Are sports drinks necessary and when should you use them?

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July 14, 2014 by danfisher87

The sports drinks industry is a multi-billion pound money spinner in the UK alone. New sports shakes and energy elixirs are making their way to the market every day. They offer exciting flavours and ‘superfoods’ like pomegranate and acai which were largely unheard of until about 5 years ago. These drinks claim to make you perform better, help keep you hydrated, and improve your health. But, are they really necessary?

Energy Drinks

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks were made specifically to help high-level athletes re-hydrate during long workouts. Their formula was designed to replace water and minerals lost when sweating heavily. They generally contain electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, carbohydrates, and water.

There are new formulations that contain half the calories or are enhanced with vitamins. Some are even marketed as “recovery” drinks and contain protein.

So to look in more detail what are you actually drinking?

The main ingredients found in Lucozade, Powerade and others are often glucose, fructose or sucrose, all of which are code for sugar. Many of these contain as much sugar as a can of coke but you don’t see people drinking those during a workout. And for those marketed as zero calorie or reduced calorie, they will contain ingredients such as aspartame and sucralose. These are artificial sweeteners that do not provide calories, but are certainly not benefiting your health.

Are they good for before and during a workout?

Most sports drinks on the market are isotonic, which means they contain a carbohydrate solution that is at 6-8% concentration. Drinks like this are absorbed reasonably quickly compared to fruit juice which has a higher sugar rate but water is always going to be the fastest to absorb. Because the sugar concentration of most sports drinks is higher than that of most body fluid they are not readily absorbed into the blood stream and are therefore not optimal for hydration.

Post workout?

After you are finished working out, water is not the best choice for your recovery needs. Water does not contain the sugars and electrolytes that your body needs in order to bring itself back into balance.

In addition, because water is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream, it can lead to a further imbalance of electrolytes and frequent bathroom stops, which will only increase fluid loss and decrease your desire to drink.

Your best choice post workout is a drink that contains a fair amount of sugars, electrolytes and possibly some protein. Scientific literature has consistently shown that drinking a beverage that contains a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is optimal for recovery. Therefore, you should be drinking a sports drink after you exercise to help ignite the recovery process.

So in conclusion sports drinks and isotonics do have their place within your training and recovery cycle, and used correctly can help your game. Just know when to drink them, and use them in moderation. If you’re going for a walk or light training session don’t bother with these, but if you’re working hard then let them be a reward at the end of a tough training session.


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