Published on Enhanced Fitness and Performance (http://enhancedfp.com)

Are You Still Drinking Gatorade? by Dr. John Berardi

By DMorgan
Created 08/11/2007 - 8:47pm

Too Many Pucks to the Head

Standing in front of 30 NHL draft picks, I asked a no-brainer question:

"So — during practices, training sessions, and games — how many of you drink sports drinks? You know, like Gatorade, Surge, Endurox, etc. How many of you drink something like that?"

Only two hands go up.

Shocked, I repeat the question:

"You mean to tell me that only 2 of you drink anything other than water during training?"

Uh huh.

"Well, uh, then how many of you drink water during training, practice, or games?"

Only twelve of the thirty hands go up. Anticipating a long day ahead, I agonized:

"Oh boy... we've got our work cut out for us... "

Although I've been around the block, working with clients at all levels — from recreational exercisers to the most elite athletes in the world — I'm sad to say that I continue to remain frightfully unprepared for the level of inattention to detail and the sheer ignorance of many athletes when it comes to nutrition and supplements.

Only 7% (2 athletes) of these 30 NHL draft picks were using some form of energy drink! And only 40% (12 athletes) of these 30 were even drinking water!

So, what do we have left? Well, we've got over half of the athletes in the room (53% of these NHL draft pics) drinking NOTHING during training and competition. Unbelievable, especially considering the huge body of literature demonstrating the benefit of drinking something during training. Now, add some carbohydrate to that something and athletes can expect to see:

Improved aerobic and anaerobic endurance during training, practices, and games

Decreased stress response to training, practices and games

Improved immune function post training and competition

Decreased acute phase inflammatory damage after training, practices, and games

Improved whole body rehydration

Improved muscle and liver glycogen resythesis

That's a pretty impressive laundry list of benefits, isn't it? We're now talking athletes who have better staying power, better hydration, less likelihood of overtraining, fewer colds, and more overall energy.

However, while carb drinks during and after training are good — athletes shouldn't be stopping with carbs — they should be adding protein. Oh, I know, I know. Gatorade and Powerade have convinced you that carbs alone are the way to go. They've also told ya that the extra protein is either useless or will build bulky muscles.

Well, frankly, that's nonsense.

What you're witnessing are the attempts of companies selling carb-only drinks to justify their existence. The longer they keep the wool over your eyes, the more profits they can make from inferior carb-only drinks before their product becomes obsolete.

Better than nothing...

After all, the writing is on the wall. Enlightened athletes are starting to realize that if they want to really supercharge their nutrition and recovery, they need to go to the next step. And the next step is using targeted workout and post workout recovery drinks that include both carbohydrate and protein.

Why protein? Well check out this list of benefits:

Increased muscle protein synthesis

Better and faster recovery from endurance, strength, and interval training

Reduced muscle soreness and perception of fatigue

Decreased muscle protein breakdown

Further enhanced glycogen resynthesis vs carbohydrate alone

Further enhanced immune function vs carbohydrate alone

Increased use of fat for energy at rest, as well as during training and competition

Now, at this point, we're talking about athletes with more muscle strength, less body fat, an even stronger immune system, and the ability to train at higher intensities, more frequently. If you can't see the benefits associated with this approach, you'd better get your head examined.

Getting back to our hockey players, the hockey-specific benefits of carb-protein drinks taken during training and practice have already been documented. Research presented at the 2004 ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) annual conference demonstrated that liquid protein/carb supplements taken during practice can acutely produce the following results:

Faster reaction time for goal tenders

Increased skating speed during timed shift-simulation exercises

Increased shot and scoring accuracy

As these data are more than 2 years old, it leads me to ask the question — where the heck have these NHL athletes been? Maybe all those hours in sub-zero arenas have frozen parts of their brains? Maybe they've taken too many slap shots to the noggin? Or maybe their coaches, trainers, and therapists aren't sharing the right information with them.

Either way, it's high time that athletes graduated from the primitive nutritional practices of the past and started moving into modern-day nutrition.

Not Just For Hockey Players

Of course, although I started this article off discussing hockey players, the huge list of benefits associated with carb-protein nutrition doesn't extend only to these stick wielding athletes. In fact, real, measurable benefits associated with carbohydrate-protein nutrition have also been demonstrated in the following:

Endurance Cyclists

Endurance Runners


Weight Lifters

Alpine Skiers

Marine Recruits during basic training

The amazing thing is that most of these sports are suffering from the same ignorance (or brain injury) that plagues my NHL draft picks.

To illustrate this point, just a few weeks after my NHL presentation, I had the opportunity to visit with two other elite teams — one group of elite triathletes and one group of elite track cyclists. Guess what happened when I asked the same questions as above?

Although these athletes averaged a little better on the "you'd better be drinking something" scale, there were still athletes skipping the workout nutrition. About 95% of the triathletes were taking in at least water during all training sessions. And 50% were taking in at least a glucose/electrolyte drink like Gatorade. Yet less than 20% of them were taking in carbohydrate and protein nutrition, as discussed above. That's absolute madness considering the research discussed above.

