I was shooting the breeze with a runner last night who got me thinking about something. I admit this might be shocking and it may be one of those series of thoughts that possibly should have been left within the confines of my brain, but there is a thought here and I will share it with you. What I’m thinking about is sardines — or rather what should energy products really taste like? (I realize there is a big leap there, so stick with me.)Let me back up and start at the beginning. The context of the conversation went something like this: “I eat sardines for a pre-run snack.” That was sort of the whole conversation, because then I had to digest that.
But here’s the thing, once I digested it I realized that there is an interesting topic here. On the one hand, the biggest (THE BIGGEST) complaint that I hear on a daily basis from runners is that ENERGY GELS ARE TOO SWEET. The complaint comes in many forms, but all of the forms come back to the general idea that too much sweet does not do a tummy good.
There is a reason why many energy products are sweet. They’re sweet because carbohydrate is a good source of quickly and easily metabolized energy for most people. Most simple carbohydrates are sweet in taste, especially those that come from cheap simple sugars like dextrose, sucrose or fructose. There are two big “howevers” though. On the one hand, the sweetness in energy products also comes from flavorings that tend make the product even sweeter and the “for most people” means that many people have a tough time digesting certain kinds of sugars. So you could make energy products less sweet. Energy products, including gels, bars, drinks and blocks, tend to be pretty sweet. Some people have tried to tone down the sweetness of the taste palette of some of these products. One of my friends that formulated a hydration product went to the flavor palette of foods in Japan for instance and they tend to make foods much less sweet than we do here in the USA.
So now I come back to sardines. My question is what WOULD energy products taste like if they weren’t sweet? Think savory instead of sweet. Think cucumber-chili martini instead of a lemon-drop martini. The alcohol content is the same, but the flavor is totally different.
Let’s just say that we could eat energy products that weren’t sweet, we brainstormed a few new products that we could bring to market to solve this sweet problem:
– Oyster shot blocks
– Chili Verde energy chews
– Kim Chi flavored energy chips
– Siracha blocks
– Kefir hydration drink
– Beef stew energy pudding
– Cottage cheese chews
– Jalapeno energy poppers
– Bacon wrapped filet flavored energy chews
OK, so those don’t sound very good do they? But they did get me thinking about alternative foods that are good to eat before, during and after workouts. For example, foods that contain protein and salt are a good balance to the sweets in engineered energy products. Foods like beef jerky, peanut butter, and (yes) sardines or dried fish would do the trick. And as for carbohydrates, starches are great for energy but they don’t have to be sweet. Think potato chips, boiled potatoes, oatmeal and bread.
In fact if you look at what they serve in the aid stations in ultra-marathons, you won’t find a lot of energy gels or blocks. Although these products are easy to carry and provide a lot of energy in a small package, when it comes to sustaining people through long, long events, what you’ll see are warm chicken broth (in cold weather), potatoes rolled in salt, peanut butter sandwiches, fruit and dried meats (like mild pepperoni, jerky or maybe even a sardine!). You might also find Dr. Pepper and ice cream, but that’s just for a quick shot of sugar and/or caffeine.
So the next time you’re planning your meals before and during races, expand your thinking a little. I’m not expecting you to start doing oyster shot blocks, but there’s more out there than energy gels if you need a change of pace.
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon USA
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