Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky and Dr. Stuart Phillips are both in their 40’s and very active endurance athletes, but neither is in favor of ingesting special processed combinations of protein and carbohydrates. Neither doctor regularly consumes energy drinks or energy bars, preferring to drink water and eat regular foods.
The wisest advice for athletes may be to pay attention to what feels best to you, which foods aid your workouts, and at what times.
That your body needs real food to perform optimally should be common sense, but alas, it is not.
Exercise is one of the most powerful tools you have available to drop your insulin levels. This is important because elevated insulin levels are one of the primary drivers for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and weight gain. But the foods you eat are equally important to maintain healthy insulin and leptin levels.
You can’t expect to be optimally healthy if you only do one right and ignore the other.
Although you’d think professional athletes would know better, many athletes still make unwise food choices, and there’s no telling how much their performance and recovery from injury would improve with proper nutrition.
Most of us however, are not professional athletes who can actually get away with consuming extra sugar and carbs. Most likely, if you’re an average person with a regular exercise regimen, consuming sports drinks and energy bars will simply not benefit your performance or your overall health.
The fact is, 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? There’s no telling how many careers could have been lengthened through optimal nutrition.
What’s the Correct Diet for Optimal Physical Performance?
Conventional sports nutritionists recommend a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates and proteins, consumed during and directly after endurance events. Others emphasize eating the right foods at the right time, especially after exercising.
But other experts, such as John Ivy, chairman of the department of kinesiology and health education at the University of Texas in Austin, says your post-workout meal does not need to be laden with carbs. Rather, protein is key to stimulating your insulin response. Insulin increases your muscles intake of glucose, which refuels your body.
Others still place even less weight on the dogmas of sports nutrition. Says Dr. Rennie, a 61-year-old who was a competitive swimmer and also used to play water polo and rugby:
“The idea that what you eat and when you eat it will make a big difference in your performance and recovery is wishful thinking.”
Sadly, 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.
When used properly, these products may have some benefits for intense, high-level training athletes. However, for most of you, the vast majority of these energy bars and powders only add hazardous toxins, chemicals, and useless calories to your diet.
Additionally, any good kinesiologist or muscle testing chiropractor will show you how sugar dramatically reduces your strength.
While athletes that train at high levels may need to replace their depleted carbohydrates with sugar immediately following a workout or game, if you’re exercising at a more moderate level, or not at all, these extra sugars just turn to fat, an overworked pancreas and worn out adrenal glands.
The fact is, eating whole, organic and biodynamic foods tailored to your nutritional type is the ticket to optimal performance, whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior on the tennis court.
If you have not already done so, I recommend you read through my Optimized Nutrition Plan to get started on the path to optimal health, regardless of your current fitness level.
What About Sports Drinks?
Sports drinks hit $7.5 billion in sales last year alone, and according to the trade journal Beverage Digest, sports drinks were the third fastest growing beverage category in the United States in 2006, after energy drinks and bottled water. Of course they want you to believe sports drinks are healthy and increase performance!
But when you look at the main ingredients: water, high-fructose corn syrup, and salt, are you really giving your body what it needs to function optimally?
The real problem lies in their choice of ingredients – the use of high-fructose corn syrup in particular – which should be your first tip-off that this stuff is bad news.
High-fructose corn syrup -- the number one source of calories in the US -- is the most prevalent sweetener used in foods and beverages today, and has been clearly linked to the rise in obesity and metabolic syndrome. Just like other sugars it disrupts your insulin levels, which in turn will increase your risk of nearly every chronic disease there is.
The ONLY time you should resort to these drinks is after vigorous exercise, such as cardiovascular aerobic activity, for a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour, and you’re sweating profusely as a result of that activity. Anything less than 45 minutes will simply not result in a large enough fluid loss to justify using these high-sodium, high-sugar drinks.
And, even if you’re exercising for more than an hour, I still believe drinking plain, pure water is the best option to rehydrate yourself.
Four Simple Energy Rules for Athletes
Please understand that energy and stamina doesn't come from sugar. Taking in simple carbs like sugar, corn syrup, pasta, or bread before an event will tend to cause a quick spike in your blood sugar followed by a corresponding fall, making you feel more exhausted than before. More than anything, simple carbs and excess complex carbs will make you sluggish and hamper your performance.
If you want to create energy naturally, here are five simple rules to follow:
- Just before a game or hard workout, eat a little bit of fruit, such as an apple, plum, pear, citrus fruit (not juice) or 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 a 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 can give you more sustained energy for the day.
- Post exercise, your body is nitrogen-poor and your muscles have been broken down. That's why you need amino acids from animal proteins like chicken, beef and eggs, as well as vegetable carbohydrates.
- 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, your 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.