Sport nutrition products are a multi-billion dollar industry. As the popularity of endurance racing events continues to grow, the marketplace has become saturated with these foods. You have your choice of gels, chews, bars, powders, pills and smoothies. How in the world do you determine the best fuel source for you?
I teach my clients to incorporate clean eating strategies into their everyday lives as well as during training and racing. After all, don’t training fueling and everyday fueling become synonymous for most of us? Clean eating means searching out foods that provide the best nutritional value and are minimally processed, leaving nutrients intact. This also means being selective about packaged products when they are consumed — do you know and understand what every ingredient is in that item? You should.
Based on these fueling strategies, here are the important questions to ask on your quest for the best sport nutrition products.
When do you use it?
There are pre-workout, during workout and post-workout sport fuels. What are you looking for? I typically reserve sport product use for “during” only and urge clients to eat real food pre- and post-workout. Protein shakes have become a staple in many athletes’ diets, which is OK if they are limited to one per day and are a quality whey or vegetarian protein source (*no weird ingredients/additives). The same concept applies to bars — a maximum of one per day and ensure you are comfortable with the ingredient list!
What is the effect on blood sugar?
Most sport products are comprised of quickly digesting sugars that inherently raise blood sugar, especially when used outside of training. You don’t want your blood sugar to be yo-yoing all over the place — it does nothing to help your energy levels, body composition, performance or general health. There are products designed to stabilize blood sugar and provide a more consistent, gradual release of energy over time.
What are the ingredients?
You can gather from my comments above that ingredients are hugely important to me, and they should be to you too! So many of our food choices offer a laundry list of questionable ingredients and it’s time we stop accepting this as the norm. When looking at sport nutrition products, it’s important to determine where the sugar source is coming from. Is the sugar source something natural like a puree extracted from fruit? Or something manufactured in a lab? The more natural option will be gentler on your stomach, and taste much better to boot!
Is it non-GMO/organic?
Although these features may drive the price up a bit, they are nice to have. Genetically modified products have no place in a clean eating diet. Organic items are also important, especially when considering products with fruit, nuts and grains included.
The times are a-changing when it comes to sport nutrition products. A new wave of more natural, non-GMO, organic, blood sugar stable products are on their way in, which is great news for endurance athletes. But please do use real food when the opportunity is there, even in favor of a more natural sport product. And contact me if you’d like help getting your fuel plan dialed in!
Brooke Schohl, MS, RD, METS Level II is a registered sports dietitian and the owner of Fuel to the Finish Endurance Nutrition Coaching in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is an avid triathlete, having completed many triathlons of all distances including three IRONMAN races. She integrates that personal experience and knowledge into developing customized, sport-specific, metabolically efficient fueling plans for her clients. Brooke and her husband, John, own Destination Kona Triathlon Store in south Scottsdale, Arizona. For more information on services and offerings, visit her website at fueltothefinish.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.