At almost every fitness store there’s a dedicated section to nutrition and recovery items- shelves adorned with every name brand goop, bar, gel, square and drink tablet. Some athletes live by them, others swear against them and yeah they look and taste, well tolerable, but do they actually work or are they just a fad?
Well, that depends.
During long distance runs bodies rely on two sources of fuel to energize muscles – fat fuel and carbohydrates.
In scientific terms (and according to Competitor.com) “Fat is a largely abundant resource, but is broken down into usable energy slowly, making it an ineffective fuel source when running anything faster than about 60-70% of your VO2max (how fast you’d run a marathon pace).” Hence why a brief stint in the gym won’t make those In and Out fries disappear.
Therefore, since fat rarely cuts it, bodies turn to carbohydrates to keep energized-storing on average about 90 minutes of muscle glycogen.
In short, energy gels are designed to replenish carbohydrates, so in theory, athletes can squeeze a gel, pop some sport jellybeans, or dissolve a drink tablet throughout the course of their workout to keep their muscle glycogen level up and their arms and legs fueled. Some elite athletes say they do not recommend it because of how the stomach processes sugars during a hard workout– but that’s a whole digestive discussion for another time.
For now, we’ll just stick to the simple rule of hard and long run yes to energy gels being a smart investment.
But what if you’re not running?
What if you’re channeling your inner Beyonce and “slaying” high intensity workouts like so many of our fabulous Bootique clients in our outdoor San Diego personal training group classes? Even though the workout may be shorter, the workout is tough. The workout is intense. The workout should be supplemented by an energy gel, right?
During a high intensity workout, bodies are sent into a fat-burning overdrive (score!) by performing different exercises at various intervals. By refusing to allow your body to adjust to one performance speed, calories are churned at an exponentially high rate over a shorter period of time, which not only eliminates the need for a refueling break mid workout but also keeps oxygen production high, even after the workout is complete. As oxygen is continually produced, keeping the body energized.
As a result, the body creates its own energy system, really eliminating the need for any sort of supplemental drink, gel or sport bean. Pretty nifty the body can do that all on its own.
As different fitness products are developed and improved, it’s easy to get impressed with the hype and splurge for the latest quick fix or “must have” product. While some may work better than others, it’s important when trying any new product- from a new gel to a new type of running shoe- to do your research and most importantly, listen to your body. What works for some, may not work for others and only you can be the judge.