AHHHH! You snoozed your alarm 5 times and are now SUPER late leaving the house for your long bike ride. Suddenly you remember that food fuels you and gives you energy for the workout, yet you have none in your GI tract. Quick fix – you grab a gel, a pack of chews, or an energy waffle, right? You need some quick fuel, and it's right there- portable and convenient. Although sports products are great for use DURING training and DURING racing, is it really the best choice to eat outside of workouts? I say no.
Here are some important reasons to avoid sports products outside of training/racing time:
Sports products are designed to replenish calories when a significant amount of workout calories are being expended. You do need calories to fuel a long workout, but where the calories are coming from is also important. Sport product calories are not as nutrient dense as real food.
Most traditional sports products are loaded with carbohydrate/sugar, which is not something necessary in a daily diet (and often unnecessary in training as well). Refined sugar intake has a negative impact on the body, and should be consumed sparingly.
Most sports products contain electrolytes like sodium and magnesium. Electrolytes become necessary to consume in many cases during training/racing, but you don't want to be consuming extra amounts in daily diet unless there is a deficiency.
I am very selective about the types of sports products I recommend to clients, as most of them are packed with garbage ingredients that don't serve a purpose. If these additives don't serve a purpose during training, they really don't do you any favors when consumed outside of training. Examples would include food coloring/dyes, extra sugar sources, and binders.
The #1 reason to avoid fueling on sports products outside of training/racing is the lack of nutrient density these foods provide. Sports products are designed to replace expended energy quickly, allowing you to continue racing at your highest potential. They are not designed to provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to nutritional value. Real food choices are higher in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.
What are the best choices, you are probably asking right now. REAL FOOD! Whenever there is the choice between packaged and real food…Choose the latter. Here are a couple breakfast examples:
Oats, almonds, coconut oil
Plain Greek yogurt, mixed nuts, berries
Eggs with spinach, fresh fruit
Resist the urge to fuel up pre-workout with training foods. There is almost always a better choice. Or maybe the workout is one that you can do fasted (link article)! And be selective about your training/racing foods in general- be comfortable and FAMILIAR with all of the added ingredients. The body performs better on quality fuel sources it recognizes!
Your fuel plan can make or break your race. With the extensive training time commitments that go into preparing for a race, it’s temping to wing it with nutrition. Don’t do it! Start developing a plan in advance. Try everything out during training. Seek the help of a sport dietitian (like me!) to help guide you along the way.