Poll: What Do You Think about Energy Gels and Supplements?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I just finished the October issue of Fitness, which had a great article on Alternative Energy: Do Energy Gels and Supplements Really Work? It's a question we get on the Message Boards all the time. And while I'm not the one to ask about nutrition (I'll leave that to Tanya and Becky!), I do want to hear your opinion on the subject.

According to the article, the supplement and sports nutrition market is growing--and women are a big part of that:

"Thirty-year-old Patricia Murphy stumbles bleary-eyed into her kitchen at 5:30 in the morning. The Boston attorney groggily opens a cabinet and reaches for an arsenal of supplements lining the bottom shelf: four large canisters of protein powder, a small tub of green granules, individual packets of recovery drink concentrate, and a large pill bottle holding wafer snacks that regulate blood sugar. Reaching past the fruit basket -- empty of produce but brimming with Hammer Gels, Clif Shot Bloks, Sport Beans, and PowerBars -- Patricia grabs her Isagenix protein additive and mixes herself a shake, which she drinks on her way to the Sports Club/LA, where she'll work out for the next hour."

This article made me curious: Are you a fan of these supplements? If you use them, how much do you exercise each week? Do you use these products at every workout?

I'm no fan of food with ingredients I can't pronounce, but long workouts during yoga teacher training this spring and summer left me extra thirsty and tired. It's hard to chug water or eat too close to a yoga workout, so I often relied on coconut water and Luna Moons to fuel me before and between sessions. (I ate a healthy snack or meal as soon as I could!) These products seemed more natural than others on the market.

I'm not a hard-core athlete. In an ideal week, I run three times (between 3-5 miles these days), take two yoga classes and throw in a Spinning class and a few at-home yoga sessions, plus sporadic strength training. I eat a balanced diet, hydrate well, get a good night's sleep and avoid caffeine, so I don't think I need anything else to help my "performance." I really don't use them too much now, though I do choose coconut water as an occasional beverage because I like the taste.

I've noticed more and more people saying that they use sports drinks, gels and chews during workouts.

Like our own experts, the article advised:
trying to meet nutritional requirements the old-fashioned way first: a healthy diet and a daily multivitamin. Another safe bet? Getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, either through food (eating fish like salmon twice a week) or a supplement (1,000 to 2,000 milligrams daily).

So tell me: Do you rehydrate with something other than water? Chew on gummies and goos during a workout? Chug protein shakes for breakfast? Gnaw on bars as a snack? What good, bad and ugly products are out there? (I've asked a nutrition expert to write a guest blog post on this subject, so if you have any questions, post them in the comments and I'll pass them along.)

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I use protein powder and Pria bars occasionally, but try to get my energy from real food. I have extreme problems when I eat artificail sweeteners, so I worry a little bit about other ingredients too. I drink good old H20 when working out and all through the res tof the day too! Report
While out biking, usually for more than 2-hours, I'll use Hammer Nutrition products to refuel. If I'm riding less than 2-hours I'll have a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolyte replacement and some gel/goo.

As for daily life, I have 2-scoops of protein powder with my morning snack. It's not that I think the powder is better than real food it's just more convenient and different. Report
I adore Clif bars... great for long hikes or bike rides, or times when I am burning a lot of calories, and don't have the ability to fix a 'real' meal. Most of their bars are just good healthy stuff... in a package. Since I'd rather cook my own food- that means I don't eat very many... er, except when I was working there & got a bunch free. Ooops.
I like the complexity of 'real' food- and would rather eat a salad or stew or steel cut oatmeal or whatever... I need the bulk & fiber and full real taste of lovely, lively food. Most of this stuff... Nahh. I want to savor what I eat. Report
I am a firm believer in exercise, adequate nutrition coupled with quality supplementation. I love drinking my vitamins, calcium, antioxidents and digestive enzymes first thing in the morning. Tastes great, easy to swollow (no horse pills!) and I know that over 90% of what I'm taking is bioavailable within minutes - not sitting in my stomach. A wonderful result of taking my antioxidents is that my minor arthritis is virtually gone - without a prescription - now that's a supplement I can live with!
e-mail me if you want more details on what I'm taking.
I like my Shaklee Cinch shakes for breakfast - super yummy and keep me full for 4 hours or more, but more often than not I just have cereal. I also take a "marine lipid" (read fish oil) supplement also made by Shaklee. Other than that and my prenatal vitamins, I don't supplement. Water before, during, and after workouts, and a good balanced snack or meal about an hour after working out is what does it for me!

