NPR posted a great piece recently on sports drinks.
In everyday life, I avoid any form of added, or refined, sugar. I prefer to eat whole foods. Though there’s a great deal of disagreement out there about what foods are truly good for us, and which are truly harmful, there’s little disagreement about the harm of added sugars.
And yet we’re constantly surrounded by advertisements for “sports” drinks and sports gels that are supposed to help us rehydrate, give us the energy needed to perform in our sport of choice, and power us through long or intense workouts. And these sports fuels are mostly sugar.
I’m an on-again-off-again long distance runner who’s currently training for a marathon in early November. And when I read up on what I’m supposed to consume during longer runs or races–water alone is apparently fine for runs of up to an hour and a half, but push any longer and you need to take in energy mid-run–I’m regularly advised to turn to these “sports” products.
But, if refined sugar’s so bad for me to consume during daily life, and these sports drinks and gels consist primarily of refined sugar, is it really a good idea for me to put them in my body when I’m engaging in strenuous activity?
The NPR article asks this precise question and, though it doesn’t give a definitive answer, it suggests that more and more top athletes, and their trainers, are turning them back away from these sports fuels toward real foods.
The world is back in balance.
But I still face a dilemma: Along the marathon course, there are water stations, and Gatorade stations, and sports gel stations, but there are not whole food stations. I can’t pick up an apple, or a banana, or a fig during a race, unless I carry it myself. (Maybe I could station friends strategically around the event to toss me my favorite fruits when I need them?)
And during my long training runs, which this summer and fall will stretch most commonly from 18 miles to 23 miles at a time, there are few fruit stands around. But there are plenty of vending machines, food carts and snack stands with Gatorade.
So, in practice, what am I to do?
Lately, I’ve just been going with Gatorade. I need the calories, I don’t want to run with whole foods, and I don’t want to take a major detour from my runs to find a grocery store or fruit stand. I figure that if I confine my Gatorade consumption to one or two bottles during the course of one weekly long run, I’m not doing appreciable harm to my body.
After all, each Gatorade has about 130 calories, and a person of my height and weight burns about that many calories each mile he runs. After (or during) a 20 mile run I need to consume 2600 calories just to make up for the run itself. (On top of that, I’ll need to consume my normal daily allotment of calories, just to maintain body weight.) Are 260 calories of sugar going to do much harm in that context? I don’t really know, but until I have a better option I will deal with it. It’s also a nice, tasty, refreshing reward on what can otherwise be a punishing run.
Do you rely on sports drinks or sports gels to power you through your sporting events?