Alternative Energy: Do Energy Gels and Supplements Really Work?
Pages in this Story:
- A Growing Demand for Sports Nutrition and Energy Supplements
- The Real Deal on Energy Supplements
- Shake It Up: Protein Shakes and Postexercise Supplements
- Anatomy of an Energy Gel: What's Really in It?
Shake It Up: Protein Shakes and Postexercise Supplements
Along with energy bars and gels, recovery shakes are an increasingly popular postexercise supplement; they contain protein powders, that, blended with water or milk, help repair and rebuild muscles after a strenuous workout. Proponents of the powders say there is no better way to get protein and carbs into your body quickly, especially because science suggests that it's crucial to replace lost nutrients within 30 minutes to one hour of exercise for maximum muscle recovery and repair. Translation: You feel less sore the day after. The current thinking among many sports doctors and nutritionists is that consuming a 3- or 4-to-1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is ideal. Conveniently, most recovery drinks fit the bill perfectly. "Your body is primed to take in nutrients after you work out," Antonio says. "It's one of the easier ways to recover after your workout: You exercise; you drink a protein shake. Most people can do that."
How much protein does your body need to support an active lifestyle? Some mixes contain 40 or 50 grams. "That's too much for one serving," says coach Winslow, who recommends 20 to 30 grams for her female triathletes, depending on age and weight. "A lot of women overdo the protein shakes, and their bodies don't utilize the extra calories they're taking in, so they end up as extra pounds."
Some experts question whether recreational athletes need to be consuming these protein shakes at all. "It's a huge business," Clark says. "I have yet to meet an exerciser who is protein-deficient, unless she is eating a poorly balanced vegetarian diet." An active woman can get the .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight she requires daily by eating a healthful diet, Clark says, and studies show milk -- in particular, chocolate milk -- is a perfect postworkout drink. "It offers the protein you need, along with some calcium and vitamin D for your bones," Clark says. That hasn't stopped health-conscious consumers from stocking their kitchen with tubs of protein powder -- it's now one of GNC's most popular products, leading the company to launch Be-Buff, a line of whey-protein powder exclusively for female exercisers. Following her twice-weekly strength-training sessions at a local gym outside Boston, 34-year-old Candice Kilfoyle dutifully mixes her chocolate whey protein with milk, bananas, peanut butter, oatmeal, strawberries, and ice. A recent convert to sports supplements, Candice started taking the brown powder about 10 months ago when she intensified her fitness routine. "I talked with the woman who owns my fitness studio, and when I told her my goals -- more lean muscle -- she said I should increase my protein," she says. After hearing a few of the other women in her class chatting about how much stronger they felt and faster they bounced back after a hard workout with the help of their protein shakes, she went to the local health food store and bought a canister of whey-protein powder. The benefits are obvious, Candice believes. "My upper body has more definition and strength, and my lower body is leaner. Overall, I just feel healthier and stronger," she says.
But is whey the real reason for Candice's improvement? Rebecca Costello, PhD, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements, is not so sure. "There's no magic bullet here," Costello says. "We don't have good research for many supplements that supports claims of significant improvements in performance. And there's a huge placebo effect. We want to get fitter or run faster, and so we try these supplements. If our performance improves at all, we think they're working." Whey protein is trendy and popular right now, Costello says, "but the majority of women can get the protein they need from drinking milk and eating dairy products such as yogurt or cheese, and eggs, meat, nuts, and beans." Sports nutritionist Antonio concurs that these are all good sources of protein for women, but emphasizes that studies show whey-protein powder is absorbed into your system more quickly than other forms of protein, making it especially useful in muscle recovery.
In the end, many experts say, sports supplements work best for women doing intense endurance training for events like triathlons or marathons. "It comes down to your goal and how you're using the product," says sports nutritionist Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, author of Power Eating. "Women who exercise at moderate levels for 60 minutes or less probably don't need these sports supplements." For recreational exercisers, Kleiner says, it's often a matter of weighing a supplement's caloric content against the energy expended during a workout: "If you're walking on a treadmill, water is fine. If you're out for a long strenuous run, you need to refuel as well as rehydrate." For Patricia Murphy, the benefits of sucking down GUs during her three-hour bike rides are clear: "It's easy, instant energy," she says. "It keeps me going strong."
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