Perfectly Natural Fuel

Red 40, modified food starch, high-fructose corn syrup, glycerol ester, aspartame?fuel for optimal performance? Think again! You are an athlete! You understand that what you put into your body makes a difference. So when choosing sports products, make sure to read the ingredient list.

The ingredient list is the key to identifying high-quality sports products to optimally fuel your workouts. Natural products will give you an edge during exercise, support improved recovery, and keep you fit. You exercise to stay healthy--there's no reason to be filling your tank with unhealthy and unnatural ingredients.

More: 10 Natural Race Food Alternatives

Fueling Fundamentals

When using a sports drink, gel or chew, keep a few basics in mind. You will need to replenish fluid, carbohydrate and sodium during any activity lasting longer than 60-90 minutes. Fluid comes from either sport drinks or water. Carbohydrate and sodium come from sport drinks, gels and chews. It's up to you to find the right combination of these products.

The biggest factor in choosing a natural product is to understand the type of carbohydrate being used. Then assess the additives: some for performance such as ginseng or green tea extract and others which are potentially harmful such as synthetic food dye and artificial sweeteners.

More: How Much Water Should You Drink?

Type of Carbohydrate

There are various options for naturally derived carbohydrates in sports products. The most refined carbohydrate source is high-fructose corn syrup--avoid this. Look for evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, or fruit concentrates to sweeten your fuel. Dextrose and fructose are other added sugars that you might see in natural products. Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate used in many drinks and gels—it has no flavor and is preferred for those who don't like super-sweet products.

Choose a product that has multiple naturally derived carbohydrate sources for better absorption and reduced stomach issues during exercise. For example, a product that only uses maltodextrin will have a light flavor but absorption of carbohydrate can't be maximized. This will impair performance when exercising for longer than three hours but is fine for a shorter workout.

More: Are You Eating Enough Carbs?

Products that have a blend of carbohydrates, such as maltodextrin, fructose, dextrose and fruit concentrate provide four different sources of carbohydrate. Multiple types of carbohydrate are preferred for ultra-endurance exercise or if you have a sensitive stomach.

Unnecessary Additives

Scan the ingredient list for unnecessary additives. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that provides sweetness without adding sugar. Sounds good? Your stomach may not agree-watch out for gas and bloating with xylitol. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame potassium are added to sports products for sweetness with zero calories.

This makes the product super-sweet, which is a major complaint of many exercisers and the reason why so many people avoid sports drinks. There is no place for artificial sweeteners or synthetic food dyes in a sport product. Avoid Red 40--an example of a synthetic food dye. Look for beet juice instead--an example of a natural red dye.

More: 3 Plant-Based Power Meals for Athletes

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About the Author

Hana Feeney

Hana Abdulaziz Feeney, MS, RD, CSSD is a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and virtual nutrition coach who specializes in weight management, diabetes, celiac disease, food allergies, eco-friendly eating and sports nutrition. Visit her website for more great ideas at www.nourishingresults.com. Contact her at 520-429-3418 or nutritionist_hana@msn.com to learn more about her private practice and how she can inspire, educate and motivate you to change your life, one bite at a time.

Hana Abdulaziz Feeney, MS, RD, CSSD is a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and virtual nutrition coach who specializes in weight management, diabetes, celiac disease, food allergies, eco-friendly eating and sports nutrition. Visit her website for more great ideas at www.nourishingresults.com. Contact her at 520-429-3418 or nutritionist_hana@msn.com to learn more about her private practice and how she can inspire, educate and motivate you to change your life, one bite at a time.

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