By Dr. Ben Lerner
What are the real rules when it comes to energy and the "benefits" of the energy industry?
Like a bunch of mad scientists, athletes and weekend warriors of all kinds try mixing all types of powders, drinks, bars, herbs, vitamins, carbs, fats, and proteins in an effort to give themselves an edge for the game, test, or workout.
When I first went to work with athletes at the Olympic Training Center, I expected to see young men and women fanatical about nutrition.
When I got to the Training Center cafeteria in Colorado Springs where all of the resident athletes eat, I was both pleased and surprised. I was pleased by the fact that they had a great variety of many healthy options. I was also surprised by the fact that, many, if not most of the athletes, still made unwise food choices.
At my first breakfast there, I was the only one at my table not eating Capt. Crunch or Fruit Loops!
Many athletically gifted people convert just about anything into lean, ready to perform, muscles. Sugar and chemicals or vegetables and protein, it doesn't seem to matter. I remember when Roy Jones, one of the greatest boxers in history, played a professional basketball game and fought a title fight all within 24 hours. And, all he had to eat during that period of time were gummy worms and a cup of coffee.
When I played rugby in college, we had a national championship winning team filled with phenomenal European players who lived on what we called the 3 Cs: cigarettes, caffeine and calories, not to mention plenty of Coca-Cola and Coors. Despite their diet and smoke inhalation, they were incredible athletes and could run hard for an 80-minute game.
The point here is our beliefs about the absolutes of nutrition and performance are quite a bit skewed, as we get a lot of our advice today from athletes who endorse certain foods and supplements or companies that claim to have seen results while using their products on Olympians or pros. Yet, the athletes don't really use or, in some cases, need them.
Would and do these gifted athletes perform significantly better when eating correctly? Of course they do, particularly as they age or to prevent or recover from injuries.
High-sugar, high-refined carb dieting makes you more prone to muscle and joint deterioration and injury. Who knows how many careers have been cut short due to diminishing skills or injuries? Careers that could have been lengthened through the right nutrition. More so, who knows how many unknowns could have been greats if they just knew what to put in their mouths...
Energy Foods: The Big Lie
Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars on energy drinks and energy bars each year. Bar and drink makers add dozens of elements to these products, including vitamins, minerals, herbs and whey. However, the active ingredients usually come down to two simple substances: sugar and caffeine.
Although, when used properly, there are some benefits for intense, high-level training athletes, for most normal people, the vast majority of these energy drinks, bars, and powders only add hazardous toxins, chemicals, and useless calories to their diet.
They call them "energy" bars or "energy" drinks. However, in the long run, sugar and caffeine do just the opposite. Sugar acts like an H-bomb on your system. There's a quick explosion of energy followed by a plummeting disaster, as your pancreas and other glands do all they can to balance out the toxic stimulation to blood sugar.
Their net worth, however, equals significantly diminished energy, and not more. Additionally, any kinesiologist or chiropractor will show you how sugar dramatically reduces strength.
While caffeine will not create the immediate decline in energy that sugar will, when used on a regular basis it's ultimately "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Unlike sugar, caffeine can be an effective performance supplement.
It's even banned by the Olympics when found in excessive levels in the bloodstream. On the contrary, when used on a regular basis it will cause a burning out of the glandular system resulting in mean energy levels below normal. Eventually, you need a cup of coffee just to get back to tired.
Walk into your local health club and you'll see dozens of people sipping some red-, purple- or blue-colored drink that contains unsafe chemicals like sugar (or any one of its other names, like glucose or corn syrup) or caffeine (or its herbal equal, guarana). And that doesn't include many containing hazardous artificial sugars like Splenda (sucralose) or Nutrasweet (aspartame). No wonder the vast majority of popular "energy" and "power" drinks leave you with less energy and depleted power.
While athletes that train at high levels may need to replace their depleted carbohydrates with sugar immediately following a workout or game, if someone's training at a more moderate level, or not at all, these extra sugars just turn to fat, a tired pancreas, and worn out adrenal glands.
It's also important to replace the water you lose when you exercise. Caffeine acts like a diuretic, actually causing you to lose even more water.
Really Simple Energy Rules
Energy doesn't come from sugar, particularly if it's going to be a long game, match, or day. Taking in simple carbs (sugar, corn syrup, honey, cane sugar, white flour like pasta, or white-ish flour like wheat bread) before an event will cause a quick spike in blood sugar followed by a fall. Moreover, simple carbs and excess complex carbs will cause sluggishness and hamper performance.
If you want to create energy naturally, here are five simple rules to follow:
- Just before a game or hard workout, eat some complex/simple carbs like fruits, including apples, plums, pears, citrus fruit (not juice), and berries. They're great right before a game or workout as they give you a small spike without the massive plummet.
- Two to three hours before a game or hard workout, complex carbs, fats and small amount of protein will do the trick. Sweet potatoes, brown rice, olive oil, almond butter, flax oil, walnuts, almonds, and eggs are all easy to digest and should give you more sustained energy for the day.
(With all pre-game, and even "night before," game and workout foods, the trick is to look for things that will give you energy and sit well while you play. This combination will be different for everyone, however.)
- During a game or hard workout and immediately afterward, in terms of simple carbs, sports drinks and sports bars containing sugary carbs could replace all those lost carbs immediately following exertion. But, weigh your options carefully as you're still using brands containing chemicals, colorings, and preservatives that aren't good for you at all. Instead, sweeteners like honey, maple, cane, or brown rice syrup are more natural and can be found in many healthier bars and powders.
- After the game or workout is long done, your body is nitrogen-poor and your muscles have been broken down. That's why you need amino acids from animal proteins like chicken, fish, beef, and eggs as well as complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes or brown rice).
- Although many experts have advised athletes to load up on carbs before a long-distance event, fact is, burning sugar is not what happens over long distances. After a short period of time, particularly at slower paces, the body is burning fats.
Therefore, rather than loading up on carbs, more long distance runners are loading up on fats and small amounts of proteins prior to racing, with no more carbs than the body can easily store anyway. Toward the end of extremely long races, only then may you find it necessary to replace those carbs with a glucose drink or gel.
Dr. Ben Lerner, along with Dr. Greg Loman, owns Teach The World About Chiropractic, a Chiropractic training company. They have helped build the largest spinal correction clinics in the history of Chiropractic.