Your Pre-Workout Energy Drink? Useless
You don’t need “functional beverages” to fuel your workout. A healthy diet is all you need.
Mad man Roger Sterling and woman Peggy Olsen would be proud of the marketing ingenuity behind Vega Sports’ trifecta of workout products: Prepare, Sustain and Recover. What are they? They are functional beverages sold as powders (to be mixed with water) that serve as before, during and after exercise sustenance and support.
The former product “Prepare” is the type of genius marketing only a creative director like Peggy Olsen—assigned by Sterling, of course—could invent. Vega claims this product will make you more energized, focused, and ready to take on your work out—versus going at it as your raw, normal self.
Vega, and many companies like it, has created a need in the fitness world where there wasn’t one before: convincing yuppie hipsters and the like they need energy elixirs to fuel-up their physical activity.
But for nourished adults who exercise regularly and are not training for an Ironman Triathlon, the body doesn’t need an outside fuel source, be it a Fitmiss Ignite, a Rockstar Energy Drink, a Fast Twitch or any of the many other pre-workout drinks.
Roger and Peggy however, wouldn’t have a job if everyone knew this.
Drinks claiming to do more than hydrate or nourish are known in the industry as functional beverages (let’s consider powders that mix with water as such). These products promise newfound focus, renewed energy, or extra protein and calcium like that of the New Coke Milk.
But when it comes to fueling physical activity ahead of time, it is only the beginning for functional beverage and fitness supplement companies like Vega.
“Start to finish nutrition—this is a huge trend, especially as food and supplement companies look to expand their market share,” said New York University Instructor of Food Studies Dr. Christy Spackman. “The real question, from my perspective, is whether the people exercising really need what they’re being told they need. A three-stage nutritional approach for a 45-minute workout? Overkill.”
To Spackman’s point, unless you’re doing continuous burpees for two hours in 80 degree Los Angeles weather—and even if out of shape—let thy body fuel the physical activity, because it can. The body uses energy in the form of glycogen, which is glucose broken down from carbohydrates in the diet. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscle cells—it’s readily available to be used at a moments notice. And mothers have been known to summon their glycogen stores (and adrenaline) since the early 1980s to lift up cars.
How long can the body’s store of glycogen—available energy—last? Iowa State University suggests that a well-nourished adult can exercise at low intensity (distance running, swimming, light yoga, bicycling, etc.) for as long as 90 minutes before glycogen stores are depleted. For prolonged high intensity exercise, glycogen stores can provide energy for approximately 20 minutes. Once the glycogen is used up, however, the body will still have a secure fuel source. It’s called fat. Why prolong one benefit of exercise—losing fat—by taking in more calories and products ahead of time, only stalling the body’s natural processes?
The body can’t afford an advertising team of Mad Men to teach every day consumers that pre-work out drinks are superfluous. The companies who make these drinks, however, can, and they are selling people hope that they too can exercise like Lebron James in the form these pre-workout products.
Thus, the industry continues to grow. So too will Vega and myriad ways in which their products and ingredients are marketed. Vega currently uses “slow-releasing” brown rice and “fast-releasing” coconut nectar as its fuel source. Sound enticing and scientific? High fructose corn syrup and table sugar would do the trick as well—just without the organic, hipster zeal. For the surfboard crowd (mostly dudes), Rockstar Energy Drinks packs its beverages chock-full with sugar. One 16-ounce can has 62 grams of sugar, more than 1.5 times the daily recommended dose for men and 2.5 times for women. Yowzers.
“The functional beverage industry in the U.S. really took off in the mid-2000s, largely in response to a loosening of federal regulations about what types of claims could be made on packages,” Spackman says. The trend will likely continue to boom, so fasten your seatbelts.
In essence, you’d probably get just as effective of a workout—maybe even a better one—drinking a quad espresso ahead of time or, as Roger Sterling and Peggy Olsen often do, a Cynar Italian liqueur. That buzz will get you to believe in you. So for now, keep in mind the reason you went to the gym in the first place—to burn fuel—and leave the fueling up to your designated meal times.