Before, during, and immediately after exercise, it is important to consume mostly carbohydrates to maintain and replenish glycogen stores. We need the energy to optimize our sports performance and reduce fatigue.
Adopting a food strategy during physical exercise makes it possible to conserve energy as long as possible. However, meals that are hard to digest or loaded with saturated fat can bring risk to upset stomachs as you are working out.
If you’re having long events (exercises longer than 60 – 90 minutes), you should be well fueled especially during exercise to balance electrolyte losses. While it is inconvenient to bring along solid food, there are great healthy snacks for athletes on the go.
The main purpose of energy bars, gels, and drinks is to provide a convenient and compact form of carbohydrates. Some of them also provide sodium, caffeine, protein, and other great nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, or amino acids which help you get the most out of your sports activities.
How do energy bars, gels, and drinks differ from each other? How should they be used?
Energy bars are snack bars that are designed to supply energy in the form of carbohydrates to help replenish the energy expended during exercise. They contain varying amounts of protein, fat, and micronutrients. Some energy bars contain a mixture of cereals, dried fruits, whole grains with added carbohydrates in the form of glucose, fructose, maltodextrins, and more.
Energy bars can be an ideal replacement when you do not have time for a meal. They can represent your pre-workout food which makes you feel full and provide your adequate energy. However, the absorption may be slower and sometimes cause stomach cramps if time is not allowed for digestion.
Therefore, you need to allow time for chewing and digestion before going for a workout.
Energy gels are a sweet, gooey, convenient source of concentrated carbohydrates usually in a single-serve pack. Many gels have a mixture of glucose and fructose to help intestinal absorption of higher intakes of carbohydrates.
Some gels may contain caffeine and come in a huge range of flavors. With added caffeine, you can boost focus on your workout or races or when you’re at the latter stages of a long event and you need to beat the fatigue.
Energy gels are often singled out as the most convenient way to take on energy on the move as they come in useful, small sachets making them easy to carry, store in your waistband or pocket, which is a popular choice among triathletes, cyclists, and runners.
Energy drinks are carbohydrate and sodium-containing beverages. Some energy drinks contain other additions like protein or magnesium which help post-workout recovery. Some also contain an abundance of electrolytes such as potassium and calcium which help alleviate cramps and muscles function.
Energy drinks give you the advantage of maintaining hydration during your activity. Compared to energy gels, the lower concentration is easier to digest and more palatable. Sports drinks usually allow the body to absorb the carbohydrates at a quick rate, providing quick fuel, and replenishing electrolytes that are lost during perspiration.
Hydration formulas usually come in powder or tablet form, allowing you to prepare your concoction before a workout.
How do you decide?
The consumption of energy snacks should be based on the strenuosity and duration of your fitness activities.
The harder and longer your body has to work, the more nutrients it loses. For instance, during triathlons, marathons, or long-distance bike rides are when you’re advised to consume energy bars, gels, and drinks to metabolize carbohydrates and keep you hydrated.
Selecting bars, gels, or drinks depends on your personal preferences. Runners should prefer gels and drinks. Hikers should enjoy having an energy bar. On the other hand, cyclists would rather go for handy gels and sports drinks during their rides.
Another important factor to consider choosing between each energy snack is whether or not you have time to take breaks and properly digest an energy snack. If you’re looking for a quick refuel, it is also important to drink plenty of water to prevent an upset stomach during your activity.