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Fast Energy - What to Look for in a Sports Drink


Robb Beams

What is the best type of Sports Drinks?

As asked by Dr Robert Portman, a well-known sports science researcher: “Imagine your local nutrition store trying to choose between two sports drinks one contains complex carbohydrates and not much sugar which according to the packaging provides lasting energy during exercise. The other sport drinks contains a lot more sugar and says nothing about sustain energy which sport drink should you buy?”

The answer might surprise you. The sports drink with more sugar and no promise of lasting energy will have a significantly greater positive effect on your endurance performance than the other product. While “lasting energy” sounds good, what you really need during intense racing is fast energy and any drink that claims to provide “lasting energy” provides energy too slowly to meet your muscles needs.

A sports drink that is designed to provide “lasting energy” with complex carbohydrates (i.e. maltodextrin) will deliver carbohydrates too slowly to avoid the glycogen depletion and symptoms associated with bonking (low energy, double vision, delayed reaction times, etc.). Commercial sports drinks that contain large starches take extensive time to break down into usable energy (glucose) and sports drinks whose main sugar is galactose which must pass through the liver before it reaches the muscles and therefore deliver energy at half the rate that other sugars do.

Even during easy workouts your muscles burn a combination of carbohydrates, protein & fat. As your intensity elevates up to race pace, you burn stored sugar faster. The only fuel source that needs to be replenished during exercise is stored sugar (aka carbohydrate stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver). When your sugar levels runs low you experience what we call “bonking”. A high quality sports drink that uses a clean burning, simple sugar source provides you fast energy which allows your muscles to conserve stored glycogen and support your race effort. If you are looking for a high quality, easily digestible sports drink, please review my Energy Fuel.

In a 2009 study with various carbohydrate combinations (beyond the scope of this article), average power output was significantly higher when the subjects drank a simple sugar sports drinks then when they consumed a complex carbohydrate sports drink.

Do you need to Carbo-Load?

The practice of increasing carbohydrate intake before racing is a long-standing tradition within the sporting community. It began when athletes discovered that their endurance seem to improve when they loaded up on carbohydrates in the days preceding a long race. Its popularity exploded in the 1960s when the Swedish exercise scientist named Gunvar Ahlborg discovered that carbohydrate loading worked by greatly increasing muscle glycogen stores, which are the limiting fuel supply for athletes and races.

This work has served to define the limits as to the effectiveness of this practice. Key findings include: 1.Tapering or reducing training itself boosts muscle glycogen stores substantially without increased carbohydrate intake (hence the need for a taper consisting of less volume leading up to a race). 2.Carbo loading has no effect on performance and races lasting less than 90 minutes 3.Carbohydrate loading does not enhance endurance performance when adequate carbohydrate is consumed during the race (where applicable).

Does this mean that you shouldn't bother with carbohydrate loading? Not necessarily, it definitely can help in some circumstances and by testing during your weekly training will remove any of the guess work associated with pre-race nutrition. If you would like a copy of my Food & Performance log spreadsheet to document you’re eating and drinking habits and the effect this has on your speed & endurance, please email me directly.

Coach Robb has been working with riders & racers for the last 25 years and is the founder of the Complete Racing Solutions Performance Program & Nutritionally Green Supplements based in Orlando Florida. He has contributed to publications such as Vurbmoto.com, Racer X, FLMX, FTR Magazine and is a regular contributor to RacerX online, RacerXVT, Vurbmoto and various racing websites. Robb can also be heard on the monthly radio show DMXS answering listener’s questions about nutrition & fitness. coachrobb.com is a premium resource center for motocross, supercross and GNCC riders of all abilities and ages. The website outlines the training solutions used with great success by Factory Kawasaki/Pro-Circuit’s Adam Cianciarulo, Broc Tickle, Darryn Durham; Factory, Factory Honda’s Ashley Fiolek, Thor’s Jordan Bailey, Factory JGR/Yamaha’s Jon Jon Ames, Factory KTM Off Road Charlie Mullins & Yamaha’s Roman Brown. Instructional videos with Coach Robb can be found on the Coach Robb’s Youtube Channel addressing rider’s questions about speed, endurance, strength nutrition, biomechanics, and stretching and soft tissue maintenance. Please visit coachrobb.com to subscribe to his newsletter and learn more about various resources for riders. You can follow him on Twitter: @MotoCoachRobb and on Facebook: Coach Robb.

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