Back to 1967, the Miami Orange Bowl playoff in American College Football saw the Florida Gators in competition against Georgia Tech. The Gators were losing by far and at halftime they were given a new drink, containing electrolytes and carbohydrates, designed for them by Dr. Robert Cade. In the second half, the Florida Gators played well enough to defeat their opponents and win their first Bowl! The drink was released commercially and is still known as Gatorade. This marked the beginning of the sports fuel industry, which is nowadays a billion dollar business with fuels for every possible dietary need and time to eat.
Although these products aren’t absolutely necessary for you to achieve a great performance, sports scientists recognize their benefits as a practical way to meet sports nutrition goals, particularly if you are an athlete who exercises intensely, holds a heavy competition schedule and/or is limited by a sensitive intestinal tract.
Nevertheless, all active people should maintain a foundation of wholesome foods in their day-to-day diets, with engineered choices used to support their exercise programs. In other words, don’t have a sports drink at lunch (instead of a raw fruit juice) or eat a energy bar at dinner (instead of rice or pasta) unless you have no access to common foods. Also, bear in mind that common foods are much cheaper.
I’ll share with you some features of sports foods:
Sports drinks are designed to provide you an optimum delivery of fluids and carbohydrates during strenuous exercise and also to rehydrate and refuel after the game.
· Powder or liquid.
· 5 – 8% carbohydrates (200 – 320 Kcal/L);
· 10-35 mmol/L sodium (230 – 800 mg sodium/L);
· 3-5 mmol/L potassium (120 – 200 mg potassium/L).
Energy bars are a useful source of carbs (along with protein and micronutrients) to eat at half-time and/or after the game, and might be helpful to supplement the diet of a soccer player who needs lots of calories.
· Bar (50-60g).
· 40-50g carbohydrates;
· Usually low in fat and fiber;
· 50-100% of RDA/RDIs;
· May contain creatine, amino acids.
Sports gels are a useful source of carbs to eat at half-time and/or after the game, and might be helpful to supplement a high carbohydrate diet.
· Gel, 30-40g sachets or larger tubes.
· 60-70% carbohydrates (approximately 25g/100 calories per sachet);
· Some contain caffeine or electrolytes.
Electrolyte replacement supplements
These supplements are designed to allow rapid and effective rehydration following moderate to large fluid and sodium losses (ex: after a very intense soccer game where you fail to replace those losses during the match).
· Powder sachets or tablets.
· ≤ 2% of carbohydrates (≤ 80 Kcal/L);
· 50-60 mmol/L sodium (1150 – 1380 mg sodium/L);
· 10-20 mmol/L potassium (390 – 780 mg potassium/L).
Liquid meal supplements
Liquid meal supplements are low-bulk meal replacements that may be useful especially to the traveling athlete (portable nutrition). Also, they are suitable to supplement a high energy/nutrient diet during heavy training/competition or weight gain.
· Powder or liquid.
· 1-1,5 kcal/ml;
· 15-20% protein;
· 50-70% carbohydrates;
· Low to moderate fat;
· 500-1000ml supplies RDI/RDAs.
A last advice concerning supplementation with commercial sports foods and fluids: carefully balance pros and cons and ask yourself (or a professional) if you really need that product before buying it. Also, try not to be swayed by a product’s name, because the name might be more powerful than the sports food itself!
Recommended reading for more information:
- Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (http://www.nancyclarkrd.com)
- Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros (http://www.nancyclarkrd.com)
Wishing you the best performance ever,
Diogo Ferreira, RD
Sports Nutritionist, Lisbon, Portugal
“Promoting best health and performance through nutrition”