Here are a few notes on the energy foods – drinks, bars and gels – that I’m currently using to fuel my training for my X-Pennine 300 challenge together with a flavour of my generally unsophisticated approach to nutrition. All of these products are consumed during exercise (I don’t usually bother with pre or post-exercise supplements, only skimmed milk as a recovery drink). During training and definitely before long events I try to ensure that my glycogen stores are fully replenished and thanks to my lovely wife generally eat a fairly healthy, low-fat, home-cooked diet (although tracking my weight over the last couple of months I’ve probably eaten more carbs than I should).
I consume the bars, gels and drinks to suit myself and have never followed manufacturer recommendations because, apart from anything else, I’m somewhat suspicious of their motives: if you did as suggested, at over a £1 a pop for a gel feeding oneself on the go could become an expensive business for amateur, unsponsored athletes and I think there are more cost-effective gains to be made by looking after your general diet.
I freely admit that although I’m not THAT old I am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to new ideas and I’ve always been inclined towards a ‘tough of the track’ approach of self denial (anyone remember Alf Tupper in The Victor comic?). I believe that the body quickly learns what it can expect and adapts accordingly. If you’re competing against others or you’re motivated by PBs then you might need to be a bit more progressive but as I’m not I can take a more ‘seat-of-the-pants’ approach.
The importance of fluid for performance clearly can’t be overstated. It is not only well documented but the effects of dehydration can be dangerously easy to experience first-hand. Key points here are: to start your activity fully hydrated; consume sufficient fluid to match losses; attempt to maintain an adequate electrolyte balance (for which purpose the best energy drinks are formulated).
I almost always take a single bottle on the bike, sometimes 550 ml but usually a 700 ml bottle. Irrespective of the size of the bottle taken, the amount of product I add is always the same – currently 3 scoops of a product that I really like called Torq Energy (I should really vary the amount of powder added for each size of bottle but I can’t be bothered – I actually prefer the less dilute solution).
I’ve found that many energy drink formulations are a bit sweet and not refreshing enough. After half a bottle or so, some make me want to ‘gag’ and I find that I don’t actually want to drink which is not a good situation. On most bike rides of less than 40 miles I tend to take a water bottle for a training load only and don’t actually consume anything – it’s the old denial thing again.
If I do consume the energy drink I would replenish the bottle with plain water bought from outlets en-route (so anything I’ve previously said about maintaining electrolytes is null and void although there is of course the bars and gels). When running, I always try to start fully hydrated and – providing it’s not too hot – wouldn’t take anything else for runs up to 3 hours. Anything over that (or if it’s really warm or humid) I usually take a 550 ml water bottle complete with energy supplement stuffed into a bum-bag.
Products used and recommended: Torq Energy naturally flavoured high carbohydrate energy drink powder – lime and lemon
Despite the fact that on the bike I still take the occasional cheese-and-jam butty, along with thousands of other cyclists throughout the country I usually opt for the more modern energy bar solution. Again I tend not to pay much attention to manufacturer’s recommendation and usually rely on an energy drink to get me through anything less than 40 miles (and as I’ve already said, frequently don’t touch that unless the weather is warm). Energy bars really are a matter of taste and after trying many varieties I eventually stumbled on Zipvit’s ZV8 range which I really like – certainly as much as almost any confectionary bar I would care to choose even when not exercising. They come in several varieties: uncoated orange; uncoated chocolate; chocolate coated strawberry; uncoated banana; yoghurt apricot peach, all of which are as nice as each other. For a long ride over 70 miles, along with a couple of gels I usually take a couple of bars and would generally consume them both – as much for the distraction as for the calories.
Products used and recommended: Zipvit ZV8 bars (variety of flavours)
The first time I ever consumed an energy gel was during the 90s when I was competing in mountain marathons. The ones I used then were made by Leppin and were a bit like tubes of wallpaper paste that really needed to be washed down with water (they’ve come on a bit since then and are a lot more palatable now). I generally prefer the less viscous brands that don’t need the assistance of additional fluid. Particular favourites are Maxifuel’s Viperboost which are quite big and easily taken and Mule Bar’s ‘Kicks’ which are smaller.
Although I almost always opt for caffeine products I try not to consume them regularly in training because rightly or wrongly I don’t want to risk building up a tolerance to the caffeine. I find that the general effect of a caffeine gel taken towards the end of a session is electrifying and I always tend to work my calculations on hitting the wall 20 minutes from the end of a session. By consuming a gel just before, I like to think that I get 20 minutes of extra hard work free! But as I say, I use them only occasionally as – it’s probably just me – I don’t particularly like the idea of developing a dependence on any form of stimulant ‘crutch’.
Products used and recommended: Mule Bar ‘Kicks’ – Lemon Zinger (with caffeine); SIS GO Gel (plus caffeine); SIS GO Gel; Maxifuel Viperboost (with caffeine); High 5 Isogel
This represents a snapshot of my current nutritional regime during exercise. As the new year progresses and the distance builds up I’ll be constructing a diet to support it; I’ll be writing more posts to document it as it happens.