When hubby does workout (like twice a year), he mixes a recovery shake (also Shaklee). Not sure if it really makes a difference since he's not consistent, but it's tasty!

Oh, and I usually Zumba three times a week and weight train at least once a week, plus carrying a baby all day and doing at home workouts when I can't make it to the Y. Report
In general I don't support the supplement industry
My sports medicine physician and physical therapist told me years ago to take Cosamin DS for my arthritis knees 3x's a day. I no longer have chronic knee pain and have been able to run one marathon per year. I feel it works for me and dont' see it in the same category as other supplements.
Energy gels, blocks, and sports beans are only necessary for endurance events such as long distance running. I don't start taking them until I am on a run of over 12 miles. They are to be taken at prescribed intervals b/c the body doesn't digest food well while running and can't store enough energy for optimal performance.
For 6-12 miles, I drink 50% diluted gatorade / powerade while running but don't need gels.
As a heavy sweater, I drink water during and the 50% diluted gatorade / powerade after a 6 mile + or summer run - along with my real food of peanut crackers and apple.
I am not a RD - but this is what my marathon training team of 2000 + runners does and it has worked for me. Report
Personally, I'm not a fan of the protein supplements, protein bars, etc., preferring to get my protein from my food.

Energy bars and the like, however, are a different story. As an endurance runner, those products really are the most convenient way to get fuel and electrolytes when I'm running for hours and hours. I tend to start carrying fuel for any run longer than 10 miles (1.5 hours).

I also do keep bars around as a grab and go snack. I stick to those made with all natural ingredients and use them only when I don't have time for "real" food for one reason or another. Report
The two items that I've had are coconut water, namely Zico, and Cliff blocks.

Coconut water is absolutely fantastic after a Bikram yoga class. It is pure coconut water, and some flavoring somtimes, that's it, no junk. They're great.

I had Cliff Blocs after a half marathon in Florida this past March. I had the margarita flavor, which has extra sodium. All that I can say is WOW! I definitely felt better after two pieces. Have some water and just let the bloc melt in your mouth. I would defintitely try these again. Report
I like more variety in my food. I prefer to chew my calories than drink them, so I don't go for protein drinks. I'm not big on protein bars, either. I prefer more variety. I do take a multi-vitamin and calcium with Vit. D everyday. Report
I only take magnesium and calcium + vitamin D supplements and take them on the suggestion of my therapist because I have muscle stiffness due to stress. Report
I don't like to take supplements or fabricated "energy," unless prescribed by my doctor--like calcium tablets, Vitamin D, and a multivitamin, which are especially important me according to my oncologist, because I've had breast cancer. Otherwise, I can whip up my own energy drink quickly--smoothies or a mix of juices or honey lemonade for a treat. Report
My son is always wanting to drink the "Monster " Drinks and i say no way he came home the other day with a friend drinking a 32 oz Yes a 32 oz Monster how and why would any one sell them to kids.. I was so mad at him he is 15 and his doc sad that they were bad for you that can do really bad thing s to you.. i called and talked to the nures about all the caffeen asn sugar in them and she said that he would sleep with all that in his body!! so they will not be getting any more of them Report
I have never used energy stuff to boost my energy, I try to do it naturally. Besides, if I can't pronounce the ingredients are they really all the good for me. Now, I do sometimes drink a powerade or something of the sort, but that's because I like the flavor and indulge myself once in awhile. I try to take vitamins on a daily basis, which I have gotten better at, and I will drink hot tea with ginseng. Otherwise I try to stay away from the energy drinks, bars, etc. Report
Being a triathlete I use the energy gels at various times and also when I need to train and just don't feel the energy level I need. I take vitamins and eat pretty good but the gels come to my rescue when I need them and yes I notice. Report
The only supplements I use are a multivitamin and an additional calcium pill once a day. I have ate the luna chews before inbetween my lift class and zumba class when I felt like my energy levels were low and it did help. It was just something quick that I could scarf down before the other class started. I wouldn't have had these though if my friend hadn't given them to me. I won't buy them regularly as they are like $1.20 a pack.

