Natural food instead of supplements: Is that possible?

Joëlle Flück 18. May 2020

Everyone has probably reached for a recovery shake or energy bar at one time or the other. But have you ever asked yourself if there is another way?

Presented by Swiss Sports Nutrition Society

The supplements market is constantly growing, and increasingly more and new products are being touted in the world of sports with a positive effect. Everyone has probably reached for a recovery shake or energy bar at one time or the other. But have you ever asked yourself if there is another way? This article intends to show that, in certain situations, «normal» foods can also be used as sports nutrition. It is particularly important to note that supplements can and should be used wisely in the field of high performance sports precisely due to their ease of use, known dosage, advantageous nutritional composition and often high tolerability. However, reaching for supplements should not always be the first choice. 

Energy supply during a long endurance unit

If you are planning a long bike ride, it makes sense to also think about your intake of fluids and energy. The fluid intake here depends on the ambient conditions (temperature and humidity) as well as your individual sweat rate with which the body tries to cool itself during the unit. For a load duration of more than one hour, carbohydrates should be consumed on a regular basis. Here you have two options: either in the form of fluids (sports drink) or solid food and supplements (gel or bar). The carbohydrate intake is based on the total duration of the load as well as intensity. You should ideally consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, and even up to 90 g per hour under extreme loads. Suitable natural sources of carbohydrates for on the go are, for example, bananas, dates, dried fruits, Biberli (honey and marzipan biscuit), low fat biscuits, homemade energy bars (produced from cereals, nuts, dried fruits, honey) or rice cakes (for example, sushi rice with almonds and coconut flakes). The more intense the unit, the more likely the preference for food that is easier to digest. A homemade sports drink consisting of water, tea or juice with maltodextrin, some salt and syrup if need be is also suitable here (see here for more information). 


Regeneration after a long endurance unit

Three different factors are important when it comes to regeneration after an endurance unit: firstly, compensating for the fluid deficit, secondly, replenishing the glycogen stores (carbohydrate reserves in the muscles) and thirdly, the protein metabolism. To compensate for the fluid deficit, the weight lost through sweating during the unit should be multiplied by 1.5. This is the amount of fluid that is needed to re-establish the balance. To replenish the carbohydrate reserves, 1.2 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight should be consumed for the next 4 hours until you can eat a proper meal. To boost the protein metabolism and start the related regeneration processes as quickly as possible, an intake of 20-25 grams of protein in the first 30 to 60 minutes after the unit is recommended. Many regeneration supplements therefore contain 25 g of quickly available protein (often whey protein) and a portion of carbohydrates. This composition creates a drink that is advantageous in terms of calories. You can of course also make your own regeneration drink (e.g. milk, curd cheese or cottage cheese, oatmeal, berries or other fruits and spices such as cinnamon or curcumin). This usually results in a tasty mix that contains a little less protein (usually 15-20 g per portion), and not only readily available protein but fewer carbohydrates than a ready-made recovery shake. The composition of chocolate milk (fluids, protein, and carbohydrates) also makes it suitable as a recovery shake after a long endurance unit. However, it is important to note that for 20 grams of protein, 6 dl milk would also be needed here. Whether this makes sense from caloric point of view must be individually assessed and adapted to the situation of the athlete. A sandwich made from a combination of carbohydrates and protein sources can also make a good regeneration snack with an additional intake of water.