Whether you need an energy drink depends on how you answer the following key questions:
- How hard are you training?
- The number of sessions per day or week, duration of each session, intensity, and so on.
- What does the rest of your diet look like?
- What is your goal?
- Do you want to -
- lose excess body fat?
- lose weight?
- bulk up and gain weight?
- achieve optimal performance (for competition)?
Quick guide to who needs an energy drink
So with your answers in mind, use this concise guide to who needs an energy drink to help you decide.
Firstly, the type of energy drinks discussed are the sports drinks that are designed and marketed to be used during or after exercise to boost energy, sustain endurance or promote recovery.
Who may benefit from an energy drink?
Generally, energy drinks should be left to those who do more than 90 min. of hard training in one session, or do more than one training session within a day (either cardio or strength). Basically, those who take their training seriously and do a lot of it or where performance is a key objective.
Potential benefits of an energy drink
During intense training sessions or competition, a carbohydrate energy drink could help supplement your body’s limited carb stores.
Why are carbs important in your diet?
Carbs are your primary fuel source during exercise and the dietary ingredient that is most closely linked to performance. Once your carb stores and fuel supply runs low during exercise, your exercise intensity and performance will suffer – regardless of whether you have protein or heaps of stored fat available. Here we’re talking specifically about a carbohydrate-rich energy drink, unequivocally proven to enable you to maintain a higher intensity for longer and thereby improve exercise capacity and performance.
Carbs can spare your muscles
Carbs taken during hard or long training sessions can help to prevent muscle breakdown and plays a key role in the muscle recovery process after the session. It’s important to consider that for people who want to gain muscle, carbs play a crucial role to: -
- Provide energy for training and muscle building
- Spare valuable protein
- Reduce muscle protein breakdown
- Indirectly create a hormonal profile that supports muscle building through the release of insulin – a powerful anabolic hormone
This challenges the idea of only focusing on protein when wanting to recover faster or to build muscle.
More benefits of carbs
More recently, scientists have also discovered other benefits of carbs, such as maintaining your concentration and mental performance; it can help reduce circulating stress hormone levels during strenuous exercise, which in turn helps to boost your immune system function.
How many carbs should I consume during training?
- During strenuous, long (60 min.+) training sessions, aim for 30-60g carbs per 60-90 min. of training.
- Your energy drink or energy bar label will tell you the grams of carbs there are per 100 ml or per serving. You can then see how much you need to drink or eat to optimally fuel your muscles
- Smaller men and women should aim for the lower end of the range
- Men with larger builds (>75kg) should aim towards the upper end of the range
- To reduce the risk of dental caries from the sugar content in the drink, it’s a good idea to rinse your mouth with water afterwards.
If you train hard from day to day or train more than once per day, then you can speed up your muscle recovery by having a carbohydrate-rich drink and/or snack as soon as possible after training. Add a bit of protein to help boost recovery and muscle repair. The key here is not to overdo the protein at the expense of carbs as this can actually hamper recovery. A protein-only drink or snack is not ideal for speeding up recovery.
Quick recovery snacks
- Low fat or fat free dairy, like yoghurt or drinking yoghurt
- Cereal and milk
- Sandwich or roll with cottage cheese or a lean meat filling
- Small handful of lean biltong washed down with a carb energy drink or fruit juice
You don’t need an energy drink if…
On the flip side, if your main aim of exercising is to lose weight or shape up or you are training less than 90 min./day, you most likely don’t need the extra energy from a drink. In fact, many gym-goers have derailed their good exercise-for-weight-loss intentions this way. Similarly, you won’t need special shakes, smoothies, gels or energy bars during or after your training session as these would simply put back more calories than what you managed to burn during exercise.
Eating regular wholesome food is best
Rely on eating regular wholesome, high-fibre foods and snacks to meet your energy and nutrient needs. This is more filling and helps to regulate your appetite – ‘eat’ your energy rather than ‘drink’ it.
If you’re a typical South African you may already have a high protein intake from dairy, meat, and other sources and it is therefore unlikely that you need additional protein in the form of a drink or shake.
Energy drinks would be a ‘last resort’
An energy drink may be a last resort if you have skipped meals and get to your training session feeling exhausted or flat. The energy drink will pep you up so that you can at least give a good effort during training. However, you should avoid the last resort scenario by ensuring regular meals and sustained energy levels during the day. This way you get the most out of each training session and support your training goals and health with a wholesome, calorie-conscious dietary intake.
Photo by Pavalache Stelian