Q Does consuming a significant amount of sports drinks, gels or bars carry any risks?
A The short answer is no, not any serious risks. Note, however, that the acidity of sports drinks can erode tooth enamel. According to a study at Birmingham University they can erode up to 30 times more enamel than water. You should drink just water if you’re running for less then an hour. Consume sports drinks quickly to minimise contact with your teeth, and rinse your mouth with water afterwards if possible. Don’t brush your teeth straight after having an acidic drink, as you could do more harm than good.
Watch out for the calorie count in sports bars. If you eat more carbs (and therefore calories) than you burn, weight gain is a risk. Consume no more than 30g of carbs per hour – and dilute with water if necessary.
The biggest risk with gels is that unless you take them with enough water (aim for 250ml per 25g sachet), they will take a long time to digest. Most gels are so concentrated that they can draw fluid from other tissues into your stomach, increasing the risk of dehydration.
The purpose of most sports drinks, gels and bars is to deliver carbohydrate energy in a convenient and compact form, but they are only beneficial to your performance if you are running for more than an hour so not all runners need them. As an alternative, you could obtain an equivalent amount of carbohydrate from a couple of bananas or four fig rolls per hour (30g carbohydrate) or by eating one jelly baby every four minutes (or 15 per hour).
Wash them down with a few gulps of water – around 150ml every 15 to 20 minutes or according to thirst.
For re-fuelling, try a banana sandwich, fresh fruit and yoghurt, a handful of dried fruit, a bowl of cereal or fruit juice diluted 50/50 with water.
— Anita Bean, RW Nutrition Editor