Whole Food vs. Sports Drinks, Bars And Chews

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published Oct. 18, 2013
Sometimes, regular old bananas are all endurance athletes need to give them fuel for a race. Photo:

Personal Preference

So, should you ditch the sports drinks, carbohydrate gels, energy chews, and recovery drinks in favor of real foods and beverages? If you prefer to stay as natural as possible whenever possible, go for it. There’s enough science to give you confidence that you won’t be sacrificing much performance, if any.

For my part, I’m going to stick with the conventional ergogenics. One concern I have is the tendency for sports drinks and gels to boost performance a little more than real food and drink alternatives, even if the difference is not statistically significant. Another concern I have is the risk of gastrointestinal distress with real foods and beverages. Several subjects in the coconut water study, for example, reported having stomach issues when drinking the coconut water while running.

Finally, I just don’t like chewing while exercising — especially while running. Many years ago, my friend T. J. Murphy ran the San Francisco Marathon. Before the race he handed a banana to a friend and instructed her to hand it to him when he passed her late in the race. Knowing he might not feel much like eating at that point he told her, “No matter what I say, make me take it!”

Sure enough, when T.J. passed his friend during the race he said, “No, please! There’s no way! I’ll puke!” His dutiful friend tried to make him take the banana but he refused, wisely.

I think of this story every time I see one of these new studies comparing real foods to ergogenic products.

RELATED: Should You Become A Gluten-Free Eater?


About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress, 2011). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit

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