I also recently started running short distances and as i build up my endurance and start running longer distances I might rely on something like guu to give me the extra push, but it's not something that I will rely on every day.

My diet, sleep and excercise are what keeps me going every day! Report
There are pretty much two situations in which I'll use these things. One is when I know I'm not going to get a meal on time. Last night I came home from work and headed right back out the door to run errands. Since I usually eat by 5, I grabbed a Luna Bar and a Vitamin Water (low calorie). It was after 8 before I got home and had time to eat dinner, so that snack kept my blood sugar from crashing... and also kept me from buying every sugary snack in the store while I was running errands. I save the higher calorie energy drinks and the gu, etc. for hard core training or long events. If I'm going for longer than 1.5 hours, I will crash if I don't eat. It only took coming home from one long walk (2+ hrs, 7-8 miles) when I hadn't eaten and could barely put one foot in front of the other without stumbling, let alone work the buttons on my hrm to know that I had to take food with me and eat it. Report
I dont believe in all that mess. i take vitamins when i remember. i try to eat a healthy breakfast,when i remember to eat. not a fan of breakfast. a habit i am trying to break. i drink loads of water. starting the habit of lots of fruit. i drink coffee in the morning but its mainly for flavor, i enjoy the taste.
i didnot need that stuff when i was in basic training for the military so why would i need them now, and i am not even working out 1/2 as hard.
i understand the poweraid or gateraid and protein bars or what ever. but i just dont get the energy stuff. your body makes that out of the nutrition you put in your body. you cant buy it in little instant shots or drinks, not real energy any how. i will step off my soap box now.thanks for reading. Report
I don't usually take anything extra, like protein bars etc. Some of them have high calories, and sugar , and are highly processed. I do have protien powder at home for after workouts if needed. I would consider, a gel, and Gatorade after a long run. Generally I just stick to water, nuts, and sometimes a smoothie as an after workout snack. Report
This might be a repeat question, but I don't have time to read all responses.

Would a supplement or energy drink/power bar (those types of foods) help to control hunger that is the result of intense exercise? I've heard several people say that they would gain weight when they trained hard because they were hungrier than usual and ate more. I'm just wondering if there's a way to eat normally while doing an intense exercise program--normally, that is, in a way to maintain (or lose) weight.

Thanks! Report
Water, whey protein shakes, multi vitamin, Vitamin C, and calcium.....Love the Eatgoodlookgood protein bars. Every diet needs a little help now and again. I don't think anyone eats well enough to get all of what your body craves. It's up to us to "LISTEN" and adjust accordingly. Report
I love kashi go lean rolls as snacks because they are extremely filling and low glycemic. But I don't use them to replace meals and I don't fuel my workouts with anything other than water. Report
For me, I figure why waste the money, I'm not a marathon runner, so what I do is take a GOOD multi vitamin, omegas, my vitamin Bs, and my greens. I feel like a MILLION, better than I ever have! Report
I guess I'm kinda in the middle. For breakfast, I eat a bar (promax, zone, sometimes fiber one, etc) fortified with protein or greek yogurt or kashi oatmeal because that's one thing I struggle to get enough of, and I don't have time to cook and sit down and eat in the morning before work (I'd rather workout).

For training, if I run significantly over an hour (right now, 8 miles) I carry and eat some jelly belly sport beans (and if I'm going over 11 miles, I take 2). I studied up on it and your body, during a run, really just needs that simple sugar to keep you going, otherwise it doesn't get to your muscles to do you any good and will probably make your tummy cramp up, so it's like a no guilt treat, hehe. I also do NOT do any sports drinks in training. During my half marathon I had gatorade at the LAST drink station and the unexpected sugar is what helped me not die :). I don't want to be dependent on drinking sports drink, I want it to be my ace in the hole.

