Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Time Magazine Beats Me To The Punch

I ride my stationary bicycle for 30 minutes every morning. First I get up at 6 a.m., then I surf a few favorite sports-med Web Sites, then I send several emails to the office, then I ride my bike. I pick up the morning paper, and the magazine at the top of my pile—Time or Business 2.0 or Discover, or whatever it is—and I hop on the bike. It wakes me up, and I learn something new from my reading.

This morning, I read Time magazine (the one with the Hillary Clinton cover), from the back page forward. Jeffrey Kluger has a very clever essay about Grover Cleveland, the planet Pluto, reasons why Europe shouldn’t be considered a continent, and making distinctions between a panda’s raccoon-like characteristics and its bear qualities. I adore writing like this.

Flip the page. Johnny Depp will be a singing barber in his next movie. Flip the page. Another funny essay, this time Joel Stein on cupcakes, the latest comfort food. Flip the page. Holy guacamole!

Here’s a full page article by Michael D. Lemonick on the war between Gatorade and Accelerade. In Time magazine, of all places!! I’m stunned for several reasons, not the least being that—please believe me; please—I had been thinking of writing something on his subject just moments before. Right when I clambered onto the bicycle. Honest.

Now I have proof in my hands that Time magazine has beaten me to the punch, errr, the sports drinks anyway. I’m ashamed and abashed. This is a little like Runner’s World getting an exclusive interview with George W. Bush when Time can’t. Wait a minute, that actually happened didn’t it? It happened back in 2002 when Bush spoke to RW reporter Bob Wischnia while the White House press corps drooled and scratched its collective head from just outside hearing range.

Anyway, now Time has turned the tables on us. This is a disgrace. I read the article quickly, hoping that Lemonick—I wonder if his real name is Lemonade, and that’s how he got interested in this subject?--has missed all the important nuances. It’s a subject I’ve been studying for almost 40 years, so I should know.

You’re right. Accelerade didn’t exist 40 years ago, so I’m stretching the truth a little. But not much. In the winter of 1968, I got a call from exercise physiologist David Costill, Ph.D., inviting me to his lab for three days of testing. I couldn’t say Yes quickly enough; I had always wanted to be poked and prodded in a lab, figuring it might turn up some new ways to make me faster.

In Costill’s lab, I ran 20 miles each day, once drinking nothing, once drinking water, and once drinking Gatorade, this sports beverage that was thinking about marketing itself to runners. I felt great the day I drank nothing (which was my custom), and crappy the two days that Costill foisted the fluids on me. Nonetheless, the good doc announced that my body had actually performed most efficiently when I drank the Gatorade.

Ever since then, I’ve followed the science of endurance performance and fluid consumption as closely as I can. It’s gotten more confusing in recent years, as we’ve learned that marathoners can actually drink too much, which can lead to hyponatremia, a potentially dangerous condition. Of course, this is extremely rare. It’s much more common for runners, particularly faster ones, to consume too little fluid while running. Over several hours, this can lead to dehydration, which can impair performance and raise body temperature.

Another confusion: Accelerade and some other products have produced research results showing that a sports drink with a small amount of protein, along with carbs and sodium, has its benefits. A lot of this science hasn’t been very good, frankly, but some of it is solid enough.

In the last several weeks, two new reports have added to the murky waters. That’s what Time reported on, to my surprise. But, yes, I was right: Michael Lemonade missed an important nuance in the papers. He writes that the two papers “contradict each other.” This is totally wrong. While the papers are both about sports drinks, they raise and then attempt to tackle completely different questions.

The Gatorade paper, in Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise, looks at the performance effects of sports drinks consuming DURING exercise. The Accelerade paper, from the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, looks at rehydration effects of sports drinks consumed AFTER exercise. Big differences.

By the way, the Gatorade paper unsurprisingly concluded that Gatorade is best for performance. The Accelerade paper unsurprisingly concluded that Accelerade is best for rehydration. It failed to note, however, that rehydration AFTER exercise is not a big deal. It’s easy to achieve; you’re facing no big time pressure; take a handful of hours if necessary. It’s hydration DURING exercise that athletes care about.

I’m running out of space here, and I have a tendency to drown in the oceanic waters of sport-drink research, so I’m going to cut to the chase. Here’s what you need to know about sports drinks and their effects on your performance and health.

BEFORE you run, it doesn’t make a big difference what you drink. You should drink some, but not too much, or you could get nauseous once you start running. (You might also have to stop and pee, which will definitely make you slower.) DURING your run, Gatorade wins. You need water, sugar, salt, and little more, and you need them fast. Those are the ingredients in Gatorade and other similar sports drinks like Powerade. Stick to the simple approach. AFTER your run, even the folks at Gatorade admit that you should try to get a little protein with your carbs. The protein will help repair any muscle microtrauma caused by your run, and the carbs will resupply your glycogen supply. (The argument that protein also assists in glycogen re-supply rests on very thin ice, from what I’ve read.)

But as I noted above, the AFTER a run scenario is a fairly relaxed one. There are lots of ways to get carbs and protein after you run, including water and yogurt, or chocolate milk, which has gotten a lot of good press in the last year. You could consider the AFTER a run situation a little like a visit to a doctor’s office for a checkup. It’s fairly routine stuff.

Whereas, your DURING a run needs are like an Emergency Room visit. You need help, and you need it now. Particularly if the run happens to be a race, and even more so if it’s a marathon. That’s why I’d pay the most attention to studies of fluid effectiveness DURING exercise.


At 12:57 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

good, solid, common-sense approach to fluid intake.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Great summary, Amby. Bummer about Time scooping you on this, but maybe you can talk to W again about his running plans when he leave office...

I was astounted a couple years ago when I did my own experiement on Gatorade vs water during runs. No contest, though my only measurement was my own sense of thirst and/or performace.

Thanks for your clarity here. Maybe you should call Hillary now and ask for her weekly running log...

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Richard said...

Thanks - that's a great summary of a pretty confusing issue. It looks like I'll be sticking to Gatorade during the runs for a while, then (which is good news for me, since I always want to gag on the higher-protein drinks while I'm running).

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

HI Amby,
I'm a nursing student at Purdue University, and I am giving a presentation on fluid needs to the Purdue Running Club this week. I just wanted to say thank you for all your research and articles about hydration needs. You really helped me out! You have been a long time hero of many of us in Run Club.
Good luck in your Thanksgiving race!

At 12:21 PM, Blogger steveexudg said...

mketwenty years of running for me ninety eight marathons and twenty five ultras gatorade water honey and fig bars are all you need all this other junk is a waste of time and money

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Anthony Pelosi said...

You'll beat them to the punch next time Amby, is Barack a runner?

I've learned that different fuels work differently for different people. Accelerade is actually not a post workout fuel, it is a during workout fuel. The makers of Accelerade put out a product called Endurox specifically for post workout recovery (it tastes like chalk). Accelerade, Cytomax and Gatorade are all too acidic for me during exercise, both have made me burp up stomach acid. For me personally, I like Hammer Nutrition products for during (Heed) and after (I swear by Recoverite).

But I do just fine running a marathon with water and gels (and xtra salt or electrolytes if it is hot or humid). It's during the triathlons, long mountain bike races, and 100+ road bike rides that protein really helps me out.


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