Are sport nutrition products healthy?

Sport nutrition products are designed to enhance performance, specifically during prolonged activity when glycogen depletion and dehydration can compromise energy metabolism. Therefore, a major goal of sport nutrition companies is to formulate a variety of products, in all types of textures, flavors and forms, to help athletes train and compete with optimal power, speed, strength, stamina and mental focus. 

There is great research showing that carbohydrate-based fuels are the predominant energy source at high intensities and during long duration, to postpone fatigue. Because a decline in muscle and liver glycogen (stored carbohydrates) can greatly limit endurance performance, sugar, the primary ingredient in most sport drinks, can be absorbed quickly to help maintain steady blood glucose levels.

Unlike the untrained athlete, a trained athlete has a favorable response to sugar during exercise, not to mention that the sport nutrition has a clear need and reason for consumption - when your body is asked to perform, you give it energy and electrolytes to meet metabolic needs.

Because sugar remains to have a very negative reputation in society, it's understandable why you may feel great confusion, as a health-conscious athlete, whether or not sport nutrition products, which contain a hefty dose of some type of sugar (sucrose, dextrose, maltodextrin,  fructose, can sugar, etc.), have a place in a “healthy” diet.  

Certainly, overconsumption of sugar is not healthy for the human body.
But if you are starving your body of fuel during a high intensity or long duration workout/race, with the intention of wanting to stay healthy, you may be doing more harm than good.

The sugar found in sport nutrition drinks, chews and gels, consumed at specific frequent intervals during long duration or high-intensity training sessions and races, should not receive the same unhealthy reputation as the sugar found in donuts, cereals, soda and candy bars, especially since most individuals who are "addicted to sugar" are consuming heavily processed foods, rich in sugar, while being sedentary or when exercising at a very low intensity.     

As you train to maximize your fitness, the sugar found in sport nutrition products can actually help to keep your body in optimal health. However, not all sport nutrition products are created equal. 

Select your sport nutrition products wisely.

If you are passionate about where your food comes from, you should feel the same way about the ingredients found in your favorite sport nutrition products. Sport nutrition products do not need fancy ingredients. Keep your products easy to find, easy to consume and easy to digest. 

What works best for you? 
Depending on your sport or activity, intensity or duration, every athletes will have his/her preferred fuel type, specific to consistency, texture and flavor. But in order to find what works for you, you have to practice, practice, practice. Now more than ever, sport nutrition companies are aware that regardless of the type of product, athletes desire real ingredients in sport nutrition. 
There are a variety of products that cater to your needs as an athlete.
Do you prefer the ease and convenience of liquid calories (sport nutrition powder) to meet energy and hydration needs or the simplicity of a concentrated dose of energy (ex. blocks/chews or gels)?  Athletes who desire a more real food texture will often look to bars to please the palate while keeping the tummy satisfied. 

Regardless of what fuel source you favor during training and racing, it’s important that your body can properly absorb and tolerate the food product of your liking, in repeated intervals, throughout your entire workout/race. Above all, don't choose a product simply because it is giving you calories (or energy). A sport nutrition product must be well-formulated, which means that the concentration of electrolytes and carbohydrates are mixed well with a specific amount of water to empty from the GI tract to be properly absorbed by the working muscles. If you are a random sport nutrition user, with no rhyme or reason as to why or when you fuel, you may find that when you do take in sport nutrition, your calories are not being digested, but instead, they are simply sitting in the gut, causing a host of GI issues (vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, cramping, sloshy stomach), not to mention increasing the risk of dehydration, fatigue and nausea.

If you want to reach your performance goals, appreciate sport nutrition products (and the sugar found in them) as they are designed to support your energy, hydration and electrolyte needs to keep your body functioning properly as you train hard to maximize performance. 

As a health conscious endurance athlete who believes in a real food diet, I am a firm believer that sport nutrition has it's place in my athlete "diet" as I consume sport nutrition products during key workouts and on race day to support my physiological needs.

In other words, sport nutrition products keep me healthy and performing well. 

Discussing sport nutrition to my athletes at the 2016 Trimarni Greenville camp.
Campy was really interested in the talk, hoping I would mention about the importance of fueling for an all-day session of napping (which Campy excels at).