Products designed to help people become better athletes have been around for years, and sports nutrition has lately become one of the areas of focus. About a year ago, I completed P90X, which is a home fitness program designed to quickly develop strength, endurance, and overall health. As part of the program, the company behind P90X promotes a “Results and Recovery” drink that has protein in it. The Gatorade Company also recently introduced beverages that have added protein to boost recovery. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently looked at a low carbohydrate beverage with added protein and its effect on endurance in cycling athletes. After reviewing the study, I asked a sports nutrition consultant, Stacy Renouf, about her thoughts of these newer beverages.

Lisa Ferguson–Stegall et al, performed the study at the Exercise Physiology and Metabolism Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. The researchers looked at the efficacy of a beverage containing a mixture of carbohydrates as opposed to a single carbohydrate that had fewer total calories but had added protein. Compared to a traditional carbohydrate beverage, this protein/low carbohydrate produced an extended time to endurance when participants exercised at the ventilatory threshold or just below it. While the study did not show a significant reduction in muscle breakdown, the authors speculate that the added protein might help decrease muscle damage in high exertion situations.

Is there a potential benefit to a drink with multiple carbohydrates/added protein for athletes?

“This study mixes two different variables – the mixture of carbohydrates and added protein. It’s difficult to draw definite conclusions. There have been several studies that do show endurance benefits from drinks with added protein. As for the mixture of sugars, that makes sense. Glucose is absorbed very quickly, so it is available right away. A sugar like fructose is absorbed more slowly, so it’s energy would be available after the glucose has worn off,” Renouf notes.

And does the average athlete or person exercising need such a drink?

“It depends. For someone doing less strenuous exercise for only 20 or 30 minutes, probably not. On the other hand, someone exercising or playing a sport for 60-90 minutes might benefit. But it is important to pay attention to the amount of fructose in these drinks, especially for those with high-fructose corn syrup. High levels of fructose have been implicated in elevated blood pressure, fatty liver, and increased cardiovascular risk,” Renouf points out.

I certainly am no nutrition expert, although I do read a lot about it from my own personal interest in lifting weights and exercising. I think that the search for the perfect sports performance beverage will continue as research evolves. Studies do seem to show a trend toward endurance benefits with added protein, although I question the need for some of these beverages for people who exercise 30 minutes or less a day. Potentially, though, these drinks might benefit not only cyclists, but people who engage in sports or exercise for long periods of time, especially those who are trying to keep their caloric intake low.