Episode 143 - What a Sports Dietitian Says About Coca-Cola

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Coca-Cola as a performance enhancer? You probably didn't see that coming on a sports nutrition podcast! But hold on, there's more here than meets the eye. Today, we're diving into how Coca-Cola, often seen as a guilty pleasure, can actually play a role in an athlete's nutrition plan.

The Role of Sugar in Sports Nutrition
First, let's talk about sugar. Carbohydrates are our primary source of fuel as endurance athletes. During prolonged endurance events, our carbohydrate stores (like glycogen in our muscles) are depleted, and simple sugars, which are easy to digest and provide quick energy, become vital.

Coke contains these simple sugars and can provide us with a quick energy boost. In Australia, for example, Coca-Cola has 10 grams of carbs per 100 ml, making it a more potent source of carbohydrates than a standard sports drink.




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Episode Transcription

Episode 143: What a Sports Dietitian Says About Coca-Cola

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome back to the podcast. It is exciting to be here. I am sitting in my cupboard. Thank you for wrapping your ears around this episode today. Now, today we're going to talk about Coca Cola. Yep. Probably not what you thought I would talk about on a sports nutrition podcast, but hear me out because I know that when it comes to sports nutrition, you just get absolutely bombarded with all these choices and marketing and shiny objects, you know, protein bars, salt tablets, energy bars, protein shakes, like all All the things, right?

[00:00:53] The options just seem endless. Have you thought about putting Coca Cola on that list? Yeah? Often people see that really as just a guilty pleasure and definitely it is not a healthy food choice and I would not recommend it in life. It is terrible for your teeth, terrible for your teeth and not something that I would drink outside of racing and training.

[00:01:19] But, it can actually be a performance enhancer. So hear me out. I know that a lot of athletes use it particularly in the endurance space and particularly in triathlon. athletes have been using Coke, Coca Cola. I'm going to say Coke interchangeably with Coca Cola, but I don't mean the white powder that you may stick up your nose.

[00:01:39] I mean the drink, Coca Cola. All right. Stay with me. Yeah but , they've been using it way back in the eighties. It's been around for a very long time. And I hear so many myths about it. using Coke in racing. And we're going to squash some of those today.

[00:01:55] So what does a triathlon sports dietitian think and say about incorporating Coca Cola into your sports nutrition plan? I reckon my opinion might actually surprise you. So before we dive into that, we need to just take a step back and talk about the role of sugar in sports nutrition, because it's really essential to understand that that carbohydrate is our primary source of fuel as an endurance athlete.

[00:02:17] Okay. Particularly during prolonged endurance events that are glycogen depleting, we use carbohydrate that we've stored prior to exercise, prior to racing, our glycogen stores, the carbohydrate that we store in our muscles. We use that as a source of fuel as well as the exogenous sources.

[00:02:34] So the stuff that goes in our mouth externally to our body that we consume during exercise. Okay, now the simple sugars are often in products and useful during exercise because it's a relatively immediate source of fuel. It's simple and easy to break down, generally speaking, and can give you that energy boost relatively quickly, right?

[00:02:57] Within sort of 15 minutes is that process of consuming, digesting, breaking down into single molecules, pulling that apart. And that's it. And then absorbing that into your bloodstream where it's then useful, it's not actually useful in your stomach. So Coke can be one of those quick energy sources and source of carbohydrates because it is grouped in our carbohydrate containing fluids category.

[00:03:20] So things like sports drink, coke gels, or you know, that precision fuel and hydration gel flow, or lots of gels in a bottle, gels in water, and things like Red Bull as well. So. The amount of carbohydrate in Coke, Coca Cola in Australia is 10 grams per 100 mils of liquid. So a 10 percent solution. The US you have a tiny bit more, 11 grams per 100 mil, but we can kind of blanketly call it, you know, a 10 percent solution, which is higher than a standard sports drink.

[00:03:53] A standard sports drink is around 6%, depending on what brand you're using. The carbohydrate source [00:04:00] that it provides is. Also becomes important when you're doing longer course events and you're looking at fueling at higher amounts. So in the US, you guys love this, but your Coke is made from high fructose corn syrup.