I guess I'll say I'm a fan of getting what I can naturally, but I'm not opposed to a little help/convenience when I need it. If I wasn't training for anything and I had more time in the morning, I probably wouldn't use any of it, but c'est la vie... Report
I started running longer distances last year and ran my first half marathon in February. I usually never take sports supplements or drinks (although I am a huge coffee fiend -but that's another story). I finished the half marathon 1 hour 48 minutes. Pretty decent! I did take advantage a couple of times of the small cups of sports drink they were handing out during the run, but mostly I drank water. I did drink watered down gatorade after the run to replenish my electrolytes and felt exhausted the last few miles of the race. A serious athlete I know did recommend the use of gels to prevent this exhaustion so maybe there is something to using supplements especially if you are trying to be more competitive. I know the serious athletes do use them, but if you aren't interested in pushing it, I don't think they are necessary. Report
Question: Everyone I know that has run long distance races uses gels and such, is there a way around using them or are they a must? I only drink coffee, tea, and water but am training for my first 5K and longer distances later. I believe in being as natural as possible. Report
I don't think anyone should rely on these products, not only do they have a lot of calories and are expensive. A lot of them are just not good for you. I would not try them. Some of them would raise your blood pressure. Be careful what you put in your mouth. Report
Unfortunately, I think a lot people don't realize how many calories are in some of those drinks like Gatorade! They never have the the bottles listed as one server which can be very deceiving! Friends have said they drink it because it's "better than soda" which isn't the case for an everyday beverage. Too bad everyone doesn't believe in getting water out of the tap, filtered if needed, instead of spending money at the store for anything in a plastic bottle:-(
I think advertising is misleading many people in today's growing concern for healthy options. There is definitely a time and place for the drinks, gels and bars. As a personal trainer and weight lifter, I believe in the need for extra protein when lifting.
I try to get all my nutrients from real food, drink lots of water and take a multi-vitamin in case I missed something! I also take iron for anemia. Report
Earlier this year, I had problems with my adrenal glands working, which left me completely exhausted all the time. As part of my treatment, I am on supplements (to make the adrenals work), protein powder and vegetable powder. However, my doctor has emphasized over and over that I really need exercise and lots of vegetables. If we had caught the problem earlier, I probably would have been just on a new diet regimen. Other than what my doctor has prescribed me, I stick with water and try to concentrate on having a balanced diet (with lots of veggies!). Report
For regular workouts, I drink water and I have a small snack like whole grain crackers and cheese or a banana when I am done. However, when I was training for a marathon, I did use energy gels and sports drinks. On anything under about 10 miles, I stick to water and a snack afterwards, but for the longer runs, I needed to refuel along the way. I usually take one gel every 5 or 6 miles. Report
After my gastric bypass surgery in November 2007, I was on a steady diet that included low-carb whey protein shakes. Now almost 2 years out, I only use the protein shakes if I am low on protein. But I usually get my daily protein intake with real food.

I work out five days a week, 30-60 minutes a day, and I only drink water during exercise. I believe only Olympic athletes and other high-powered athletes (professional football, baseball, tennis players, etc.) need these protein bars, goos, and gels. Last year, I went on a hike that took 7 hours. I was fine on fruit, nuts, water, cheese, and other snack-like items. I was tired at the end of the hike, but not dehydrated or starving. I don't think these super foods are necessary for regular folks (i.e., non-professional exercisers) who aren't running marathons, participating in triathalons, or performing in power-lifting competitions. Report
Plain water for me. I think if one is eating properly you should be getting all you need from your food intake. Report
They handed some of this stuff at about mile 9 or 10 during a half marathon I was doing. Now they did warn everyone not to try if you hadn't had before, I ignored that suggestion, popped a gel down and almost got sick. Haven't tried since. Report
I do not use any of these items. I make sure to eat nutritious, wholesome foods and get daily exercise (physical and mental). My surgeon, who also competes at 67 yrs old in the Triathlon, does not advocate supplements. His belief, which is well borne out by his energy, stamina and physique, is a testiment to a healthy lifestyle. Supplements are good at one thing: taking your money and I'd rather spend mine on fresh fruit and veggies or perhaps a new tropical fish for my aquaruim! Report
I found that Gu Gel has been the difference between just surviving a long run and finishing strong. I wouldn't consider starting a long race (over 10K) or run without Gu in my pocket. They are easy to carry and use. I will eat a gel packet every 45 minutes to keep me going. Anything less than a long intense workout, a good diet is sufficient. Report
I don't eat them on a regular basis, but if I'm really having a horrible day and have either skipped breakfast or really need a snack, they're a great alternative to either going hungry or grabbing a candy bar. In fact, that's how I think of them: a healthy candy bar. Most people who aren't vegetarian or vegan don't need more protein in their diets. Report
I've tried various "supplements" over the years and quite frankly, haven't seen any dramatic increase in energy or athletic ability. I prefer water to a sports drink. I don't think my electrolytes are that out of whack after a workout. I'd rather eat healthy foods than drink a protein shake.

I did try the sports jelly beans. they tasted okay as jelly beans. Didn't feel they helped my recovery or boosted my energy.

Because the supplement industry is not regulated by the FDA (google search DSHEA), I am very wary about what really is in a bottle of supplements. As it is, the only multivitamin I'll take is a Flintstones vitamin. That's because I think too many brands have an excess of what we really need.

If I'm eating right, why do I need a supplement ? Presumably, I'm getting all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients from the foods I'm eating.

So, I'll stick to healthy eating.

I take along some sport beans ONLY on runs lasting longer than an hour. Anything less than that, I rely on what I've eaten from good wholesome foods. As for the sport beans, they are convenient to carry, and are also a reward system for me. They taste good, and I get to have one or two (depending on my distance) after each km completed. But again, only on runs longer than an hour, as I do feel my energy depleting after that long out. Report
Wont waste my money on that junk!!.. Plain cold water & my vitamins work for me!! Report
I have a protein shake (Whey protein) after each of my weight workouts, primarily because tend to do a fairly rigorous routine and I often have a hard time getting the recommended amount of protein. Never really got into any other supplements or sports drinks, though Report
I'd rather spend my money on real food. It is easy to pack something for the exercise session: water, dried fruit, nuts, berries, etc. What an expensive fad and hype. Someone is making a bundle. Report
I love them when I am doing long runs! The gels and blocks are a great pick me up. I do eat the bars when I am running kids and errands, otherwise I end up in the drive through. My kids eat them on busy days. I think as with anything, moderation is key! Report
it is my understanding that sport drinks such as Gatorade and so full of sodium that unless you are running a 20 Km (approx 12 mi) marathon that one should not drink it. This from my husband's cardio-physiotherapist! I have, on occasion had a protein drink/ bar for an added booster but tend to stay away from them as I don't like the taste and consider them too pricey. Report
I've never tried these things - I'm too cheap. But I don't think they're helpful for the average exerciser. They may be good for someone doing intense training or during marathons, but not for everyday consumption. I think anything fake/man-made is probably not good in the long run (that said, I do rely on processed foods to feed my family/daycare - they're cheap and easy).

I think people are so easily taken in by the ads for these products, they just think they should try them. Maybe they do get a boost, so they think they need them or that they really are helping. But in the long run, I think these products will be shown to be more harmful than helpful. Report
I sometimes have a problem consuming enough protein so I will occasionally have a protein bar, but that's about it. Otherwise I pretty much stick to water and a (semi) balanced diet. Report
I drink plain water and eat as many natural foods as I can. I do take a multivitiam, extra c and flaxseed capsules. Report
I have never head of an Energy Gel before, but I have tried some of the supplements. Most are expensive and just train you to eat/drink only those things to help control weight. The problem is when you stop the program, you gain the weight because you haven't learned how to really eat and live healthy. I wasn't really excersing when I was using these either--I was under the impression that all I had to do was drink or eat their wonder product and I would be thin like the ad.

I take a multi-vitiman some days if I'm not getting enough iron or calcium in my diet. I love using the tracker to breakout intake so I know where I know what I need more of or what I need to cut back on to stay in a healthy range. Report
I don't feel comfortable using the supplements. I've given up all chemical sweeteners. I don't drink coffee anymore and I don't even eat the flavored yogurts because of the artificial sweeteners. Report
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