So if you're an athlete, let me pose this question to you — what are you drinking during and after training?

And coaches, the same question applies — what are your athletes drinking during and after training?

If it's either water-only or water plus carbs, let me ask the next question — how long is it going to take before you realize that the addition of protein to your traditional carb drink can absolutely supercharge performance while improving recovery and training adaptation curves?

3rd Grade vs PhD Level Sports Nutrition

Although I've got a PhD in the area of Exercise and Nutritional Biochemistry and am a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin, I also happen to direct the sports nutrition programs for the following elite sports teams:

The Canadian National Cross Country Ski Team (Cross Country Canada)

The Canadian National Alpine Ski Team (Alpine Canada)

The Canadian National Canoe/Kayak Team (Canoe/Kayak Canada)

The Canadian National Bobsleigh/Skeleton Team (Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton)

The Spike Professional Racing Team (USA Track Cycling)

The Spike Professional Racing Team (USA Track Cycling)

In addition to these teams, I also consult with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the University of Texas athletic department, the Canadian National Speed Skating Team (Speed Skating Canada), a host of individual high performance athletes in the NHL, NFL, CFL, and more.

Now I don't list these credentials to brag. (Well, maybe a little.) Rather, I list them to demonstrate that the combination of academic knowledge and real-world experience has enabled me to see the differences between what scientists think athletes should be doing

and what they're actually doing. It also enables me to see the differences between what athletes are actually doing and what Ithink they should be doing. Sometimes these gaps are quite large.

Sure, there are a lot of both strength/power and endurance athletes out there who know the recommendations — they know that they should be taking in some carbohydrate during and/or after training. However, even the ones diligent enough to take their carbs are often using the wrong ones, in the wrong amounts, and at the wrong times.

For example, when I talk to my athletes about workout nutrition, the ones who actually do use glucose electrolyte drinks often have absolutely no idea how much carbohydrate or how many calories they're taking in per drink or per training session. All they know is that they drink a bottle of Gatorade or similar drink during training. Whether that Gatorade has 10g of carbohydrate or 100g, they don't know.

They also don't know the following:

Whether that Gatorade has any protein in it

Whether to drink the Gatorade before, during, or after training

How many grams of carbohydrate and protein they're getting/hour of training

How to adjust their carbohydrate and protein intake based on body type

How to adjust their carbohydrate and protein intake based on duration or intensity of effort

And, truth be told, these are all huge problems — especially for elite athletes — both of the endurance and the strength/power persuasion.

After all, knowing to drink some energy drink during training isn't advanced nutritional knowledge — it's primitive nutrition; what I'd call 3rd grade level nutrition. (And just because an athlete's peers are at the kindergarten level doesn't mean their 3rd grade nutrition is advanced.) I can't state it any more clearly than this — if an athlete wants to compete at an elite level, they'd better strive for more than the 3rd grade practice of nutrition.

Seriously, imagine if more athletes graduated from the 3rd grade nutrition level and ended up with the equivalent of a Masters or PhD-level nutritional intake. I tell you, the entire culture of sport would be transformed.

But hell, maybe it's actually better if most of the athletes out there ignored this information. If they did, the gap between them and my athletes would grow even wider, bringing my athletes even more Gold Medals, National Championships, Super Bowls, and Stanley Cups!

Practical Workout Nutrition

At this point, I'd like to share with you some of the workout nutrition protocols I use and find most effective with my strength/power and endurance athletes. (Remember, when I use athlete in this context, I'm talking about competitive athletes who train a few hours per day.) That's right, here's where it gets really practical.

Workout Nutrition - Baseline

As a baseline, start by ingesting 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein (in 500ml water) per hour of training. This means if you're training for one total hour, you're sipping your 30g carb and 15g protein drink during that hour. And if you're training for two hours, you're sipping your first 30g carb and 15g protein drink during the first hour and your second 30g carb and 15g protein drink during the second hour. And so on...

Then, once your workout is done, you'll have a whole food meal within an hour or two of training.

Workout Nutrition - Customization

For most athletes, the baseline recommendations above should do the trick. However, there are a few situations that may require special attention:

First, if you're an athlete who naturally has a very ectomorphic body type and tends to have a very difficult time maintaining body mass during high volume and/or high intensity training blocks or during competition periods (World Cups, etc), follow the strategy above and then, immediately after your workout, add another drink containing 30g of carbohydrate and 15g protein. After this drink, within 1-2 hours post exercise, have a whole food meal.

Further, if you're this type of athlete and you still need more recovery power and total dietary energy (after trying the above strategy), add an additional 15g of carbohydrate per training hour. This means each of your drinks would contain 45g carbohydrate and 15g protein per hour of training.

Second, if you're an athlete who naturally has more of an endomorphic body type and tends to gain weight easily or tends to gain fat during competition periods (World Cups, etc.) when eating a higher carbohydrate diet, you'll want to halve the recommendation above by ingesting 30g carbohydrate and 15g protein for every 2 hours of training. Therefore you'd be averaging 15g carbohydrate and 7.5g protein for every hour of training.

