As many of you have set goals for yourself to further distances or even complete half marathon or marathon distances in the new year, you might read about the importance of consuming calories and hydrating effectively to power through your long runs and on race day. With everything out there on the market available to you, it can be a little overwhelming to try and pick out something that will work best for you. The below post is meant to de-mystify buzz words and phrases you may hear as well as highlight important considerations.
You might ask yourself why you even need to consider taking a product like this to help get you through physical activity. The body does have a carbohydrate supply, but it is fairly limited and can become depleted quickly during intense activity. Some of you may find during your extended periods of exercise that your fare just fine without taking anything to hold you over, others may find that consuming calories here and there during exercise can help keep their energy levels up and prevent fatigue.
Things to Consider:
The main things to consider when deciding what supplements to choose are the length of the activity you will be doing, if you have any diet restrictions or needs, and how important the convenience factor is to you.
Length/Type of Activity: The length of your activity can greatly vary the type of supplements you choose to take. If you are going to be completing an Ironman, you might be consuming different products than if you are doing a half marathon.
Knowing Your Body: Knowing and understanding how your body reacts to these energy and hydration products can be crucial in finding a one that works well for you. This also why it is a good reason to try out a variety of supplements prior to race day so you aren't caught using a product that you and your body disapprove of.
Carrying & Convenience: Regardless of the activity, nobody wants to be bogged down by carrying around lots of food and water along the way. We often joke with customers that the best way to carry your water on a run is to have someone else do it for you.
Many runners will carry a handheld water bottle that often has slots designed to carry other nutrition with you. If you find this uncomfortable, you can choose from a wide variety of waist belts, that when loaded with gear in the small of your back, do a great job of staying secure with minimal bounce. Or you can choose from vest setups that will likely have bottles on the either side of your chest, or a bladder that sits on your back with a straw coming to your front.
It is nice that many of the energy products come in small packaging and offer a lot of calories relative to their size, but if you find you need to carry a good amount to get you through, you may want to consider one of the above methods for carrying with more ease rather than holding in your hands and tucking into pockets.
Energy / Calorie Supplements
Calories & Carbohydrates: Most of the energy supplements out there are often in the 100-150 calorie range with the majority of the calories come from simple carbs and sugars that your body is able to convert to energy quickly. Most energy gels from popular brands like GU and Clif, are designed to be taken every 45 minutes - 1 hour of activity. The longer you plan on being active, the more calories you should plan on having to consume.
The body can digest roughly 120-240 calories an hour during periods of exercise. Consuming more than that can force your body to divert needed blood flow away from your muscles and towards your gut to assist in the digestive and metabolic processes – often times it is unable to commit enough blood to that area as you continue to exercise (stomach cramps anyone?).
Proteins & Amino Acids: Throwback to a high school chemistry lesson – amino acids (leucine, valine, and isoleucine) are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks that make up structures of the body like muscles. Both are very important in the body’s processes to repair tissue damage after exercise and speed up the recovery period.
Products that contain high a high content of proteins or BCAA (block chain amino acids) can be great to take during exercise, but are often designed to take after activity has ceased in order to help further the recovery and healing process for your body and muscles.
Caffeine and Energy Boosters: Many products come in versions containing caffeine. For many of us that are on a morning coffee regimen, the amount of caffeine in these supplements (25-50mg in most cases) is negligible. Others who don’t do well with caffeine should be careful that it is an ingredient in many of the energy products on the market.
Caffeine does have benefits other than being a pick me up to get you through your morning meetings – adding caffeine to your system before and during exercise can help keep your mind sharp, decreased the perceived effort level, boost your endurance, and delay fatigue.
Hydration and Electrolytes
A random factoid we can probably all recite on command is that the human body is ~60% water, which makes it very important! And while good hydration is always important, it can be especially crucial if you are exercising heavily or leading up to a big race or event and during the recovery process afterwards. When you sweat, your body is losing both fluid and electrolytes, so achieving an optimal state of hydration can be done by taking in a strong balance of fluids and electrolytes.
Electrolytes: When you exercise you sweat, when you sweat you lose electrolytes, when you lose electrolytes they need to be replaced.
Electrolytes are minerals in your body that contain a charge and can be found in everything from blood to tissue to most all bodily fluids. They serve many roles to help the body maintain proper function. When you sweat, electrolytes play key roles in keeping water balanced both inside & outside of cells so that your muscles and organs can continue to serve you properly.
Dehydration from lack of fluid and electrolytes has several negative impacts on athletic performance, and perhaps you’ve even experienced consequences such as muscle cramps and fatigue. But even if you don’t feel a difference, as little as 2% dehydration can result in a decrease in performance. Remember thirst is the #1 indicator that you may be dehydrated.
A popular delivery method for electrolytes is through water as they often work in tandem to give your body what it needs, but sometime you can only consume so much liquid – there are products that offer electrolytes in capsule form to be taken independent of fluids.
The main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which we will explore below.
Sodium: The primary electrolyte lost through exercise is sodium and is the most crucial to be replaced during exercise to avoid dehydration and a more serious condition called hyponatremia. Sodium is critical for maintaining fluid balance, nerve function, muscle contractions, and acid-base balance (pH level). For that reason, sodium is often the electrolyte given the most attention in products on the market.
Potassium: Potassium in conjunction with sodium helps alleviate and prevent muscle cramps. Potassium is abundant in many food sources, and the average individual has high stores within the body. In sweat, potassium losses are not as high as sodium. Therefore, making it highly unlikely that losses in potassium (alone) can cause a decrease in performance. With that said, it is still crucial to maintain potassium levels while training as it will be critical for a healthy water & electrolyte balance. Foods that are potassium rich include bananas (think why you often see bananas being distributed at the finish line of a race), avocados, oranges, apricots, spinach, potatoes, varieties of fish, and many types of beans.
Calcium: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It serves many roles both in normal bodily functions, and athletic performance. When calcium is circulating within the bloodstream it has a major impact on metabolism of essential nutrients, and proper physiological functions. It is well documented that calcium is essential for bone and muscle health. Calcium is also involved in all types of muscle (heart, skeletal, and smooth) functions and contractions. And lastly, calcium is involved in the synthesis and breakdown of muscle and liver glycogen (fuel stores).
Magnesium: Similar to how sodium and potassium function together, magnesium and calcium do the same. Calcium is essential for muscle contractions; magnesium aids in helping muscles relax. Therefore, the combination of magnesium and calcium is critical for healthy muscle function. Magnesium also aids in glucose metabolism, and it used in many enzymatic reactions.
Visit Us At the Store!
If you ever have any questions or want to find out more about proper hydration or nutritional supplements swing by the store and let us know – we’ve got a wide variety of products to help get you through whatever your 2020 goals may be.