Sports Nutrition – energy gels, recovery drinks and pork pie

Sports nutrition is a fancy term for a simple concept, and it comes in two forms. The hi-tech, slick and sexy variety comes in the form of energy gels, electrolyte tablets, recovery drinks and all the rest. The traditional variety of sports nutrition comes in the form of food – you know the sort of thing; cheese sandwiches, fruit, vegetables, jelly babies (or, if you live in one of the more exclusive cycling hot-spots of the country, pulled pork baps, gourmet burgers and quinoa salad).

Jelly Babies - sports nutrition? (Photo: fishyfish_arcade - Flickr)
Jelly Babies – sports nutrition?
(Photo: fishyfish_arcade – Flickr)

The companies who produce the slick, hi-tech stuff – all sleek packaging and fast sounding names – also promote all manner of exotic science to accompany it. Much of this is no doubt very sound, but never forget that the science has another function: to relieve you of your hard-earned-easily-spent cash.

They make glossy adverts to remind you that ‘Team Sky use this you know’, and would have you believe that only by ingesting the correct balance of substances can you possible hope to get somewhere near your as yet untapped potential. In fact, if you don’t use this stuff after we’ve been good enough to tell you how much you need it you’re letting yourself down, your friends down, your family down….

I’m being flippant of course. I, for one, am prone to an energy gel and a recovery drink from time to time, and I don’t doubt that many of these pricey products help me ride a bit faster, for a bit longer – I also nurture a faint hope that my untapped potential is out there somewhere.

Having said that, rather than go for a ride carrying gels and bars and chews to re-fuel, you might decide to go retro and carry the aforementioned real food; flap-jack, bananas, even a couple of sandwiches if you like. Post ride, if you’re not partial to a recovery drink or a protein shake, you could eat a whole roast chicken or a massive cheese sandwich, or a pile of poached eggs on toast…whatever works for you.

Energy Gels (Photo: Nicholas Laughlin - Flickr CC)
Energy Gels
(Photo: Nicholas Laughlin – Flickr CC)

If you’re really subversive you may decide that what works for you is a pile of bananas and flap-jack after your ride, and a whole roast chicken mid-ride. In fact, if you’ve managed to tuck a whole roast chicken into your jersey pocket, a bit of leg or breast dangling out for you to nibble on mid-effort, I need to hear about that. Send me a photo, and you will be immediately honoured for services to sports nutrition.

I recently went for a ride with a group of retired old-timers. There was me, riding in minimal style, a few bits and pieces stuffed into my pockets, a tiny under-seat pouch with a couple of inner tubes and some tyre leavers, while these boys all had whacking great big saddle bags, no doubt prepared for any eventuality short of all-out civil war in the valleys of Cumbria. I sniggered inwardly at this – knowing even as I did so that at some point over the next three hours their cautious wisdom would come to fruition (and to haunt me).

And so, after riding for a couple of hours we all pulled over upon spotting a particularly comfy patch of grass. ‘Ahh’ I thought, ’time for an energy gel and a swig of water’, upon which these old boys pulled out thermos flasks, sandwiches, bits of cake, napkins, and all manner of vintage ‘sports nutrition’.

As I said…whatever works for you. And what worked for them was a leisurely half-hour picnic that left me high and dry with my scientifically formulated mix of carbohydrate and essential vitamins and minerals. I’m sure that functionally I was probably re-fuelling in a perfectly efficient way, but I could have killed for a piece of pork pie and a cup of tea.

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