Are energy bars, gels, and drinks making you fat?

Energy needs for endurance

Any endurance athlete is familiar with the plethora of gels, carb mixes and energy bars available for all phases of training (pre-, during and post-workout). They promise to refuel lost glycogen, replace electrolytes and keep athletes from hitting the dreaded wall. This all sounds great… but when are these products really necessary? Better yet, could unnecessary consumption be sabotaging your weight loss efforts?

I don’t ever drink anything but water unless I’m going on a very long run or ride, which some may disagree with. I go with what feels best and my years of trial and error. Since I happen to be one of those lucky folks with an easily-agitated digestive system, I have to pick and choose supplements and timing wisely. With that said, I definitely know that on a 2 or 3 hour ride, if I haven’t consumed anything after an hour or so, I’m going to start feeling like shit.

The key here is that I don’t consume anything unless I know my body needs it to keep performing strongly.

I think cyclists are particularly guilty of over-supplementing. They’ll suck down a Gu every 20-30 minutes of riding at an easy pace. If they are only burning around 500 calories an hour, but take in a couple of gels and have carb mix in their water, that could easily lower their caloric deficit to, say, 200 calories. After a 2-hour ride, they eat a big meal, feeling they’ve “earned it,” and their total deficit of 400 calories is quickly negated. They ride five days a week and dedicate a lot of time to their efforts, but they aren’t shedding the fat.

Are you using energy supplements you don’t need?

Here’s the deal: Most of us have enough bodyfat to fuel us for a very long time. Intake of carbs during training and races is a performance booster, not a necessity (unless we are talking about marathons and Ironmans – in which case, it’s vital). Before you down a bar or gel, evaluate how you’re feeling. Do you feel strong and energized? If not, is your lethargy physical or mental? I know I’ve mistook mental drag for physical exhaustion before… and let me tell you, Powerbar isn’t going to cure that.

Think about the effort you have exerted; are you really becoming glycogen depleted or are you ingesting something in anticipation of depletion? Does your effort really warrant the supplementation? If you don’t take in something, will your performance suffer? If the answers are no – stick the Gu back in your pocket.