Carbohydrate: The Real Energy Source

Guest Editorial by Dawn Weatherwax-Fall

As the popularity of energy drinks has grown, some athletes are using these caffeine-containing drinks more than ever to gain a performance edge, Increasingly, athletes are turning to energy drinks to increase their drive throughout training and competition.

The reality is that energy is obtained through consuming nutrient rich foods, maintaining proper hydration and managing a regular sleep schedule. The energy requirements of training are largely met by burning carbohydrate and fat, not caffeine. Energy balance – not eating or drinking too much or too little – is the key to success when training and competing.

Energy drinks are beverages filled with varying mounts of caffeine, carbohydrates and other stimulants. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system leaving the athlete with the perception of energy.

Research has shown that 200 mg of caffeine (by comparison, there is about 50 mg of caffeine in a 12-oz cola and 125 mg is 12-oz of coffee) taken before endurance exercise improves the exercise capacity of some subjects. However, at smaller doses the effects on performance are inconsistent. Some athletes tolerate caffeine without incident but others can experience increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, heart rate abnormalities, anxiety and jitters. Larger doses of caffeine are accompanied by a greater frequency of side effects.

Athletes should read the label on energy drinks to identify the ingredients before consuming for performance enhancement. For example, guarana, taurine, and ginseng are commonly added to energy drinks and can cause adverse reactions. Further, many of the ingredients are added in such small amounts that little benefit will be derived. Athletes should remember that whenever muscles are working hard, they rely predominately on carbohydrate as fuel. Research shows that a blend of simple carbohydrate (sucrose, glucose, fructose) is most effective in stimulating rapid absorption and enhancing carbohydrate oxidation.

Athletes should not use caffeinated energy drinks with a high carbohydrate concentration as an alternative to sports drinks, especially during competition. Sports drinks work to replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat and provide the proper concentration of carbohydrates to fuel working muscles. Science is only supportive of a well-balanced combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes for providing meaning benefits to athletes while they exercise.

Athletes looking for an extra energy boost need to concentrate on maintaining a balanced nutrition plan. Most athletes fall short of their energy balance and do not eat enough calories to fuel their workouts and competitions. To make up for that imbalance, athletes usually consume too much saturates fat and sugar making it difficult for the body to function optimally. Through a proper balance of carbohydrate, proteins, and healthy fats, athletes are much more likely to improve their energy levels.

Four Tips For More Energy:
• Hydrate continuously throughout the day without over-drinking, using sports drinks before, during and after workouts and competitions.
• After a workout, eat at least 12 – 15 grams of high quality protein and 30- 60 grams of carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes.
• Eat every 2 – 4 hours allowing 3 meals with 2 – 3 snacks a day.
• Get an average of 8 – 10 hours of sleep every night

Dawn Weatherwax-Fall is a Registered/Licensed Dietitian with a specialty in Sports Nutrition and Founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go. She is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, which is the premier professional sports nutrition credential in the United States. In addition, she is an Athletic Trainer with a Certification in Strength and Conditioning from The National Strength and Conditioning Association. Therefore, she brings a comprehensive and unique understanding of the athlete's body, and its nutritional needs, to those interested in achieving specific performance goals and optimal health. Weatherwax-Fall is also the author of The Official Snack Guide for Beleaguered Sports Parents, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sports Nutrition and a chapter for the Unique Concerns for the Female Athlete. She is an Official Speaker for the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and on the approval speaker list for the NCAA. She has also been featured on television/radio shows including: Good Morning America, MSNBC, Geraldo Rivera, Fox News and Montel Williams.

Dawn is an active member in the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutritionists Dietetic Practice Group (SCAN), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), National Athletic Training Association (NATA), & Greater Cincinnati Athletic Training Association (GCATA).