By Amy Paturel, July/August 2008
What foods can you count on to go the extra mile, and which foods fall short? See what recent studies reveal before your next workout.
1. A Spoonful of Honey
Recent research suggests that carb blends (foods containing fructose and glucose) may be superior to straight glucose for boosting energy during endurance activities. But before you reach for a sports drink, consider honey: like sugar, it naturally has equal parts fructose and glucose, but it also contains a handful of antioxidants and vitamins. Upshot: While not exactly a “super food,” honey has plenty going for it besides being sweet. The darker the honey, the more disease-fighting compounds it contains.
2. A Cup of Joe
Studies that demonstrate performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine often imply that drinking coffee will give you a boost. Not so, according to the latest research. Scientists put nine endurance runners through five trials after ingesting either a capsule (caffeine or placebo) or coffee (decaffeinated, decaffeinated with caffeine added or regular coffee). Only the caffeine capsule increased endurance. Researchers think that other compounds in coffee may counteract some of the benefits of caffeine. Upshot: Have your cup of coffee if you need it to get moving, and your stomach can tolerate it, but don’t expect it to keep you going through a long workout.
3. A Glass of Chocolate Milk
A small 2006 study (partially funded by the dairy industry) found that chocolate milk might help tired athletes refuel as well or better than popular sports drinks. In the study, nine cyclists rode until exhaustion, rested for four hours, then biked again. During the rest period, they drank either low-fat chocolate milk, Gatorade (a fluid/electrolyte-replacement drink) or Endurox (a carbohydrate-replacement drink). The cyclists who refueled with chocolate milk were able to bike about 50 percent longer during the second bout of exercise than those who drank Endurox and about as long as those who drank Gatorade. Upshot: You don’t need a “sports drink” to refuel after a workout. Regular or chocolate milk—both of which contain a mix of carbohydrate and protein—may work just as well. Before or during a workout, however, stick with Gatorade or a similar carb/electrolyte drink.
4. A Bowl of Yogurt
Constant training takes a toll on your immune system, leaving athletes susceptible to upper respiratory tract infections, but new research suggests that probiotics—the live active cultures in yogurt—may help keep you healthy. A 2008 study of 20 endurance athletes (published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine) found that taking daily probiotic capsules enhanced the activity of the athletes’ immune-boosting T-cells and cut the length of time they experienced upper respiratory tract infection symptoms by more than half. Probiotics can also help calm a queasy stomach, which is great for nervous athletes. Upshot: You’d have to eat vats of yogurt to reach the levels of probiotics the athletes in these studies consumed. Still, yogurt has a balanced mix of carbs and protein, so it’s a great post-workout recovery fuel.