On April 29th I attended the annual meeting of the Vermont Dietetics Association. Nancy Clark, well-respected Registered Dietician, drove up from Boston to join the presenters. Her topic was of particular interest to competitive endurance athletes and especially to the growing number of recreational athletes who are training for and enjoying marathons, half-marathons, sprint triathlons and metric or full century rides: Engineered Sports Foods: Needless or Necessity?
If you have ever heard Nancy Clark speak, or if you have read her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th Edition, or any of her articles or blog posts, you know that Clark?s approach to nutrition is no-frills based on moderation and an uncomplicated, balanced diet of lean protein, wholesome carbs and healthy fats with an emphasis on the enjoyment of a wide variety of real foods. Her approach to the use of engineered sports foods is consistent with her nutritional training and philosophy.
There is no doubt that engineered sports foods are big business. Since the advent of Gatorade, the market has proliferated with bars, gus, blox, powders, and beans made of high quality nutritional elements sold in pricey and convenient packages. Over the years, many of us have found our favorites and are sure to have a few handy in the glove compartment of our car or stuffed in the pockets of our cycling jerseys. Others take care to fill one bottle with water and alternatively nurse another filled with our protein, carbohydrate or electrolyte mixture of choice. But are they necessary?
Clark addressed the popular question: ?How can we ?ordinary mortals? have more energy and the best that we can be? Are engineered sports foods magic, better digested, performance enhancements ? or simply convenient??
Clark pointed out that ?pre-Gatorade? ? people ran marathons just fine but went on to say that there is no question that carefully planned consumption of appropriate nutrition before, during and after exhaustive exercise is mandatory for both performance and health.
The bottom line seems to be that we must fuel our efforts but that real food provides a perfectly acceptable alternative to all the costly sports foods and drinks on the market. Clark advocates raisins, bananas, fig newtons, pretzels, peanut butter sandwiches and granola bars as useful on-the-go nutrition during long training or competitive hours.
As we have often been told, never try a new food or drink for the first time during an event. Always practice on long training runs or rides in advance. You don?t know until you try just what effect a gu or electrolyte drink or piece of fruit might have on your intestinal tract. When you find something that works, stick with it. Something that is easily digested, releases energy consistently and packs 200-300 calories an hour, might be a good place to start if you are going to be on the road for, say, the length of a century ride.
What do you do? I have my favorites: unsweetened applesauce, a banana, a bar and some coffee before I start; raisins, another bar, water, protein drink, or miscellaneous bites of foods every hour or so that will keep me going throughout, and a pleasant meal of lean protein, and lots of fresh vegetables at the conclusion. It is important to eat and drink i.e. refuel regularly and not wait until it is too late. I once heard an Ironman triathlete state in his lecture how sad it was to observe an athlete collapse near the finish of the final event, the marathon, when ?he was just 4 ounces of Gatorade away.? In other words, he was about 50 calories shy of what it would have taken to get him to the finish.
Speaking of Gatorade, Clark left us with the following recipe for those who like to make their own: begin with a quart bottle. Dissolve
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