Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Is Coke a Good Source of 'Fuel' for Endurance Athletes?

Pictured here is Björn Suneson, of Sweden, who is currently running all alone across America. I was fortunate to be able to spend about 45 minutes with him a couple of weeks ago when he was in Indiana. While chatting, I noticed a two-liter Coke container on the support stroller he's pushing. I've followed Björn's running adventures for several years and am well aware that he enjoys drinking coke – both while on the road running and after getting done with his daily miles. I, however, have never been one to drink a carbonated drink while on a run.

The benefits of drinking a caffeinated, high-sugar beverage, such as Coke, toward the latter part of an endurance event, are well documented. Research from many institutions has shown that it helps mobilize fats and sugar into the bloodstream, making it available for use by the athlete, which should improve endurance performance.

However, not everyone's body responds favorably to ingesting caffeinated cola during exercise. Some athletes who are particularly caffeine-sensitive, or ingest excessive amounts of caffeine in any form, will experience negative effects like jitteriness, gastrointestinal distress, and the need to urinate more.

When I did my ultra-endurance runs across states/countries, I used two sources of liquid fuel – water and Gatorade. That's it! I did drink some caffeinated colas after logging my daily miles, but water and Gatorade were primarily my liquid fuel of choice, especially when I was actually putting the rubber to the road. Björn does drink Gatorade and water as he is striding down the road, but unlike me... he likes to include Coke as well.

Increasing numbers of athletes are using Coke to fuel their exercise – and are reporting that it works. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport surveyed 11 of the 19 men's cycling teams participating in the U. S. Professional Championships and found that in six of those 11 teams, every single athlete ingested Coke during races. In four other teams, roughly two-thirds of the riders drank Coke. Only one team was Coke-free. Usually, Coke was consumed during the last half of the competitions, which lasted for two to six hours.

Reports show that Coke's carbohydrate content is at about 11 percent, which is considered slightly too high for a sports beverage (exercise scientists have identified 5 to 9 percent as the optimal range for sports-drink carbohydrate concentrations; beyond 9 percent, gastric emptying is retarded, and water may even be dragged into the stomach to dilute the excess carbs, robbing tissues and blood of fluid). Also, Coke offers little in the way of electrolytes, and its carbonation is thought to increase the risk of gastric upsets during exercise. Finally, Coke’s acidic content and artificial colors make it something that some athletes choose to avoid.

Research shows that Coke’s carbohydrate can keep muscles working as glycogen levels decrease, and if Coke is mixed half-and-half with Gatorade (which some athletes do), the resulting mixture possesses a carbohydrate content of about 8.6–8.7 percent, which is within the optimal range of carbohydrate concentrations. Finally, Coke's caffeine cannot be overlooked (a 12-ounce can of Coke has between 30 and 45 mg of caffeine). Caffeine has been shown to be performance-enhancing in a variety of different studies.

With that said, I lift a can of Coke to salute Björn on his running into the state of Nebraska yesterday. You're almost to the halfway point. Well done!

Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,

Paul Staso