PowerBar's debut in the 1980's and GU's debut in the 1990's bolstered the commercial sports food scene. Since then, a multitude of companies have jumped on the bandwagon to create niche fuels that appeal to a variety of athletes. There's a product for every dietary need -- gluten-free, vegan, kosher, lactose-free, fructose-free ...the list goes on.
If you have ever felt confused by the plethora of commercial sports fuels from which to choose, you are not alone. Runners, cyclists and other athletes inevitably ask me "What's the best energy bar? gel? sports drink?" I only wish I had the right answer! The best choice for one person may be lackluster for another. You simply need to experiment to determine which products satisfy your needs.
In general, commercial sports foods tend to be more about convenience than necessity. They can make fueling easier, and offer more benefits than you'd get from just plain water. But if you're on a budget, take note: a daily pre-exercise sports drink @ $1.59 adds up to more than $570 a year. An equal number of pre-exercise calories from water and a Nature Valley Granola Bar cost only 50 a day, $180 a year.
Certainly, there is a time and place for engineered sports fuels, particularly if you are a high-level endurance athlete who exercises all-out. But throughout the day, you should maintain a foundation of wholesome foods in the midst of the engineered choices. That is, you need not drink Gatorade at lunch, nor eat Jelly Belly Sports Beans for an afternoon snack. Be sure you add a few apple cores and banana peels to the litter of engineered sports food wrappers!
Below is a comprehensive (but unlikely complete) list of various types of assorted sports fuels and foods. Perhaps it will help you untangle the jungle of choices. Don't be swayed by the product names. In some cases, these creative names may be more valuable than the sports foods themselves...
With sodium (and perhaps other electrolytes):
Gatorade, Edge Energy, Hydro-Boom!, Hammer Nutrition Heed, GU2O, CytoMax, Clif Shot Electrolyte, Motor Tabs
All natural without dye/food coloring:
First Endurance EFS, Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink, Hammer Nutrition HEED, Recharge
Extra sodium (Good idea if you plan to exercise for more than two hours in the heat):
Gatorade Endurance, PowerBar Endurance, E-Fuel, First Endurance EFS, Clif Shot Electrolyte Drink, E-Load, Hydro Pro Cooler
Added "buffers": Cytomax, Perpetuem, Revenge Sport
Extra carbs: Perpetuem, Carbo-Pro
Added protein (May reduce post-exercise muscle soreness):
Amino Vital, Perpetuem, Accelerade, Revenge Pro
Sports drinks for dieters (i.e., lower calorie):
PowerAde Option, Ultima Replenisher, Xtra LowOz, Propel, Nuun
Test with these during training. They can taste very sweet and are common contributors to diarrhea.
Gu, Carb-BOOM!, Clif Shot; All natural: Honey Stinger;
Extra sodium: PowerBar Gel, Crank Sports e-Gel
Added protein: Accel Gel, Endless edge
GU Espresso Love, Clif Shot Mocha, Cola and Strawberry; Carb-BOOM Chocolate Cherry, Hammer Gel Espresso, PowerBar Gel Double Latte, Tangerine, Chocolate, Green Apple and Strawberry-banana; Honey Stinger Ginsting and Strawberry
Added extras: EAS Energy Gel (taurine)
Jelly Belly Sports Beans (a jelly bean with sodium). Clif Shot Bloks (a soft gummi candy in a block), Sharkies (organic fruit chew), SPIZ ("liquid food")
RECOVERY DRINKS (Carbs with a little protein)
Amino Vital, First Endurance E3, EAS Endurathon, Perpetuem, PowerBar Recovery Drinks, Recoverite, Go Energy Drink, Endurox R4, Gatorade Nutrition Shake, Hormel's Great Shake, GNC's Distance, Clif Shot Recovery Drink. First Endurance Ultragen
ENERGY DRINKS: (Concentrated sugar, often with added caffeine):
Red Bull, Rock Star, Monster, Rebound-fx, Full Throttle
ENERGY BARS (should be eaten for extra energy, not for a meal replacement):
All natural/organic ((have no added vitamins or minerals): Clif Bar, Peak Energy, Perfect 10, Clif Nectar, Clif Mojo, Lara Bar, Optimum, TrailMix HoneyBar, Odwalla Bar, PowerBar Nut Naturals, Honey Stinger Bars, Kashi Bars
Granola-type bars: PowerBar Harvest, Nature Valley Granola Bar, Quaker Chewy Bars, Nutri-Grain Bar, Fig Newtons
Women's bars (fewer calories; soy, calcium, iron and folic acid): PowerBar Pria, Amino Vital Fit, Luna Bar, Balance Oasis
40-30-30 Bars: Balance Bar, ZonePerfect
Kosher: Pure Fit, Lara Bar
Dairy-free: Clif Nectar, Pure Fit, Perfect 10, Lara Bar, Clif Builder's Bar
Gluten-free: Perfect 10, Elev8Me, Hammer Bar, Clif Nectar, EnvirKids Rice Cereal Bar; Omega Smart Bars, Odwalla Bar, Clif Builder's Bar
Vegan: Pure Fit, Lara Bar, Hammer Bar, Vega Whole Food Raw Energy Bar, Clif Builder's Bar
Low fiber: Balance Bar
Bars with caffeine: Peak Energy Plus
Vitamin & protein-pumped candy bar: Marathon Bar; Detour Bar
Recovery bar (4:1 carb:pro ratio): PowerBar Performance
PROTEIN BARS (Your choice of soy, whey, egg or blended protein source):
PowerBar ProteinPlus, EAS Myoplex Delux, High 5 Protein Bar, Maximuscle Promax Meal, USN Pure Protein, Atkins Advantage, Tri-O-Plex, Clif Builder's Bar, Detour Bar, Honey Stinger Protein Bar
MEAL REPLACEMENT BARS (offers 10-15 g protein, fiber, some fat, vitamins, minerals -- but not really enough calories for a whole meal):
Kashi Go Lean Bar , Balance Satisfaction, MetRx Mr. Big, MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D., counsels both casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks (617-383-6100), the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill, MA. Her best-selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Food Guide for Marathoners and The Cyclist's Food Guide are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com or www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com.