With the Olympic games kicking off this week, people will become inspired to create new fitness and exercise goals. Although this is one of the greatest outcomes of worldwide sporting events, it’s also important to remember that the media uses our enthusiasm to capitalize on the sale of supplements, energy bars, energy drinks and other health products. As many will model themselves according to what they see the world’s best athletes doing in terms of nutrition, endurance and strength training for their own routines (endorsements that are often backed by big dollars for athletes), I wanted to take this opportunity to share some information about energy/sports bars and drinks, which can often times provide more harm than good for average athletes striving towards optimal performance in their workouts.
Even though energy bars and drinks offer one advantage, which is convenience, in my opinion the cons far outweigh the pros. To begin with, many of these bars, drinks, and even gels primarily consist of two ingredients – sugar and caffeine. If you look at the labels, you’ll find that the majority contain high fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and other health problems. Secondly, in relation to athletic endurance, most of these bars and drinks do little more than provide a burst of energy followed by a crash, making it difficult to excel for any significant length of time. Additionally, sugar actually reduces strength and contributes to an overworked pancreas and exhausted adrenal glands, while caffeine stimulates urine production, which can potentially lead to dehydration.
Although there may be cases where a quality sports drink consisting of carbohydrates and electrolytes could be of value to a professional or hardcore athlete, these drinks won’t generally do much good for those working out for less than 60-90 minutes. For regular workouts, water is best before, during and after exercise. And in terms of nutrition, you ideally want to consume the appropriate carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals for your particular body which can take some trial and error to master.
Many people believe that carbo-loading is the best nutritional advice pre-workout. However, carbohydrates are not the only source of fuel needed for power and lasting energy. The best pre-workout meal you can consume 2-4 hours before exercise is one that consists of mainly carbohydrates and protein, but includes a bit of fat as well. The ideal sources of carbohydrates come from fruits, vegetables and whole grains – not pastas, breads and processed carbohydrates. Lean organic meats (for the non-vegetarians), green leafy vegetables and nuts are all great sources of protein. Great fats are extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts (which are 80% fat, 20% protein). One of the highest sources of calcium, important for preventing stress fractures, is sea vegetables, which can contain ten times the calcium found in milk. And, finally, if you need something immediately pre-workout, fruits will usually give you a boost of energy and sustain you longer than the sugar found in energy bars and drinks.
Overall, the nutrition that real food provides offers the best chance of optimizing your workouts for the average athlete. However, if you still find it absolutely necessary to use energy bars or drinks, either do so in moderation or opt to make your own. Also remember that continued use of these products can also lead to tooth decay, due to the high sugar content and sticky ingredients, making it a necessity to brush your teeth following use. Above all, read the labels of the products you are consuming so that you are completely aware of the risks and benefits, keeping in mind that each person differs in their nutritional needs.
Published On: February 09, 2010