From Joe Friel's Blog, author of the Training Bible series
Have you noticed how food is becoming medicine? Cheerios lowers your cholesterol. Activia yogurt keeps you regular. Milk builds strong bones. We no longer are encouraged to eat food simply because it tastes good. It should also correct some medical condition we have.
There is a similar trend going on in sports nutritional products. Athletes seem to be coming to the conclusion that sports bars, protein drink mixes, electrolyte concoctions and more are healthy and a good source of what we need to improve performance. Athletes comment on such supplements as if it is a foregone conclusion that this stuff is not only healthy, but also the best source of whatever it is we need to become faster and more enduring.
I believe just the opposite: A diet high in such highly processed stuff (I don’t think of them as “food”) is unhealthy. Nature has been making foods such as fruits and vegetables for millions of years. We evolved quite nicely as a species eating these along with animal products. Such foods seem to have everything we need to not only survive as a species but to thrive as athletes.
On the other hand, sports nutrition scientists have been making their stuff for about 30 years. And it’s only been for the last 15 years or so that athletes have preferred to carry a bar in their pocket on a bike ride rather than a banana. Now we’ve come to the point where many (most?) think that the best possible food to eat post-workout is something out of a plastic bag. Some even carry this preference for sports nutritionals into their daily lives eating stuff throughout the day that was unheard of just months ago.
Here are a few guidelines I believe will help you when it comes to making food selections.
• If the product comes in plastic packaging eat it only in very small portions, preferably during exercise, and then only because of convenience.
• If the product has more than five ingredients listed on the package it’s best avoided or eaten in very limited quantities. Eat these only when “real” food is not readily available.
• The foods you should be the most wary of are those that proclaim loudly to be “healthy” or “all natural.”
• Typically, the more expensive a product is per calorie, the less healthy it is.
• The less advertising there is for a food, the healthier it is.
• If your grandparents could not have eaten it, it’s best avoided.
This is not to say that you should never eat sports bars or the like. There are times and situations when they are convenient. But the primary time to eat them is during exercise, and then only very long or very intense workouts. Generally, if you are in decent shape and the workout lasts less than two hours all you need is water, assuming you had a meal sometime in the last few hours before starting the session. For such short workouts you really don’t need all of that sugar or the other stuff (protein, sodium, magnesium, vitamins, minerals, etc) we’re told are some how necessary for sports performance.
For optimal health and sports performance simplify your diet.