Engineered bars, sports drinks, and energy gels, offer tasty and convenient ways to get energized for a workout, refuel while you're on the road, or recover quickly afterwards. The market is so flooded with different bars, chews, powders and drinks, that it can be tough to figure out which products will deliver the most nutrition with the least amount of calories and additives that you don't need.
Many people start pounding the sports drinks and energy bars as soon as they start exercising on a regular basis. As a result, they see the number on the scale going up right along with their weekly mileage. To avoid that, consider these tips the next time you reach for sports foods:
Pick the right product for the right occasion.
Since many sports products are designed as fast food to keep you energized you through a three-hour run or a six-hour bike ride, they have calorie, fat, and sugar profiles that rival common candy bars and sodas. If you're running for more than 90 minutes, or going on any extended bout of exercise, that's fine. But if you're just heading out for an easy three-miler, or need something to help you endure that late-afternoon staff meeting, a 250-calorie bar with more than 20 grams of sugar and 40 grams of carbs is probably overkill. And be sure to read "serving size" carefully. Many bars that are packaged as single servings, actually are two.
You're going to need to experiment with different products, brands, varieties, and flavors, to figure out what gives you a boost without upsetting your stomach. Here's what you should look for in different running occasions.
Before You Go:
Choose products that are high in carbs you need to energize your workout, but low in the fat and fiber that could lead to unwanted pit stops. For a run of 60 minutes or less at an easy effort, limit your pre-run snack to: 200 calories or less, with less than 5 grams of fat and 5 grams of fiber.
On the Road:
If you're working out for 90 minutes or more, you'll need to refuel while you're on the road. Again, stick to products that are high in carbs, and low in fat and fiber. If you're going to be on a run for one, two, or three hours at a time, you want to aim for a product that's going to provide 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour for each hour that you're on the road. Be sure to refuel at regular intervals while you're on the road. Don't wait until you're hungry or tired to eat. It will take too long to recover.
Eating for Recovery:
In the 30 minutes right after a long run or a tough speed session, your muscles are primed to efficiently metabolize carbs and protein to rebuild muscle tissue so you can bounce back strong. Research has shown that a snack with a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein is the ideal mix. Make sure that your recovery meal reflects this. Plan and prepare your recovery meal before you head out so you can grab it quickly as soon as you return. Be sure to wash that recovery meal down with plenty of fluids to get rehydrated.
At meal time it's best to have real food. But if you're in a rush and need something quick to quiet a growling stomach, it's okay to reach for a sports bar or other type of engineered food. Just make sure that the bar doesn't contain more calories than you'd have in a regular meal. Look at the serving size; some bars have twice that.
Consider Whole Foods:
They don't come in flashy packaging, but there are many good portable whole-food alternatives, that will fuel you up for your run, and provide vitamins and minerals to boost your overall health. Try using foods like apples, oranges, bananas, rice, steel-cut oats, and sweet potatoes to fuel up before you hit the road as well as after you're done with your run. You won't have to worry about additives or sweeteners, and you'll know that you're getting extra nutrition you need.