Commercial Sports Foods and Fluids

The sports fuel industry has rapidly grown, starting in the 1970s with the introduction of Gatorade, continuing into the 1980s with the debut of PowerBar, and expanding in the 1990s with gels such as Gu. Since then, a multitude of companies have jumped on the bandwagon to create niche fuels for every possible dietary need—gluten free, vegan, kosher, lactose free, fructose free, you name it—and every possible time to eat (before, during, and after exercise).

If you feel confused and overwhelmed by the wide selection of commercial sports fuels to choose from, you are not alone. Athletes and casual exercisers alike inevitably ask me, "What's the best energy bar? Gel? Sports drink?" They are worried about consuming "the best ratio of carbohydrate to protein." The simple answer is you need to learn which products are best for your body by experimenting with them during training. The best choice for one person may be nauseating for another.

In general, commercial sports foods tend to be more about convenience than necessity. They can make fueling easier, take away the guesswork, and offer more benefits than you'd get from drinking plain water. But if you are on a budget, take note: A daily liter of postexercise sports drink at $1.59 adds up to about $50 a month for sugar water. The Homemade Sports Drink recipe on page 397 can save you a bundle of money!

Certainly, there is a time and place for engineered sports fuels, particularly if you are a high-level endurance cyclist, marathoner, triathlete, or adventure athlete who exercises intensely and is limited by a sensitive intestinal tract. But all active people should maintain a foundation of wholesome foods in their day-to-day diets, with engineered choices used to support their exercise programs. In other words, don't have a sports drink at lunch (instead of orange juice) or eat Jelly Belly Sport Beans (instead of fruit) for an afternoon snack. Be sure you toss a few apple cores and banana peels into the trash along with the engineered sports food wrappers. (When making your food choices, please consider the negative environmental impact of plastic sports drink bottles, gel packets, and energy bar wrappers.)

Many athletes are easily swayed by advertisements to take their sports diet "to the next level" with commercial products. Engineered foods, supplements, and energy boosters seem to offer the magic solution when life is too busy, performance is lagging, meals are hit or miss, and sleep is inadequate. But these products sometimes offer nutrients in an unnatural balance that will hinder performance. For example, we know that athletes can absorb more carbohydrate when it comes from a variety of sources, not just one source, such as the glucose found in a commercial sports drink (Wallis et al. 2005, Jentjens et al. 2006). We know that fat is important for refueling the intramuscular fat stores that are depleted during endurance exercise (van Loon et al. 2003), but many commercial products offer carbohydrate and protein but no fat. We need more research to prove that standard foods do as good a job as engineered products, if not better.

To help you untangle the jungle of "fuel tools," appendix C on page 443 provides a comprehensive (but incomplete) list of various types of sports fuels and fluids. (It is just a list and not an endorsement of the products.) Perhaps this list will help you see how the industry markets to seemingly every possible niche. Try not to be swayed by a product's name; the name might be more powerful than the sports food itself!

Get The Body Of Your Dreams

Get The Body Of Your Dreams

Everybody wants to lose weight. This is one fact that is supported by the countless weight loss programs on the market along with the numerous weight loss products, ranging from snack bars, powdered juices, shakes and even slimming soaps and lotions.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment