Q&A: Are There Better Fueling Options Than Energy Drinks?

better-fueling-options-postThe sheer number of energy drinks on the market today is staggering. There are so many options, it might seem as though they should be an integral part of an athlete’s diet. Hockey mom, Wendy, questions the use of such drinks for her son. In the following article, Dr. Christopher Mohr, nutrition spokesperson and consultant, provides Wendy his best advice for nutritionally sound ways to fuel her son’s growing body.

Wendy asks: A lot of kids on my son’s team use energy drinks, such as Red Bull, to help sustain their energy level during a game. I know this is not the healthiest alternative, but I am wondering if there are better options for quick energy. I find this is particularly important during tournaments when a player is going all day and does not have time to digest a full meal. What would you suggest?

Answer: It is true that energy drinks are hot right now. In fact, there are over 600 options on the market. However, it is important to question if they are guaranteed to boost performance…or shrink your wallet, at over per can.

Energy drinks are loaded with a multitude of ingredients, all purported to have different effects on the body. The mainstay of energy drinks is usually caffeine, typically about the same as amount as one cup of coffee (with some as high as three cups) or nearly double that of a 12 oz soda.

Caffeine is technically a drug and it is addicting. Relying on it for energy will result in continually needing more to get the same feeling. It can also increase heart rate, elevate anxiety and cause insomnia. None of these effects will help performance. In fact, they could hurt it. Furthermore, if an athlete consumes too much caffeine, it can ultimately be very dangerous.

Energy drinks are fairly high in sugar as well. Sugar is a carbohydrate, so it can provide energy but it will be short lived, as it is in and out of the bloodstream rather quickly. The right types of carbohydrates are necessary for optimal performance – sugar is not the right type.

With such a variety of drinks on the market, it is impossible to summarize each ingredient in each product. Most have high levels of B vitamins, purported to boost energy while others have amino acids, herbs, vitamins and minerals, each with their own unique properties.

With all this said, the truth is only food gives the real nutrients and energy athletes need. In essence, food is high-octane fuel for the body. To perform at your peak, you need to feed your body what it needs.

If your son truly wants an energy boost, he needs real foods. This includes lean protein, such as chicken, fish and lean red meat; whole grain carbohydrates, including oats, whole grain bread and whole-wheat pasta; fruits and vegetables; and healthy fats, like olive oil, avocado and egg yolks. Many of these options are not practical during tournament play, but it gives the overall idea of a healthy daily diet.

During tournaments, try fresh or dried fruit, homemade trail mix (dried fruit and small amount of raw nuts), yogurt or cheese sticks. If there is a long time between play, have your player eat something more substantial, such as peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and banana or a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread. The key is to get some quality carbohydrates and lean protein throughout the day.

Editor’s Note: A special thank you to Dr. Christopher Mohr, PhD RD for this helpful advice.

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