Performance Enhancing Supplements - The Legal Kind
Now that I've been involved with competitive running and cycling for a few years, I've seen quite a few supplements, tonics, energy drinks, energy bars, pills, and whatnot designed to help you perform your best. Some simply provide a source of calories while others promise to make you a world-class athlete. Today we'll focus on the ones with realistic claims (i.e. the legal ones.)
Powerbar Performance Bar
The old standby, these bars have been around for years and years. The concept is simple - an easy way to replenish your carbohydrates during exercise. All you do is unwrap the bar, chew it up, and you just got another 220 calories and 45 grams of carbs! Great when you're out riding, not so great when you want real food or if you're dieting and want a quick snack.
Reason to buy? They're easy to carry and consume during exercise. If you've ever tried sticking a few bananas and an apple in your jersey pocket, you know what I mean!
Another time-tested substance with universal appeal. It can be seen at water stops during the Boston Marathon and on NFL sidelines. Even non-athletes drink it for the taste (or maybe just the sugar.) It promises to replenish fluids and electrolytes which will protect against cramps and hyponatremia, which has gotten quite a bit of attention lately.
(When temperatures topped 90 degrees during the 2004 Boston Marathon, you can bet I was reaching for Gatorade every chance I got!)
Gatorade has even produced a new "Endurance" version specifically for events lasting over 4 hours. If you do any long-distance runs or rides, this could be for you.
Reason to buy? It tastes good, provides needed carbs, and helps ward off cramps. (But stick with water as your primary drink if you're not working out.)
I guess sugar and electrolytes aren't enough for some people. They need something with more sex appeal and are willing to pay $2.50 a can for it. I'm referring to drinks such as Red Bull that contain large amounts of caffeine and taurine. While it may provide an energy boost, I'm more concerned with my overall health and avoid anything of this sort.
Reason to buy? You're into all the hype or just truly believe that these additives contribute to performance enhancement.
With SportLegs you can "do more. Hurt less." The claim on these pills is that you can go faster for a longer period of time. Somehow they decrease the burning sensation you get from lactic acid build-up. They claim to regulate lactic acid production so that your muscles only produce the amount they need for top performance. I'm not quite sure how that is possible, but the good news is that the ingredients are Recognized Safe by the FDA and sport governing bodies like the UCI.
Reason to buy? They contain calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin D, and SportLegs has testimonials from top athletes. If you really like to test out this kind of stuff, I won't try to stop you.
Liquid Whole Foods
Finally, something all-natural to enhance your health. This is kind of like a liquid multivitamin, usually made from deep sea vegetation, so it's actually more like food. It is claimed to be "liquid whole food." This is something to take everyday instead of vitamin tablets for overall health and well-being.
I think of it like base training. You want to have some general fitness before you start doing intense intervals, right? Similarly, you want to have a healthy body to allow for any other exercise specific supplements to work their best.
Reason to buy? Everyone knows that eating green, leafy vegetables is great for your health. This is like doing that, but since it's a liquid, it's easier. And it actually tastes really good. (Best if you're into network marketing, because you can't get it in stores.)
I was turned on to protein supplements when Ed Burke's book came out a couple years ago. It discussed all the science behind muscle performance and recovery and was very enlightening.
Along with essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, the book emphasized the importance of protein for recovery purposes. After the book came out, it seemed like everyone was jumping on the bandwagon, even energy drink producers who were starting to include some protein in with their carb-loaded drinks.
So, I decided to try it out. I took a scoop of pure whey protein in milk every night for maybe a year or so. Eventually I got bored of taking it, and I'm not sure if it ever helped or not. If you do try it, use it at night, about an hour before you go to bed.
Reason to buy? You're interested in building muscle or recovering faster for your next workout. It might help.
These remind me of SportLegs, since they're pills, but they also remind me of Gatorade since they contain lots of electrolytes. It's basically a pill filled with sodium, potassium, chloride, and other minerals. I've never been interested in taking pills while I exercise, so I don't do much with these.
Reason to buy? You are paranoid about taking in enough electrolytes while exercising or you simply want to prevent cramps or hyponatremia.
Like Powerbars, GU and other brands of gel give you a quick and easy energy fix while on the move. Each pack has about 100 calories and provides an energy boost very quickly. They are also easier to consume than Powerbars, especially during mountain bike races.
Reason to buy? You want a convenient way to get a quick energy boost. Or if you race mountain bikes.
This stuff is kind of like a cross between Body Balance and GU. It's an energy drink filled with antioxidants, thanks to its main ingredient, the acai (ah-sigh-ee) berry. I had not heard of the acai berry until trying this drink. However, having done some more reading, it sounds pretty amazing. It's the most potent drink I can think of, and it tastes kind of like wine. (It also has similar health benefits.)
Just an ounce or two will give you an instant boost. I started taking this prior to training sessions and races, and whenever I feel tired or worn out. It really surprises me sometimes! (Which it better, considering the price tag.)
Reason to buy? You want something to give you quick energy that is made with potent berries instead of some magic herbs.
An energy boosting drink with a reasonable price tag. I got to try this at the Hyannis Marathon earlier in the year, and I was instantly hooked (in a good way.) You simply put the powder in a cup then add about 6 oz of water. It fizzes on its own so no stirring is necessary – it's like champagne!
It contains loads of Vitamin C and plenty of other nutrients, too. It even comes in lots of flavors, unlike some drinks that are only available in orange or lemon-lime.
Unlike Gatorade, Emer'gen-C does not contain any sweeteners so I can recommend it for normal consumption.
Reason to buy? You want to enjoy a refreshing energy drink whenever you feel like it, but don't want excess sugar.
I wanted to finish off with something a little different, and this fits the bill. It looks like a Chap Stick container, but once you open it up, you'll notice the difference!
This little thing packs a punch! The all natural formula contains menthol and has a strong peppermint odor, sure to clear your sinuses. It seems to soothe me yet increase awareness and energize my mind. It's perfect if you have a cold or any congestion.
Reason to buy? It's only $4 and lasts for 3 months or more. That's a bargain even if you just use it for the smell. I would use this to help clear my sinuses even if I wasn't an athlete.
That covered quite a few of the legal supplements on the market today. Hopefully you get a chance to try some of them - maybe they'll enhance your performance!
Just so you know, I'm not a Registered Dietician or anything, just a fellow health-conscious endurance athlete.
Here are some sites to check out for more information on the products I have mentioned:
Powerbar - http://www.powerbar.com/
Gatorade - http://www.gatorade.com/
Red Bull - http://www.redbull.com/
SportLegs - http://www.sportlegs.com/
Body Balance - http://www.lifeforceintl.com/
Whey Protein - http://www.wheyoflife.org/
Endurolytes - http://www.e-caps.com/
GU - http://www.gusports.com/
Fruta Vida - http://www.frutavida.com/
Emer'gen-C - http://www.alacer.com/
Olbas Inhaler - http://www.olbas.com/
Levi Bloom also writes health and fitness articles on his cycling coaching website, CoachLevi.com.