Sugary soda, chocolate, crickets?! Find out what, um, interesting things athletes and average joes alike are eating and drinking before, during, and after a sweat session and whether experts say they can give you an edge, too.
Beth Janes 1 / 6
If only fueling and refueling your body were as easy as choosing between regular leaded and high-octane gas. When it comes to eating and drinking, you’ve got endless “premium” options for powering up and feeding your recovery. “The key things to remember: You need carbs to fuel your workout and sometimes refuel during a particularly long session and both carbs and protein to replenish and build muscle,” says Joy Dubost, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But is there one (or a few) magic-bullet foods or drinks that provide an extra boost or advantage? Some people think so—and they aren’t what you might expect.
Companies like BugMuscle and Exo are slowly trying to change the way you think about crickets and other insects—and your post-workout recovery. “[Insect protein] is a big trend, and it’s no gimmick,” Dubost says. While eating the critters, or adding insect protein to your shake may seem gross, it’s worth trying to get past the ick factor. “Insects are a very high quality source of protein, and it’s a complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. Insects also provide fiber, and farming them for food and supplements is more sustainable and easier on the environment than other sources. Right now, however, insect protein powders and other products can be hard to find and are expensive. (A pound of cricket flour runs about $50.) But don’t be surprised if the stuff becomes more mainstream in the future.
Some pro athletes, Ironmen, elite runners and others in top shape swear by Coke or other sodas before or during competitions, races or workouts, according to reports. But whether the drinks—which are better known for playing a hand in the obesity epidemic than in winning sports competitions—are actually a smart way to get in a quick hit of carby goodness depends on what you’re doing and what else you’re gulping. “I generally wouldn’t recommend it to my athletes,” Dubost says. “Soda is only sugar, so while it may give you a quick burst of energy, there are better options than having straight sugar.” For example, if you’re working out hard for more than an hour, you need carbs, but also electrolytes (found in sports drinks) and some protein, too, she says. One can only drink so much Gatorade and water, however. So if your usual diet is healthy, you’re not overweight and you’re meeting your nutrition needs with other sources, take soda for a trial run, Dubost says. “See how your body responds and how you feel.”
You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate can help keep you healthy thanks to its hefty dose of antioxidants. Recently, researchers have also been looking into whether it can give your workout a boost, too, and fitness buffs have taken notice. While the antioxidants may increase blood circulation, and tests in mice show one specific cocoa-derived antioxidant, epicatechin, triggered growth of new capillaries and mitochondria (a cell’s power center), allowing the critters to exercise longer before pooping out, tests in humans have been mixed. Dark chocolate seems to reduce oxidative stress related to exercise as well as provide some other benefits, but studies seem to show no effect on performance. “[Eating dark chocolate before or after exercise] certainly won’t hurt, but I think it’s premature to recommend it across the board,” Mohr says. If you like chocolate, however, by all means treat yourself to a few squares a day. Pick one containing 70 to 80 percent cacao to get the most antioxidant bang for your buck, Dubost says.
Whether you crack a cold one after a long run or chug several brews at the bar with friends following a race or game, beer does contain carbs and electrolytes, two things you need for recovery, plus B vitamins and potassium, Dubost says. Unfortunately, the alcohol may work against you. A study published last year in the journal PLoS One found that alcohol messed with muscle recovery. That said, the occasional post-workout pint won’t render all the work you do pointless, just be sure you get plenty of protein and rehydrate the old fashioned way, too, Dubost says.
If it worked for Rocky…. “In certain sports and circles, some men still do drink raw eggs,” Dubost says. The benefit, of course, is sending a ton of muscle-building protein down the hatch quickly, but the drawback is serious with a capital S: Salmonella. “You may be fine, but it’s like playing Russian roulette—it’s not worth it,” she says of the risk of getting sick from the bacteria. (Not to mention, dealing with diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps for up to seven days could put a serious damper on your workout routine.) Luckily, there are a lot of other ways you can take your eggs.