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I heard it through the grapevine: raisins as good as energy chews

I heard it through the grapevine: raisins as good as energy chews

Conducted by researchers at the University of California-Davis, a new study compared the effects that natural vs. manufactured carbohydrate supplements have on endurance running performance.

Runners depleted their glycogen stores in an 80-minute 75 percent V02 max run followed by a 5k time trial. Runners then completed three randomized trials consuming either raisins, chews, or water. The trials were separated by seven days. Researchers found that those that ingested raisins or sports chews ran, on average, one minute faster than those that ingested water alone. And both raisins and sports chews promoted higher carbohydrate oxidation.

"Raisins are a great alternative to sport chews as they also provide fiber and micronutrients, such as potassium and iron, and they do not have any added sugar, artificial flavor or colors," said James Painter, Ph.D., R.D., and nutrition research advisor for the California Raisin Marketing Board.

I love this fruit-over-formula trend happening in sports nutrition studies right now. Last week I learned that bananas worked as well as Gatorade and this week I hear that my favorite dancing fruit will help me perform as well as the sports chews that have become so popular—mostly thanks to candy fruit chews if you ask me.

From athletes to regular Joe's

I’ve always been a trail mix kinda girl, anyway, when it comes to prolonged exercise. I’m more likely to fill my backpack with apples and dried fruit and nuts than anything I could buy in a wrapper.

But I’m also just hiking or climbing—activities in which chewing and digesting aren’t particularly difficult. But for long-distance cyclists and runners I realize munching on an apple or trying to chew and digest a handful of almonds poses a real challenge. For these serious athletes, performance foods come in handy and help them balance their blood sugar, carbs, and proteins so that they can keep going.

The problem I see is that these convenient, candy-like performance foods have become so mainstream that they’re being consumed by people who aren’t about to run a 5k much less a marathon.

Living in Boulder and being “outdoorsy” I frequent REI—a very popular outdoor recreation store—and I see more than a few average Joe’s picking up Clif Shot Bloks, Sport Beans and PowerBar Energy Blasts for their kids as if it’s candy.

Or worse, loading up on these along with energy gels and bars to go camping or for a short hike, as if they were adequate meal replacers. These foods are calorie dense and nutrient poor. Most are simple carbohydrates—sugar—meant to give the user an easily-digestible, quick-acting energy boost when participating in extreme exercise.

It’s good these products exist. It’s not good that consumers don’t understand how or when to use them.

How can marketers and retailers better educate consumers to make, not just healthier decisions, but the appropriate nutrient choices for their lifestyles and needs? Share in the comments.

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