Endurance sports supplements – such as sports beans, gels and chews – are commonly used to fuel long distance 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 endurance sports supplements – such as sports beans, bloks or gels – can supply the carbohydrates and electrolytes needed to support activity.
Aside from those basic sports nutrition nutrients, many products are formulated with additional compounds. Caffeine is commonly added, as well as antioxidants and amino acids blends. But, are those added ingredients safe, effective and necessary? Let’s take a look at what they are, and whether or not they are worth the hype.
Carbohydrates and Electrolytes In Endurance Sports Supplements
The goal with any endurance sports supplement is to supply athletes with ample energy to ensure optimum performance. That 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 sports supplements also contain electrolytes – namely sodium and potassium. Those electrolytes play an important role in fluid balance and muscle contraction. You can determine which form your product contains by checking the ingredient list. The most common forms of those electrolytes are salt, sodium citrate, sodium lactate, potassium chloride and potassium citrate.
Caffeine Green Tea Extract
Caffeine is a common ergogenic aid for athletes. Research supports that, when taken the right way, it may enhance performance. Specifically, studies show that it can reduce the perception of how hard you are 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, but there are others. Some herbal ingredients are also a source of caffeine. Sports gels, chews, bloks and beans may contain a variety of different caffeine sources.
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. Many endurance sports supplements contain herbal blends, for that reason.
Amino Acid Blend (Leucine, Valine, Histidine, Isoleucine)
Leucine, valine, and isoleucine are amino acids that are branched in structure. That’s why, they are referred to as the branched chain amino acids. In theory, they work to lessen fatigue by decreasing the brain’s production of serotonin. Serotonin increases mental, and possibly, physical fatigue. If you’ve heard of “central fatigue theory, that’s what it is referring to. Histidine, on the other hand, may help to combat that fatigue. It does that by acting as a buffering against the buildup of lactic acid. A variety of different gels and chews are formulated with amino acids.
B-Vitamin Blends (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid)
B vitamins play a role in energy metabolism. They help to convert carbohydrates and sugar into usable energy. For that reason, different products contain different combinations of B vitamins.
Though some endurance sports supplements include B-vitamins, they are not necessary to convert your food to energy. That is, unless you don’t get enough through your food. B-vitamins are water soluble, so having extra won’t hurt you, but they are unlikely to help, either.
Herbal blends In Endurance Sports Supplements
Adding herbal blends to engineered foods is, also, gaining popularity. That’s because, companies are looking for a way to make their brand competitive. Anything for that competitive edge, right?
One common herbal compound 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. Though no evidence exists to support its use in that way, it’s not harmful.
You have to be careful using herbal blends, though. Combining them with caffeine can cause side effects that you don’t want during your event. Some may even be dangerous.
Are The Extra Nutrients In Endurance Sports Supplements Necessary?
As a sports dietitian, I spend a lot of time helping athletes determine the best food and supplements to support their performance. Endurance sports fuel – like gels, beans and chews – are something I often recommend. That is, for athletes that need them. That’s an important point, because not all athletes do.
Just because products contain these extra nutrients, doesn’t mean you need them. But, if you decide to give them a try, just be sure to know what you are swallowing. Start by using one new product at a time, so that you can see how your body handles it. Keep a log and track how you feel and how you perform. If you want individualized help, be sure to contact a board certified specialist in sports nutrition. A sports dietitian can help you decide if these products are right for you, and which ones to use.
Have you tried any of these endurance sports supplements? What did you like?