Engineered sports supplements – such as sports beans, gels and chews – are commonly used to fuel long distance endurance activities. Learn what the added ingredients are, and how they might help fuel your performance.

Long distance endurance athletes know the importance of fueling before, during and after events. What they don’t always know, if what to fuel with. During an event, both liquid nutrition and engineered nutrition supplements – such as sports beans, bloks or gels – can supply the carbohydrates and electrolytes needed to support activity.

Aside from that basic nutrition, many of these products are formulated with additional compounds. Caffeine is commonly added, as well as  antioxidants and amino acids blends. Are these added ingredients safe, effective and necessary? Let’s take a look at what they are, and whether or not they are worth the hype.

The Basics: Carbohydrates and Electrolytes

The goal with any endurance supplement is to supply the athlete with ample energy to ensure optimum performance. This energy comes in the form of simple sugar: glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, fruit extracts, syrups, juice, honey, etc. Simple sugars are important for quick delivery of energy to the athlete’s fatigued muscles.

Endurance supplements also contain electrolytes (namely sodium and potassium) because of their important role in fluid balance and muscle contraction. If you check out the ingredient list, salt, sodium citrate, sodium lactate, potassium chloride, and potassium citrate are the most common forms these electrolytes would come in.

Caffeine Green Tea Extract 

Caffeine is a common ergogenic aid for athletes that, if taken the right way, may enhance performance. Specifically, studies show that it can reduce perception of how hard the body is working.

Caffeine can be added to products in a variety of ways – including natural & synthetic sources  Green tea is one example of a natural caffeine source.

Caffeine can now be found in many products, including gels, chews, bloks and beans.

Antioxidant blend (vitamins C & E)

Antioxidants work to protect cells during exercise. As the body becomes more stressed, muscle tissues are more likely to break down. Antioxidants help combat this. You can find antioxidant blends in a variety of gels, chews, beans and bloks.

Amino Acid Blend (leucine, valine, histidine, isoleucine)

Leucine, valine, and isoleucine are amino acids that are branched in structure. In theory, they work to lessen fatigue by decreasing the brain’s production of serotonin. Serotonin increases mental (and maybe even physical) fatigue. This theory is known as the “central fatigue theory.” Histidine, on the other hand, acts as a buffer against lactic acid buildup, fighting fatigue.

There are many varieties of gels and chews that are formulated with amino acids. 

B-vitamin Blend (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid)

B vitamins play a role in energy metabolism (converting carbohydrates and sugar into usable energy). Different products contain different combinations of B vitamins. Some Sports beans and gels are formulated to include additional B-vitamins Blends.

Herbal blend 

Including additional herbal blends in engineered foods is also gaining popularity – anything for that competitive edge, right? One of those herbal compounds is chamomile. Though more research is needed to say for sure, it is touted for being an anti-inflammatory.  Ginger is another spice being included in sports products. It’s known as a way to soothe the stomach, though. If this sounds like something you might like, look for Gels that include chamomile and ginger.

Worth the Hype?

Do you really need any of these specially formulated ingredients?  Just because products contain them, doesn’t mean they are the right choice for you.  If you decide to give one a try, just be sure to use one new product at a time.  Keep a log and track any changes in how you feel or your performance. If you want individualized help, be sure to contact a board certified specialist in sports nutrition to help.

Have you tried any of these products? What did you like?

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