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Sports Nutritionists Phoenix AZ

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A Whole Foods Approach to Sports Nutrition

If you’re training for a half marathon or triathlon, do you need energy gels?

If you’re a parent of a grade-school soccer or basketball player, should you buy sports energy bars for your kids?

Gatorade hit the shelves in the 1970s, PowerBar products emerged in the 1980s, and GU made its debut in the 1990s. What did athletes eat and drink before the $2 billion plus sports nutrition industry flooded the market with specialty products?

Athletes in the pre-sport nutrition industry relied on real, whole foods. Guess what? Some athletes still do!

Pros and Cons of Sports Foods

It’s easy to throw a sports bar into your gym bag. Unlike a banana, it won’t turn mushy and brown. Sports bars also come in a variety of flavors that echo candy bars, making us feel virtuous and healthy while we get our chocolate caramel crunch fix.

Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade come in fun colors and flavors, plus they contain the right mix of carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium and potassium to keep an exercising body hydrated. But unless you’re exercising for more than an hour, plain water hydrates your body just as well as sports drinks.

Sport gels and fuels like GU and sport beans provide a blast of easily absorbed carbohydrate, often combined with caffeine. They come in convenient little packages that you can stuff in a pocket, but they don’t provide any better energy than honey or fig cookies.

Saving Money While Fueling Your Body

In my local grocery store, a PowerBar Recovery bar costs $1.59. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich that provides a similar amount of calories, carbohydrate, and protein costs only 45 cents. Use natural jelly and peanut butter, and you also avoid added sugars. Add 8 ounces of chocolate milk, and you get even more nutrition value for only 76 cents total.       

A single pack of GU energy gel, used by many athletes during exercise to provide carbohydrate for extra energy, costs a little more than $1 at a local running store. You can get the same fast-digesting 25 grams of carbohydrate from 10 Lifesaver Gummies candy pieces for only 40 cents.

Whole Foods for an Active Body

Sports nutrition expert Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, recommends a variety of healthy, whole foods in her book Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. These foods aren’t just for meals; they make great sports fuel during and after exercise. If you want to save money, consume fewer processed foods, and provide essential energy and hydration sources during exercise, try these whole food suggestions.

During Exercise

During moderate to hard aerobic activity lasting more than 60 minutes, carbohydrates provide about 50% of our energy source. Christie Menna, ACSM, HFS, who works with female long-distance runners, recommends consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of aerobic exercis...

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