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Health and Nutrition

Read Those Labels!

What's in Your Nutritional Product?

Sunny Blende , Sports Nutritionist | July 3, 2014

Below is a list of some of the more common ingredients you may encounter when reading sports nutrition product labels. See the main article, “Read Those Labels” published in the July/August 2014 issue of SWIMMER magazine for more information about what to look for when choosing nutritional products to fuel your swimming.

Maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is a type of glucose polymer chain manufactured from complex carbohydrates. It provides lots of very usable glucose for energy in a rather tasteless medium, with minimal sweetness. It can provide more calories in the same amount of liquid when compared to a glucose-alone solution.

Brown Rice Syrup. Not surprisingly, brown rice syrup is made from brown rice, a complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index that can take 2 to 3 hours to be absorbed. This is a similar absorbtion rate to maltodextrin.

Glucose Polymers. The term glucose polymers refers to a large category of maltodextrins and brown rice syrup, entirely made up of glucose molecules and considered a complex carb. They leave your stomach quickly and are easily absorbed in your small intestine. Think of them as “time-released” energy.

Glucose (also known as Dextrose). Found everywhere in your body, glucose is a simple sugar that acts as the primary energy source used by the central nervous system. It can be used immediately by working muscles for fuel and energy.

Fructose. Fructose is fruit sugar, a simple sugar that can cause gastric upset in athletes, but if used in conjunction with other sugars, can actually aid absorption. Used alone, it can cause “Dumping Syndrome” (exerting a reverse osmotic effect in the intestines causing weakness, sweating, and diarrhea) in some athletes.

Sucrose. Sucrose, or common table sugar, is a simple sugar made up of one molecule each of glucose and fructose. Because of the combination, there is less chance of stomach upset and it is quickly absorbed.

Whey protein. Whey protein is the most rapidly absorbed protein and the most biologically available. This is important for repair of muscles post-workout. Whey’s amino acid profile has a high content of branched chain amino acids, which also helps in reducing muscle soreness following exercise.

Soy protein. During endurance workouts of more than 2 to 3 hours, athletes need to begin adding some sort of protein to prevent the body from breaking down muscle to supply its protein needs. Soy protein produces less ammonia than whey protein as it’s metabolized, and because ammonia has been shown to cause muscle fatigue, soy protein can help during long workouts. Soy protein, like other proteins, also acts as a buffering agent and an antioxidant.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Ingredients
  • Sodium citrate, citric acid, potassium citrate. These ingredients act as neutralizing and buffering agents and maintain pH balance.
  • Calcium carbonate, calcium. These minerals act as an antacid and also help prevent muscle cramps and weakness as long as the athlete is hydrated.
  • Magnesium. This mineral, which plays a part in more than 300 chemical reactions in the body including metabolism and muscle relaxation and contraction, aids in releasing energy from muscle storage. It’s lost in sweat, and needs to be replaced by whole foods or electrolyte supplements.
  • Vitamins. Although mostly a marketing scheme when used in products made for consumption during exercise, some vitamins may help in recovery.
  • Sodium, chloride, sodium chloride. Salt or table salt, this mineral is necessary for maintaining body fluid levels and body temperature regulation.
  • Manganese. Trace amounts of this mineral are needed for enzyme reactions in muscle cells. Manganese also helps convert protein and fatty acids into energy, and are therefore not necessary in 100% carbohydrate products.

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About the Author—Sunny Blende

Sunny Blende is a frequent presenter and writer on sports nutrition, fueling for enhanced performance, and making healthy food choices. She currently works with teams and athletes in many endurance and resistance sports, including swimming, cycling, running, rowing, stand-up paddle boarding, triathlons and other team sports. An avid master competitor herself, she trains and competes in the Bay area and beyond. Sunny received her BS degree from USC and her Masters from University of New Haven. She also teaches Sports Nutrition at College of Marin and is the nutrition columnist for UltraRunning Magazine.

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