In addition to this, you'd add BCAA(branched chain amino acids) into your workout drink at a rate of 5g BCAA per hour of training. Therefore you'd end up with 15g carbohydrate, 7.5g protein, and 5g BCAA for every hour of training.

Of course, all of these strategies work best as part of an all-round good nutritional plan. So don't take these suggestions in isolation and think they alone are going to revolutionize your recovery. Sure, they'll help. But you've gotta make sure you're feeding well during the other 20+ hours of the day. And for more info on how you can do this, check out the Precision Nutrition [1] program here.

At this point, one question I'm often asked is this:

"Can't we just have a big post-exercise recovery drink? Why recommend a certain amount of workout drink per hour of training?"

The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second is below.

First of all, having high blood concentrations of glucose (from the carbohydrate) and amino acids (from protein) during exercise is advantageous as the blood flow to working muscles is highest at this time. So, with a lot of nutrient-rich blood flowing to your working muscles, those nutrients will be best used for performance enhancement and recovery. Simply put, carbohydrate protein drinks are more effective when ingested during exercise vs after exercise.

In addition to the physiological reasons above, there's a very practical reason for recommending a certain amount of workout nutrition per hour of training — this recommendation helps you easily and efficiently regulate your daily energy intake such that it mirrors your training volume.

For example, if you're training 1 hour per day, you'll need less total dietary energy than if you're training 4 hours per day — but more dietary energy than if you didn't train at all. So rather than trying to tinker around with your staple meals on a day-by-day basis, trying to eat "bigger" meals when you're training more and "smaller" meals when you're training less (these strategies being imprecise and difficult to objectively apply), all you have to do is have a few more or a few less workout drinks and your daily calorie intake upregulates or downregulates. Watch how this works:

Training Volume*

Energy From Workout Drinks**

0 hours of training (day off)

Baseline intake + 0 extra calories

1 hour of training

Baseline intake + 180 extra calories

2 hours of training

Baseline intake + 360 extra calories

3 hours of training

Baseline intake + 540 extra calories

4 hours of training

Baseline intake + 720 extra calories

*Of course, intensity of training can also be taken into account, however this is beyond the scope of this article and, to be honest, this level of detail isn't necessary for a large percentage of my athletes.

**These calorie calculations assume the athlete is using the baseline recommendation of 30g carbs and 15g protein per hour of training.

Finally, another question I'm often asked is this:

"This applies only to strength and power athletes, right? After all, everyone knows endurance athletes shouldn't eat all that protein."

Once again, nonsense. This information is applicable to all types of hard training high performance athletes. In fact, these recommendations were derived from a combination of a) my PhD studies, done with endurance cyclists and triathletes, b) my early coaching work with the Canadian National Cross Country Ski Team, and c) my early coaching work with the US National Bobsled Team.

And these recommendations continue to work with all my athletes — from short burst, speed/power athletes (the Spike Cycling Team and Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton) to intermittent, anaerobic athletes (The Toronto Maple Leafs), to long duration cyclists and skiers (Cross Country Canada).

Wrap Up and My Challenge to You

In the end, it's important to recognize that workout nutrition is an important piece of the high performance puzzle. Drinking nothing during training is a mistake of colossal proportions so don't be a buffoon and skip the workout drinks. Drinking water-only is marginally better but certainly very far from optimal. Adding carbs to that water is better, yet it also has its limitations.

The absolute best way to optimize your workout nutritional intake is to ingest a workout drink containing protein and carbohydrate. For all the reasons above, this type of workout nutrition can take your game to the next level.

If you're looking for an example of such a drink, the best on the market is one I helped develop while I was a PhD student - Biotest Surge.

Surge is a product that contains both fast-digesting, hydrolyzed protein (this is faster digesting and better tolerated than even whey protein isolate) and fast digesting carbohydrate.

Now, at this point, I'd like to close out this article with a challenge to you. Here's the deal — if you're an athlete or a coach who's already down with optimal workout nutrition, I want you to help me spread the word. Seriously, don't be selfish; don't keep this information locked away in the vault. Send this article to your friends, colleagues, and athletes.

Simply copy the following web address and paste it into an email that you're going to send to absolutely everyone who can benefit from this information.

http://www.t-nation.com/readTopic.do?id=1173228 [2]

Seriously, help pull them out of the primordial slime; help them graduate from the 3rd grade and get working on their advanced degree. They'll certainly thank you for it. And, as a side benefit, you'll be making my life much easier. After all, it'll be one less thing that I'll eventually have to teach them.

About The Author

Dr. John Berardi, CSCS, faculty member at the University of Texas, is a world renowned author, speaker, and consultant to at least a dozen elite athletic programs. For more information about Dr Berardi and his nutrition programs for both athletes and recreational exercisers, check out www.precisionnutrition.com [3].

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