[00:04:13] In Australia, we make Coke from sugar or sucrose, like table sugar. Okay, both of which are really simple sugars that can be rapidly digested and absorbed by the body. But the source, it helps you to understand the types of carbohydrates, so glucose, fructose that are in there. Now, I'm not going to dive into that today.

[00:04:31] Story for another day. Something we talk about inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program a lot is our multiple transportable carbohydrates. What's in products? How do we get the right ratios based on what type of fueling that we're doing? I'm not going to cover that on the podcast today. So if you are doing long duration events and you're looking for quick, convenient, easy, simple sugars, then something like Coke can be beneficial for that reason.

[00:05:00] And it is on courses all over the world. They call it Cola, whether that's specifically Coke as a brand or not, I'm not sure, but it would be similar nutritionally anyway.

[00:05:12] Okay, so in terms of carbohydrate, it's about a 10 percent solution, 10 grams of carbs per 100 mils. What about the sodium and electrolytes? So again, Coke in Australia and Coke in the U. S. is different. I don't know if Coke is different everywhere around the world, but worth just checking a label to see. So Australia, 10mg per 100ml, US, 12mg per 100ml. If you rock the imperial system, it doesn't really matter. In a 20 fluid ounce bottle of coke, you've got 75mg. Just check the label on however much you have, or calculate it down from 12mg per 100. So, it has some sodium, it doesn't have a lot, but better than nothing, right?

[00:05:52] Alright. Bye! Now hydration and electrolytes become super important when we're doing endurance events. It's very critical [00:06:00] because performance starts to get limited the longer you go and the more dehydrated you get. While water is generally okay for those shorter distance events, when you're stepping up into longer course, 70.

[00:06:12] 3 full distance, then you're going to need to start to think more so about your electrolyte replacement strategy. And Coke can help to tick some of those boxes to provide some sodium. It doesn't contain a lot though, so depending on your needs, it's not likely to contribute a really significant source during really extended periods of exercise.

[00:06:32] And you may need to do something in addition to that. Like generally I would recommend a specialized sports strength concoction or carbohydrate fluid concoction that really dials in your levers for fueling, sodium, hydration, all those things so that your race nutrition plan is custom to you. I think that's really important.

[00:06:52] The other kind of big ticket item that I quite like Coke for is the caffeine to enhance performance for endurance exercise. It is its advantage over just a standard sports drink that doesn't have the addition of caffeine in it. Now, we know that caffeine is a performance enhancer. It's very well researched.

[00:07:13] It's going to increase your alertness and reduce your perception of fatigue, which is great when you're out there exercising for, you know, 12 hours or more. It contains about 10 milligrams per 100 mils of caffeine, again depending on where you live in the world. so for example, a 12 fluid ounce can or 350 mils got about 34 milligrams of caffeine.

[00:07:36] So again, not a lot, but definitely some, and it can be really beneficial to have some late the piece in endurance exercise. Now there are lots of ways to get caffeine into your plan. I'm not saying use caffeine to get coke, but how much you need is individualized to you. It's not a blanket. Everyone have this amount of caffeine and I'm seeing huge [00:08:00] caffeine intakes in the public at the moment.

[00:08:02] And so you really need to understand what the guidelines are because more is not necessarily better. There's like this tipping point of like Enhanced performance, and like, reduced performance, because you're doing things like running to the port a loo, or you're starting to get the shake, so you're getting anxious, or you're too nervous, and like, things just go haywire.

[00:08:22] if you have too much. Okay. More is not better with caffeine. Caffeine is something that we do dive into in the Academy program in detail. There are responders, there are non responders, and you know, there are people that don't drink coffee or tea in life, that have no caffeine in life. and so our strategy for using and harnessing the power of caffeine in racing may be different compared to blankly just going, everyone do this.

[00:08:47] Okay. I'm very much a believer in customized. personalized nutrition. I don't like putting people in buckets because we are all different. We all are our own special person. And what works for one person is not going to work for another. So I'd rather teach you what the evidence based guidelines are around caffeine, and then we develop a custom plan that works for you based on whatever products you're using.

