Eating on the Run: Sports Nutrition Products Comparison

Sports Nutrition Products

Proper fueling during long workouts or sporting events can be the difference between finishing strong and hitting the proverbial wall. Sports nutritionists recommend that athletes who are spending more than 75 minutes running or cycling should take in 20 – 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. The dizzying amount of sports nutrition products available can make choosing the right fuel difficult. Listed below is a breakdown of the four most common types of quick energy sources, as well as their advantages and disadvantages.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of on-the-go nutrition products, gels provide a quick 100 calories of energy that is easily absorbed, both through carbohydrate receptors in the mouth and in the stomach. Countless gel brands exist on the market in almost every flavor imaginable. Some gels even contain caffeine to give an extra boost during the late stages of a run, ride, or race. Additionally, certain gels are formulated with electrolytes and energy-boosting vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12.

Gels are inexpensive (typically $1 – $2 per pack, but cheaper if bought in bulk quantities), easy to store, convenient, and easy to transport. Every palate can be accommodated, as fruity, sweet, savory, and even unflavored flavors are available. For athletes who prefer natural ingredients as opposed to a sugar cocktail, brands such as Honey Stinger and Untapped offer products made from honey and maple syrup, respectively.

Gels can quickly become a gooey, sticky mess, especially during the warm summer months. For some athletes, finding a gel formulation that does not cause an upset stomach can be tricky, as ingredients are often corn derived. To avoid stomach distress, gels should also be consumed with fluids which can be difficult to properly time when out for a run or during a race.

An alternative for people who do not like the consistency of gels or who prefer to chew their foods is gummies or sport beans. Gummies contain the same quick energy as gels, but in a different form. One packet of gummies typically contains twice the amount of calories as one gel, which can be beneficial for an ultra endurance athlete who would prefer to carry fewer items. Nutritionally, however, there is no difference among the products.

Gummies may not result in the same GI distress as gels because they are not delivered to the stomach as quickly. They are preferable for people who have aversions to certain food textures, and they are easier to consume when temperatures are extreme, as the viscosity of gels varies with temperature.

Athletes may find the larger bags that gummies are stored in difficult to easily carry. Gummies also pose a choking hazard during vigorous activity, and many people find it difficult to chew and run at the same time. Additionally, far fewer flavors are available than with gels.

Carbohydrate-laden sports nutrition products in the form of drinks, such as Gatorade, are popular among athletes not only because they offer quick energy, but because they also serve as electrolyte replenishers, too.   Recent studies have shown that just the act of swishing carbohydrate drinks in your mouth during exercise can deliver an energy boost, thanks to carbohydrate receptors in the mouth and tongue.

Sports drinks do double duty by both rehydrating and fueling runners. This helps cut down on the amount of gear that must be carried or packed during long events.

Many athletes do not like to carry their own hydration packs and may opt for gels or gummies instead. Elite runners who are granted special aid stations typically reap the most benefit from carbohydrate drinks during races. Although many events provide a sports drink option at aid stations, it is not advisable for runners to take an item during a race that they did not practice with during long runs.

Many sports nutrition products companies also produce solid energy bars that are meant to be consumed during activity. The formulations are designed to be easy to digest while providing adequate energy, and are available in more complex flavors than can be found in a gel, gummy, or sports drink.

Bars are perfect for athletes who feel they need a little bit extra in order to avoid the feeling of an empty stomach. Energy bars often also contain protein, fiber, and additional vitamins and minerals that can aid performance and recovery. For athletes competing in ultra endurance events, energy bars are quick and easy meal replacement options.

For people with sensitive stomachs who are unable to consume fiber or run with a full stomach, these sports nutrition products may not be the right option for them. They can also be cumbersome to carry and some ingredients may become melted (such as chocolate chips) if left in a pocket during exercise. Bars also tend to cost more than the other items listed.

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