Wiggle’s Guide to Sports Nutrition for Running
Running the Virgin London Marathon? Preparing for your first 5k or 10k race? No doubt you’ve been logging the miles, you have the final weeks of your training programme all mapped out and you’ve worn your kit in perfectly – but what about sports nutrition? It’s an area many runners tend to overlook, but it’s a vital one which can’t be ignored if you’re going to get the most from your training and racing.
You could be forgiven for feeling baffled by the wide range of energy drinks now available. At Wiggle alone, we stock more than a dozen different brands so it pays to know one from the other and find the right product for you.
Energy drinks are designed to keep your energy levels topped up as you train or race by delivering carbohydrate and other nutrients to your working muscles. Your body is only able to store a certain amount of energy (about 2000 calories) and once those stores start running low, you’ll feel the effects. Often referred to in running as “hitting the wall”, it’s a feeling you want to avoid if at all possible – you’ll feel tired, sluggish and possibly even dizzy or faint.
It’s obviously almost impossible to eat while running, but if taking part in an event like a marathon, you will need to stay well hydrated and take on energy throughout the race. This is where energy drinks and gels come into their own, providing you with much needed calories to ensure you can keep going. Drinks stations on race routes usually provide water and energy drinks for runners every few miles, so be sure to take on enough of both to keep you well fuelled.
After water, the most important nutrient you’ll need is carbohydrate in its simplest form (aka sugar) which your body ingests easily and sends to your muscles. With energy drinks, nutritional content can sometimes vary hugely from product to product. Maximuscle’s Viper energy drink, for example, contains 86.4g of carbohydrate per 100g (of which 50g is sugar) and 379 Kcal, while Science in Sport’s Go has 90g of carbohydrate per 100g (of which 17g is sugar) and 360 Kcal. Torq Energy Powder contains 96g of carbohydrate per 100g and packs in 384 Kcal whereas High 5’s EnergySource has 97g of carbohydrate per 100g (of which 33g is sugar) and 384 Kcal.
Among the most popular energy gels for runners are Science in Sport’s Go Gels (available in blackcurrant, orange and tropical flavours), Torq’s gels (flavours include black cherry, orange & banana and strawberry yogurt – plus caffeinated gels are also available) and High5’s gels. They typically contain about 90 calories per sachet and provide about 20-25g of carbohydrate.
Relatively new to the market are Lucozade Sport’s products, which include gels, drinks, recovery drinks and bars, caffeinated drinks and protein powder. As the nutrition sponsor of the Virgin London Marathon, its products will be provided to runners on race day so if you’re running the marathon it’s wise to try them out beforehand.
Of course, if it was all just about carbohydrate and calories it would be fairly straightforward, but the sports science behind energy products has developed at such a rapid rate in recent years that there is now more to consider. Do you want your drink to be caffeinated, with protein, isotonic, with electrolytes, all of the above or none? Confused? Fear not, we’ve drunk them all…
Carbohydrate & Protein Energy Drinks
Studies have shown that consuming carbohydrates together with protein enables the carbs to be ingested more efficiently. A combination of carbs and protein drives more energy to the working muscles during exercise than just consuming carbs alone. The protein also protects muscles from being broken down and used as fuel during endurance training and competition. Products such as High5’s EnergySource 4:1 with Super Carbs is one of the most popular carb:protein drinks and contains 77g of carbs and 20g of protein per 100g.
Caffeinated Energy Drinks
A lot of research has been undertaken into the effect of caffeine on performance. Its presence in a number of energy drinks and gels is evidence enough of the boost it can provide in training and racing. The effects can really be felt, particularly if your everyday diet is low in caffeine. It is no secret that caffeine can help to ease fatigue, increase awareness and lift mood. When used in a sports drink it can help to reduce the perception of fatigue and the perceived rate of exertion, which is obviously going to prove beneficial to performance, especially in those final closing miles of a long, tough race. Drinks such as Maximuscle’s Viper Extreme and High5’s XTreme contain high levels of caffeine – 150mg per 50g serving, which is not too dissimilar to a freshly brewed cup of coffee (which contains between 110 – 150mg of caffeine). If you feel this type of product could be of benefit to you ensure you try it in training before using it in a race. It might also be worth trying caffeinated gels too, such as Torq’s gels with guarana or Science in Sport’s Smart gels.
Isotonic Energy Drinks
If training or racing in warmer climates, it is worth considering using an isotonic energy drink/one high in electrolytes (salts). This enables you to rehydrate faster and replace the electrolytes you lose through excessive sweating. Fast fluid replacement combined with carbohydrate refueling are critical to performance in hotter, humid conditions so products such as Science in Sport’s Go Electrolyte and High5’s Isotonic are definitely worth trying. Tablets such as Nuun’s Active Hydration Tablets and Motor Tabs Fluid Replacement System are also worth considering. Motor Tabs come individually wrapped and Nuun come in a tube. These can be dropped into water to make a simple hydration drink.
It’s not all about what you drink during exercise. What you take on afterwards is equally as important and there are a number of different drinks available which are designed to aid recovery. Wiggle currently has an exclusive deal with For Goodness Shakes, which has just launched its new recovery powder sachets which combine taste with performance. The drink has been designed to energise, rebuild and rehydrate your body after exercise. Its blend of carbohydrate and protein helps replenish energy stores and repair tired muscles. It’s easy on the stomach and the special rod-shaped pack is simply torn open and fits vertically into your water bottle to dispense without spillage.
Timing is everything
After vigorous exercise, there’s a 20-30 minute window in which your body will replenish depleted energy stores at a faster rate. For this reason, it’s a great idea to get into the habit of finishing your workout with a recovery drink like For Goodness Shakes. Your body will thank you for it the next time you go out running.
Word of warning
With all energy and recovery drinks and gels it is strongly recommended that you test them in training before using them in racing as not all powders and flavours will suit all palates. After some initial experimenting, you’ll soon find the rocket fuel that’s right for you. Happy training and racing!