[00:09:11] There are plenty of ways to skin a cat when it comes to caffeine, but I like Coke because it does have caffeine, and now you know how much caffeine it does contain. The other advantage I find with Coke is kind of the palatability and the taste reset it provides. Like, yes, it's sweet, like a lot of our other sports nutrition products, but it tastes different.

[00:09:32] And so often it can be a bit of a palate cleanser or a refresher. because it is just so different. And I know that some people would argue that Coke tastes better than sports drink and it's much more enjoyable. And I find that people, particularly the longer you go, the more people enjoy using it because it is like that psychological boost that like you have something different and it just helps kind of reset the system when you've been chugging back sports drinks and gels and things all the time.

[00:10:01] So It's also like liquid, right? It's liquid fuel, it's liquid sodium, it's liquid caffeine, carbohydrate. It's relatively easy to digest and can be quite useful as a bit of a reset. So when and how would you use Coca Cola in your plan? Like given it's got quick sugar, caffeine, there are some specific scenarios that might be beneficial.

[00:10:25] And that's something that we do dive into in the TNA so that you have a race nutrition plan for every single distance. You've got a plan that's custom for sprint. You've got a plan that's custom for Olympic distance, 70. 3 and full distance. You can't just duplicate one and double it for the next, or halve, you know, to get to the next.

[00:10:44] You really do need specific strategies for each of those distances because metabolically they are different as well. So like tick, tick and tick for Coke, right? Was that what you were expecting? I would say maybe, maybe not. I'm not saying drink it like every day in life outside of training, but it can be advantageous for lots of different scenarios.

[00:11:06] Now the downside. It is terrible for your teeth, okay? Any dentist listening is just like, why didn't you say that up front? It is terrible for your teeth. One strategy you could do is maybe rinse your mouth with water after consuming Coke if dental health is like an issue for you or something that you're proactive about.

[00:11:25] And the other thing that I think that needs to be highlighted with Coke is that it does lack other nutrients. You know, I'm very much a dietician and I'm pro nutrient rich food. And so we'll often put nutrients into people's diet way more than they were having before, and Coke does not provide anything, right?

[00:11:43] I hate this word when it comes to coke, but you could essentially call it empty calories. But in a sports scenario, it's not empty calories because we're using it for carbohydrate and we're using it for caffeine and we're using it for sodium, right? The three things that we need to kind of pull levers for when we [00:12:00] are training for endurance sports.

[00:12:01] But other than that. It is got no other nutritional value, right? , unlike, you know, specialized sports drinks potentially, or more whole foods that are designed for sport. It doesn't have anything whatsoever. Okay. So a couple of tips, I guess, like, What I would recommend having a bit of a balance around Coca Cola is, you know, use it sparingly, you know, reserve it for specific scenarios where you might need it, not a blanket all the time.

[00:12:32] Can you combine it with other nutrients because it doesn't provide much, you know, parent with nutrient dense foods so that we're kind of, bit more balanced approach there. Check what it does to you first before you go and race with it. It's not something I would recommend grabbing on course if you've not tried it in training.

[00:12:51] Like, how does your body react to it? Everyone does react differently to coke and to caffeine. So pay particular attention to how you feel after using it when you try it in training and see if it does make you feel good or it does nothing or it has the adverse effect. When you can, like, prioritise whole foods and sports drinks and specialised things that you can have in your race plan so that you have that balance with not an entire Ironman being fuelled by Coca Cola.

[00:13:23] Right? Probably wouldn't recommend that either. That's not likely to work for a lot of people, okay, either. It's the same flavour, sodium is probably not high enough for a lot of people. Carbohydrate might be okay. and depending on where you live and components it's made of, maybe that ratio is not right for you either.

[00:13:41] So I probably wouldn't recommend an entire plan on just Coke. Put some other things in there. Maybe you've got some whole foods in a longer distance event or something to help balance it out. But you know, sparingly some sprinkles in there. I think it can be quite beneficial. And the other thing is you need to make sure you've got your hydration [00:14:00] needs met with water.

