By now, we all have tried some form of “energy” supplement out on our long skis, runs, races, etc. It can be rather confusing and difficult now that brands are expanding their variety. A multitude of flavors, caffeinated, sugar free, and densities can really seem like a lot to sort through when selecting what works for you. Below is a break down of the most popular forms of energy supplementation for endurance athletes, complete with pros and cons. See what works best for you!
Gummies: These small sports energy gummies can be found in single or bulk packet. Popular brands include Sharkies and Energy Blasts. Gummies can also come in organic flavors.
Pros: Energy chews are comparable to the chewy candy gummy bears as well as infused with energy-boosting ingredients such as those found in other energy enhancing products like energy drinks and bars. The sports energy gummies feature natural caffeine from guarana extract. They come in 60-calorie packs and hold the energy equivalence to a single energy drink; yet, without the excess of sugar and caffeine.
Cons: Since they are similar to the popular chewy gummy bear, they are often eaten as a candy instead of being used for the fuel reenergizing qualities needed for a prolonged workout.
Beans: Beans are relatively new on the market. Jelly Belly is the most popular brand to find your sports beans in an assortment of flavors.
Pros: Beans contain a mix of vitamin B, vitamin C, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. They help boost sugar levels and fuel muscles in order to provide maximum power output during exercise. There are also caffeine-infused beans for more extreme endurance needs. The single serving packets can also fit comfortably in shorts or jacket pockets without the bulkiness.
Cons: Sugar is the number one ingredient, so while the beans may do their job, they are not the healthiest choice. Evaporated cane juice is listed first in most products, which is basically sugar but cane juice is combinations of sugar such as glucose and fructose. The next ingredient is glucose syrup, which is a common sweetener in foods.
Gels: Gels are quickly being a popular staple in endurance sports. Some of the common brands you may see include: Accel Gel, Cliff Bar, GU Company, Honey Stinger, Hammer Nutrition, Power Bar, PacificHealth Labs, Vitalyte, and Carb Boom. Below are the pros/cons for the use of gels during endurance activities.
Pros: Gels are a way to provide energy to your body during endurance events. Gels are not made up of the carbohydrates that can trigger an insulin production reaction resulting in a feeling of energy loss. However, they are mostly consisted of maltodextrin or some other form of carbohydrate, which easily breaks down in the body and does not cause a sugar overload. Gels also contain trace minerals in your body (such as magnesium and potassium) that are needed by your body for muscle function.
Cons: Gels can lead to a mental dependency that you cannot finish the race unless you take one or two gels. Some people have trouble with gels if their stomachs do not handle them well. You many also experience the feeling of having too much sugar in your body.
It is always important to not take the gels too quickly and to wash them down with a few mouthfuls of water. It is also advised not to consume too many gels in a short amount of time. Two per hour or one gel every 45 min have been seen as the recommended time span between gels. This all depends on your metabolism, so another great reason to test out the gels before using them in a race.
Gum: The popular sports gum includes brands such as Gator Gum (from Gatorade) and Quench Sports Gum.
Pros: The gum is easy to transport as it comes in chunk or stick form; yet, the thirst quenching abilities of the gum have not been fully established. The process of chewing gum triggers the saliva production, which can prevent the dry “cotton mouth” feeling during long periods of activity.
Cons: Sports gum has been promoted by the ability to eliminate the sensation of thirst. However, this gum does not actually prevent dehydration. There have even been reviews of the gum actually making them more thirsty.
Since many of these products can cause stomach problems, it is also smart to train with and practice the usage of these products before an event or race.
Pills/Tablets: Electrolyte tablets are usually found in capsules (powder encased) or in tablet form. They are a concentrated substance containing electrolytes lost during exercise. Usage across the board usually recommends drinking water after consuming. Different brands include Hammer, Gu, Nuun, and others.
Pros: You can carry multiple pills or tablets in a small container, and makes easy for transportation, as long as the product stays dry. If you don’t like the taste of fluid replacement drinks, swallowing a pill and carrying water with you is a good alternative. Also, pills and tablets usually don’t contain as much sugar as a normal Gatorade/Powerade, so if sugar upsets your stomach while exercising, a pill/tablet could be a good alternative.
Cons: If you purchase tablets, you can chew them and then drink water, or drop into a bottle and dissolve for a electrolyte drink. If chewing a powder tablet or swallowing pills is hard for you on a normal basis, move towards a more liquid replenishment or a bar.
It’s important to note that if you are carrying a fluid replacement drink, those often have enough sodium and electrolyte replacement, so doubling up might not be necessary. If you select the tablet/pill route, check the sodium dosage and make sure you know how many you need to take per hour because it can vary per product.
Liquids: Liquids are premade fluid replacement beverages made to replace electrolytes, fluid and carbohydrates lost during exercise. Many different brands exist, but some include Gatorade, Powerade, Accelerade, and Lucozade.
Pros: Gatorade has a wide variety of flavors, and has established itself as a powerhouse for rehydration. This has led to many other generic brands and competitors developing products. Carrying a fluid replacement beverage can knock out the electrolyte replacement and fluid needs if digesting solid foods can upset you stomach.
Cons: If using an “original” formula of a fluid replacement beverage, often times the sugar can be higher than 20 grams for one serving. Again, if you know you have a sensitive stomach to sugar, experiment with the reduced sugar or sugar free options.
Since fluid replacement beverages can be appealing, it often times is substituted as a drink during the day when not exercising. This can be detrimental to an athlete because of all the excess carbohydrates found in a bottle.
Bars: Brands include Clif Bar, Power Bar, Luna Bar, Snickers Marathon Bar, HOOAH!, and many others.
Pros: Bars are often great for recovery AFTER exercise since they are high density foods with a decent ratio between protein and carbohydrates. A Clif bar can be beneficial however during a very long bout of exercise when large amounts of calories are being lost, just be careful to experiment before competitions to see how your body reacts.
Cons: Consuming bars during exercise, especially without liquid, can cause distress in the athlete. Plus some bars contain high amounts of fiber, which can lead to gastrointestinal distress. Also, competing in cold weather activities (such as cross country skiing!) these bars freeze and become nearly impossible to consume.
Good luck finding what works best for your body!!