Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Do we really need sports gels?

Why does everything have to be so complicated?  Balance work, family, religion and your personal goals among a few things in life.  For most of you reading EMT, some of your personal goals encompass triathlons, whether it be your first race or your 10th Ironman.  You can get lost in the minutia of clothing, bikes, mechanical equipment, GPS, heart rate, and everything that the sport entails.  Why should nutrition be any different, right?


It only makes sense that nutrition is an important part of triathlons.  You need to supply the right energy to get you through a grueling event.  Maybe not as important for sprints and border line for olympic distances, but anything further than that, and nutrition becomes the 4th element of triathlon.  That doesn't mean you need a rocket science degree or you need to be a nutritional expert or hire one to get the right stuff.  There are plenty of opinions out there about what to take, when to take it and how much.

What there is also a lot of for nutrition is advertising.  GU recently inked a 2 year deal with Ironman events to be the official nutrition sponsor.  For all of you jumping up and down that your beloved GU will be on course now, lets think about it.  Do you really need that goop to get from start to finish or to reach that PR?  People use the gels to Big Macs to fuel them to the finish line.  What makes someone pick gels over chomps over a cheeseburger?  Everyone has their scientific testing and proof why their products work the best, and I'm sure it's all justified.  What makes it confusing is when you look at some of the recommendations and think about what your body can really take in, it doesn't add up.

Look at GU Energy.  From their recommendations, "Combine GU with Roctane Ultra Endurance Gel, GU Electrolyte Brew and GU Recovery Brew for the ultimate in sports hydration, fueling and recovery. Take one gel 15 minutes before training or competition and then one gel every 30-45 minutes during exercise. Drink Electrolyte Brew throughout your training or racing, and drink Recovery Brew within 30 minutes after you’ve stopped."  Holy crap (and that's what you may have to do if you take in that many calories).  If you add that up, possibly 200 calories in gel every hour mixed with 100 or more calories of Brew per hour.  That's 300 calories (and a lot of that is sugar), and if you check out the popular opinions on what the body can process per hour while racing, you get 150 to 200 calories for the average person.  Now, we all know we are all superior racing machines and better than average, but be real.  Most of us do not have the high metabolism to use all of those calories.  And where do that excess go?  It sits in your stomach and gut until your body decides it's time for it to go.  And there you are with a stomach ache or GI issues in the nearest port-a-potty.

Don't believe everything you read. Yes, you need nutrition during a long race.  Yes, you can use gels or whatever gets you through it.  But, don't think just because the WTC backs a brand or you see all of those used gel packets lining the aid stations that you need them as well.  Personally I've sworn off gels as all they seem to do is sit in my gut and make me want to gag when I woof them down (pre-race or during).  You can go with fluid nutrition, solid foods, gels, gummy bites or any combination, but more is not always better.

All of the endurance specific brands out there want your consumer dollar.  Some products are worth while and some you just don't need.  A lot of companies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to convince YOU that you need THEIR products and lots of it.  I'm not saying boycott all gels or corporate brands, but if you can do your training and racing without some of them or following their recommended regimen, simple can't be a bad thing.
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