[00:14:01] electrolytes and whatever it is, rather than just relying solely on Coca Cola. Okay, so I think it's not all bad. I think we can harness the power of Coca Cola. Yeah, I said it. A dietician said Coke is good in certain scenarios in, in certain contexts, right? You need to take that into consideration with the whole plan as well.

[00:14:23] And I did not say, I'm saying this basically for Tony Hampton. I did not say drink Coke on a daily basis. Tony is one of our Academy athletes who drinks Like, here's what he thinks I said. And so I'm just spelling that out really clearly for the Tony's of the world. So hopefully that helps you to make more of an informed choice around Coca Cola.

[00:14:46] If you haven't used it yet, give it a crack, give it a crack in training. , try not to have it in the house that you're just like drinking willy nilly. might want to de gas it as well before you use it in training, because like having like all those bubbles, one, it can be great. I know a lot of long distance, like hundred kilometer trail runners or road runners will use it gassed.

[00:15:05] It helps them kind of clear the gas out of their stomach, but generally in triathlon, we want it in a de-gas form. So there you go. Coke, tick of approval, dietician approved tick in some situations, in training, in racing, not in daily life. Okay, I said it. All right. Our listener question for today comes from Calvin Amos, who's from Chum Creek in Victoria.

[00:15:29] How are you Calvin? He has asked how much should weight fluctuate throughout the year? A. g. like race weight versus his off season. Now I know a little bit about Calvin. He is a pro triathlete doing the longer course event, 70. 3. He's heading to world champs in Taupo in December. Go Calvin. Good luck, mate.

[00:15:48] If you do want to follow him on Insta at Calvin Amos Triathlete and have a look at his, pro triathlete adventures in the 70. 3 distance. He's also vegan. So I take all of the things that I know about Calvin into consideration when I answer this question. And it is just because I had the advantage of knowing more about him.

[00:16:06] He's been hanging around for a little while now. And so for you, Calvin, I would suggest that your race weight and your off season weight doesn't shift much, okay? Like one kilo, maybe two at a stretch maximum, but you are not the type of athlete that we want your weight fluctuating a heap throughout the year, okay?

[00:16:29] And I have done quite a number of episodes on, on race weight if you want to dive into those back in the archives, give them a search. Because everyone is different, but I don't think we should have these big fluctuations. And for you, Calvin, I don't know the answer to this question, but are you somebody that struggles to maintain your weight through the season?

[00:16:47] If you are, then my answer is again, different. And my strategy for your nutrition would be different depending on if that is you or not. So, short answer, not a lot, like one kilo, maybe two at a stretch, depending on what you're doing. but I do need to know so much more information to really dive into that in more detail.

[00:17:08] Because you are in the pro level, I'd be doing regular body composition assessment with an anthropometrist. So somebody that's ISAC accredited to do your skin folds every, you know, four to eight weeks and just keep and track and monitor around what is going on with your body composition. You, as a 70. 3 elite athlete, have this delicate balance between being, like, fit, and lean, and fast, and, you know, light.

[00:17:35] I hate that saying, uh, but you need strength. Okay. You need to be strong to smack it on the bike and then still have not built up all that fatigue in your legs to have a really fast run. So you're going to need more strength and muscle, not necessarily bulk and size, but have that strength and power.

[00:17:53] at that distance of event. So for you, maybe it is putting on some muscle mass [00:18:00] in your off season. So it might be gaining some weight that you then try and maintain and hold and not lose so much in your on season. Anyway, we could dive into that in a lot of detail, with more information, but I would, I guess, first point is to start with, to monitor and track what you do outside of just the scales, right?

[00:18:17] Scales are a very blunt measure of body composition assessment. They're going to measure your fluctuations in hydration, how much fiber you've got in your gut, and so many different components go into that without actually telling you what's happening at the muscle level and the fat level. So you can go to, go and get a DEXA scan once a year and see what's happening with your muscle mass and seeing if you're losing it over time or gaining it.

[00:18:40] And then do regular skin folds every sort of four to six, maybe eight weeks with an ISAC accredited anthropometrist to see at the surface level, what's happening with your subcutaneous fat levels. All right. Good one. Great question, Calvin. One day, I reckon we'll get you in the academy. One day. We're working on it. 

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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