Raisins vs. Energy Gels for Athletic Performance
After about an hour of strenuous exercise, long-distance athletes can really start to deplete their glycogen stores, the body’s source of quick energy. Studies dating back to the ’30s found that by hooking athletes on a treadmill up to an IV drip of sugar water, you could delay fatigue, and that drinking sugar water could help as well. So the sports supplement industry has come up with an array of energy shots, gels, bars, and chews—even sports jelly beans, used (what a coincidence) by the Jelly Belly Cycling Team. In fact the Jelly Belly Candy Company paid for a study that found that said jellybeans could shave 4 or 5 seconds off of a 10km cycling trial compared to sports drinks or gels. But what about compared to a natural, nutrient-rich source of energy such as raisins?
As I explain in the above video, athletes are so heavily marketed to that they may be left with the impression that specially designed supplements are essential for optimal performance. Yet cheaper, healthier alternatives may be overlooked. A research team at Louisiana State University tested low-cost, natural food products rich in carbs such as sun-dried raisins to see if they had the potential to improve performance to a similar degree. Raisins are described as a nutritious, convenient, palatable, cost-effective source of concentrated carbohydrates. But do they work as well?
The researchers found they work just as well. Trained cyclists and triathletes put raisins to the test against sports jelly beans and arrived at the same competitive times and achieved the same power output. San Diego State University researchers stacked raisins up against commercial sports gels and arrived at the same conclusion: same respiratory exchange, carb and fat oxidation, and energy expenditure. In fact the only significant difference was in “hedonic scores.” In scoring the pleasantness of the contenders, raisins beat out the jelly beans. Compared to jelly beans with flavors like “extreme watermelon” there was a greater preference for just plain raisin-flavored raisins.
Beans, Beans, Good for Your Heart—but only the non-jelly variety! Other sports supplements may be worse than just a waste of money. See, for example my videos Heterocyclic Amines in Eggs, Cheese, and Creatine? and Heavy Metals in Protein Powder Supplements.
This is the third of a three part video series on the latest science on dried fruit. Check out the last three here:
- Dried Apples, Dates, Figs or Prunes for Cholesterol?
- Prunes vs. Metamucil vs. Vegan Diet
- Do Fruit & Nut Bars Cause Weight Gain?
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Chris Brown via Wikimedia Commons