Endurance Nutrition & Mass Market Sports Drinks – The Not So Good, The Bad and The Ugly
They say gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. Or put another way, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. But how about too much of a not-so-good-thing?
Unfortunately super sugary sports drinks are nearly ubiquitous at convenience and mass retail stores, but tragically also on course at marathons, triathlons and rides nationwide. Savvy endurance athletes need to be aware of the risks in using such products. Not risk to life and limb, but risk to performance after weeks or months of intense training.
Athletes invest heavily to get to race day. They give precious time to train for a once-in-a-lifetime event, conquer a Personal Record or support an important cause and yet routinely leave their single most important endurance nutrition element – fluid replenishment – to the ingredients in a low performing sports drink.
Here’s the skinny on some of the common sins of mass marketed sports drinks – not quite seven, but close…
Too Sweet – Many sports drinks have very high sugar content designed to appeal to the sweet part of our palette rather than taking a healthy approach to addressing hydration using quality ingredients. That extra sweetness might be OK if you’re on a road trip to Graceland, but not if you’re lining up for a 26-mile run.
Too Simple – In general, simple sugars play an important role in endurance nutrition and sports drinks in particular because they are quickly and easily digested, but only the right simple sugars (and in the right ratio to complex carbs such as maltodextrin). Dextrose, sucrose and other cheap, readily available simple sugars found in some drinks have no place in a performance energy drink.
Specifically, high fructose corn syrup is commonly used because it is dirt cheap (read high margin). But high fructose corn syrup does little for performance and likely hinders it – it simply doesn’t belong in any legitimate electrolyte drink. And it won’t help fuel high performance. All athletes above the status of couch potato deserve and should demand higher performing fuel.
Too Silly – All that simple sugar and sweetness comes at the expense of salt and electrolytes. Athletes then “cut” all that sweetness by diluting the drink with water so they can stomach it while in motion. That further dilutes the electrolyte content of the drink. That’s pretty silly. The whole point of the drink is to maintain balanced electrolytes so your body stays hydrated!
Too Strange – Some sports drink flavors resemble a 6th grade chemistry experiment gone wrong. It’s true, the colors purple (grape) and green (lime) exist in nature – but some of this stuff should be surrounded by cooling rods withHazmat instructions.
The whole point of this endurance sports stuff for the non-pro is to have fun, be competitive and perform at the highest level possible. In other words, to challenge yourself. There are enough challenges inherent in endurance sports without adding gastric distress and/ or bonking.
Remember the fun part. When the sun is rising and you’re in your zone, it’s a lot more fun to nail your nutrition and know you’re using a product made by athletes who share the same devotion to performance as you. Go far and go fast. And do it with a performance sports drink.