High-intensity endurance exercise can deplete the body of electrolytes, fluid and fuel (carbohydrates). While dietitians recommend a “food first” approach to nutrition, there are occasions when sports nutrition products are warranted. But with so many products on the market, which one(s) should you choose for your specific athletic needs?

Sports Drinks
Research shows sports drinks can delay feelings of fatigue by replenishing carbohydrates, fluid and electrolytes (mainly sodium) when consumed before, during and after activities lasting longer than 60 minutes. If exercising less than 60 minutes, water is the best choice. Sports drinks are also beneficial during stop-and-go activities – such as basketball, tennis, soccer or hockey – to maintain fluid and energy levels for optimal athletic performance.

Choose a sports drink with about 14 grams of carbohydrate per eight ounces of fluid and look for ones that have a combination of carbohydrate sources (e.g. sucrose, glucose, dextrose). You can find these in the ingredient list. A combination of carbohydrate sources is more easily absorbed for energy. Also, look for a drink with around 100 milligrams of sodium per eight ounce serving.

Did you know that milk is nature’s sports drink? Emerging research in adult athletes has demonstrated that one serving of milk post-exercise may help reduce muscle damage and improve muscle recovery – which may help the body perform better during its next workout. In fact, research shows that drinking milk after a workout can be as effective as some sports drinks in helping the body refuel, recover and rehydrate.

Sports Bars
A quick source of energy, sports bars work best as a snack before or after physical activity. Sports bars can be a rich source of vitamins and minerals, in addition to carbohydrate and protein. However, they do not provide fluid for your workout. Make sure to enjoy plenty of water with your bar of choice.

Choose a bar based on your specific calorie needs – keeping in mind that they can range from 120 to over 300 calories per bar. The longer and more intense your workout, the more calories you will need. Consider the amount of carbohydrate and protein in the bar as well, choosing a bar that provides 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate and 6 to 20 grams of protein.

Sports Gels
A gel can be consumed every 30 to 60 minutes during physical activity, depending on calorie needs and intensity of your workout. Keep in mind, gels don’t provide the fluids athletes need, so always drink plenty of water with sports gels.

Sports gels typically contain between 100 and 120 calories and 22-25 grams of carbohydrate. Some sports gels may have brown rice syrup as an ingredient – this and other similar complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to digest than simple sugars such as glucose and sucrose. Athletes want quick energy during activity, so it’s best to avoid complex carbohydrates.

Why is caffeine added to some sports bars, gels and beverages, and how does it affect my performance?
Studies show that caffeine may enhance performance by improving alertness, reaction time and concentration, and delaying feelings of fatigue. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against the use of caffeine containing products for children and adolescents under 18 years of age because in excess amounts, caffeine has been associated with harmful cardiovascular and neurological effects. Instead, it’s important to choose nutrient-rich foods and beverages and build balanced meals – let these serve as your fuel for athletic success.

As an athlete, it’s important to focus on enjoying real foods throughout the day. Sports drinks, gels and bars should not be used as meal replacements, but rather as a supplement to a well-balanced diet.

Visit to read more about milk as an exercise recovery beverage and learn how to eat for peak athletic performance.

*All information associated with the Dairy Max “Nutrition Corner” is sponsored by Dairy Max as a partnership with University of Denver Athletics & Recreation, and not provided by trainers or staff of the Coors Fitness Center.