We get a lot of questions from readers, gym owners and trainers about the validity of “performance” claims on various products – energy bars, protein shakes and electrolyte replacement drinks. If you’ve been reading our articles or have attended our workshops, you’ll know our stance on this – you will always look, feel and perform better with real food. And despite the good sales pitch that some of these products make, understand that it is always a sales pitch, designed to do one thing and one thing only – not make you healthier, but influence you to buy their product. (When was the last time you saw an NBA athlete starring in a multimillion dollar ad campaign for kale?)
We recently reviewed several electrolyte supplements that are currently being marketed to CrossFitters. Their aim is to replenish essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals) they claim your body needs during exercise, and they say their drinks will help you recover faster. They label themselves as “sugar free”, despite containing processed starches like maltodextrin and non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia. They also claim to provide more effective hydration than plain old water. But here’s our take: they’re all just sweetened, flavored, unnecessary supplements that contain smaller amounts of valuable vitamins and minerals than any number of vegetables. Now, granted, a sweetened, flavored beverage is way more fun than a cup of broccoli… but that doesn’t make it healthier.
On hydration: Unless you’re doing long, nonstop competitions like triathlons or marathons (where you certainly need to rehydrate during the event), there’s simply no justification for substituting a supplement for real food and water. Trust us on this – you do not need to provide electrolytes to your body during a typical CrossFit workout. Shoot, during a high intensity Fran or Grace, you don’t need to stop to provide water to your body. And your body doesn’t need minerals like molybdenum or copper during (or immediately following) your exercise session. As long as your regular, day-to-day dietary intake of essential minerals from fruits and vegetables is adequate (fill your plate!), you won’t need to jam selenium or manganese or even potassium into you in the form of fruit punch-flavoured electrolyte drinks. Plus, the way your body assimilates and uses those minerals for their physiological functions isn’t fast enough to make any difference for “hydration” – despite the manufacturer’s claims.
On vitamins and minerals: The mineral content of one serving of your typical electrolyte replenishment drink doesn’t hold a candle to just one cup of sweet potato (our recommendation for your post-workout carbohydrate source). In comparison with one popular “recovery” drink, one cup of sweet potato contained twice as much vitamin C and calcium, three times as much manganese and magnesium, eight times as much phosporus and sodium, and TEN (10!) times as much potasssium, all in a phytonutrient-rich package that also supplies athletes with necessary recovery carbohydrates. (Plus, sweet potato won’t provoke those Sugar Tantrums with the intensely sweet and artificial flavors found in all of those replenishment drinks.)
To summarize, in stark contrast to what some companies say (and sell!), we don’t believe that exercising hard should preclude you from getting your nutrition – both macronutrients AND micronutrients – from real, fresh food. Resist the (sales) pressure to down processed sources of isolated nutrients that you could and should obtain from healthier sources. This holds especially true if those supplements contain stuff that has real, significant downsides (such as non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia and super-processed corn starches like maltodextrin), and no upsides that can’t also be found in real food like vegetables and fruits.
We welcome all comments… but if you’re commenting in order to defend a product you are, in fact, selling, please make that clear. And to our readers, remember that here at Whole9, we don’t sell any supplement. (But if kale ever wants to sponsor our page, we’d jump at the chance.)
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