Power. Energy. Greatness.
These are three words I would like to think describe my fitness routine. They are also three words commonly used on packaging (or in marketing campaigns) for sports drinks, energy bars, and the other packaged foods that make up the bloated "fitness junk food" industry. But if you're an everyday gym-goer, can they really boost your performance? Or are you just shelling out your cash for, well, calories?
Probably the latter. "If you add these products to your diet without subtracting other foods, you're just adding back the calories you're burning during exercise," says Eve Pearson, RD, a sports nutritionist in Dallas (break the post-workout binging habit with tips from this article).
Here are the five fitness junk foods that could be making you fat, and their budget-friendly, better-for-you alternatives.Sports Drinks
"A sports drink is basically sugar water with a sprinkle of salt," says Nancy Clark, MS, RD, author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook. "Only a very select group of people need the extra sugar to stay energized. The rest of us are fine with water."
The problem: Millions of Americans guzzle sports drinks when they don't need them, simply upping their calorie intake. "You might as well have a soda," says Clark. If you can't get enough of the sweet stuff, follow this nutrition plan to beat your sugar addiction.
As for the extra sodium, Clark reminds us that there's a public health campaign aimed at getting us to reduce our intake of the white stuff. "However, if you're exercising for more than three hours in the heat, a little more sodium is helpful. But you could just as easily put a pinch or two of salt on your oatmeal before you exercise to get it into your system."Energy Bars
While an energy bar may sound like a great pre-workout snack, a lot of them are nothing more than glorified cookies, says Clark. Many bars, especially those pegged as "meal replacements", can pack a staggering 300-plus calories, easily negating the ones you're about to burn off on the elliptical.
If you're going to reach for a bar, read the nutrition label first. The American Heart Association says women shouldn't eat more than 25 g of added sugar per day, and men should stick to under 37. "These bars can easily have more than half that," says Pearson. Instead, opt for bars made with whole foods, like KIND or LARA bars, or just grab a handful of nuts.