes, you can consume cereal post-workout. Since it is high in carbs and low in fat, they are an optimal choice that can be customized to meet your personal carb needs. Ensure you are pairing a protein source, like milk or greek yogurts, and a source of nutrients, like strawberries, for a balanced meal.
- Related Article: Does Eating Junk Food After A Workout Ruin It? (No, Here’s Why)
Is Cereal Good or Bad to Eat After Workouts?
Similar to before a workout, it is also important to consume a high carb meal after your workout. This will help replenish your body’s stored energy that has been depleted throughout your workout.
When asked Peralta about consuming cereal after a workout. She noted;
“After a workout, it is also an excellent food to have. Add some protein such as milk or Greek yogurt and add nutrients like strawberries to make a complete and balanced meal”.
Research shows consuming protein within the first two hours post-workout has a significant positive impact on muscle protein synthesis, otherwise known as the process of repairing and rebuilding muscle. This process of repair and recovery is what will lead to strength and muscle growth, a key goal of bodybuilding.
Adding in nutrient-rich foods, like fruit, will ensure you are consuming the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best and adequately recover post-workout.
Therefore, cereal is beneficial to eat post-workout but ensure you are pairing it with a source of protein and nutrients for optimal recovery.
How Much Cereal Should You Eat After a Workout?
To determine the amount of cereal to consume, it’s best to consider the optimal amount of carbohydrates you want to consume post-workout.
The Canadian Sport Institute recommends athletes should be consuming 1-1.2g of carbs per kg of bodyweight post-workout for optimal recovery. For a 175lbs/80kg athlete, this would translate to between 80-96g of carbs or 2 – 2 ¼ cups of cereal.
To optimize your recovery, I always recommend consuming your high-carb meal within 2 hours of completing your workout.
Which Type of Cereal is Better for Bodybuilding?
The number of different brands and types of cereal is endless, most grocery stores have an entire aisle dedicated just to cereal.
To ensure my recommendations work for everyone, regardless of which cereals you enjoy and are available to you, I will provide my top 3 tips of what to look for when choosing a cereal.
Some common brands that would fit these criteria and I often recommend to clients include Rice Krispies, Cheerios, and Chex.
1. Choose a Cereal With 3g of Fat or Less per Serving
Cereal is a great option for bodybuilders around a workout as long as it isn’t high in fat as this will negatively impact the energy you have available. Opting for a lower fat cereal option will also help to keep the calories in check and reduce the likelihood of you accidentally going over your daily calories.
If there is a high-fat cereal you enjoy, ensure you are only consuming it during meals that aren’t directly before or after your workout.
2. Choose a Cereal With 3g of Fibre or Less per Serving
Similar to fat, fibre will negatively impact the energy that you have available for your workout.
Since cereal is best for bodybuilders around a workout, it’s important to pick a low fibre option.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many benefits to eating fiber. It’s simply that you want to avoid high fiber pre-workout.
3. Choose a Cereal With 35% or Less of the Carbs Coming From Sugar
While having some sugar in cereal is beneficial for bodybuilders to provide a quick source of carbs, consuming a cereal high in sugar will create an energy spike and crash that is too quick.
Instead of having energy throughout your workout, you are likely to find yourself crashing halfway through your workout.
Opting for a moderate sugar option will give you the best combination of quick energy for the start of your workout as well as sustained energy for the duration.
For example, a box of honey nut cheerios has 32g of carbs per servings, of which 9g come from sugar. When we divide 9 by 32, we get 28% of the total carbs coming from sugar. This is under the 35% of total carbs coming from sugar that we want in our cereal. Therefore, honey nut cheerios would be a good option!
- Check out my other article Is honey Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
Overall, the benefits of cereal outweigh the cons and therefore I recommend bodybuilders include cereal in their diets.
Opt for a cereal that is low in fat and fibre and moderate in sugar, good examples of this include Rice Krispies, Chex, and Cheerios.
Ensure you are always including a protein source with your cereal as well as a fat source when not around a workout. Good options include milk or greek yogurt.
About The Author
Laura Semotiuk is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She works with athletes and active individuals looking to improve performance and develop healthy nutritional habits and behaviors. She has a passion for cooking, meal prepping, and creating simple and healthy recipes.