Sports drinks are designed to restore fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during intense physical activity. These products help prevent dehydration and fatigue. By packing sports beverages with nutrients such as sugars and sodium for energy, and protein for muscle reparation, you can enjoy greater duration and recover more quickly from a high-intensity workout.
Sports drinks will contain, on average, about 14g of carbohydrates per 100ml of fluid. According to the University of Georgia’s University Health Center, carbohydrate is the fuel of choice for the muscles and brain. When your body is low on carbs, you’ll feel fatigued--mentally and physically. It will affect your blood pressure making you feel weak and listless. Though the body produces carbs on its own, it cannot produce enough to sustain you through intense and prolonged exercise.
Athletes prepare for intense exercise by eating a diet high in carbohydrates. But during exercise, eating is not an option. Sports drinks quickly inject carbs into the body allowing the athlete to maintain energy levels.
An essential nutrient, sodium maintains blood volume and helps preserve the balance of water in the cells. A required element for normal body operation, sodium helps nerves function correctly. During rigorous exercise, especially activities such as sport tournaments and marathons, the body loses sodium through sweat. And unless it is replaced, athletes can become dehydrated. The symptoms are debilitating. They’ll feel nauseous, experience painful muscle cramps, feel disoriented and confused, and have slurred speech. Sports drinks effectively and quickly replace lost sodium.
Potassium is another nutrient in sports beverages touted to increase endurance. It is an element that helps regulate muscle control, nerve function and blood pressure. Potassium works with sodium to keep the body’s water in balance. According to Colorado State University, most Americans fall short of the 4.7g recommended daily intake of potassium. Athletes who train vigorously will likely need more potassium.
The Pros and the Cons
There’s no doubt that sports drinks are beneficial to athletes. Anytime you’re exerting energy for more than 3 hours, sweating a lot or competing in a high-altitude environment, sports beverages will replace lost electrolytes and give you a boost of needed carbohydrates.
But for the average hike or a game of tennis, the extra calories, sodium and sugars in sports beverages outweigh the benefits. Additionally, the sodium added to sports drinks encourages athletes to drink more, which is helpful if you’re participating in a triathlon or the Tour de France. If you’re at the gym for a 1-hour workout to burn just few hundred calories, it’s not likely you’ll be at risk for dehydration or heat stroke.
Too Much of a Good Thing
A study in the journal “Sports Medicine” that compared sports drinks with a placebo showed that sports beverages do improve performance. But do some drinks contain too many nutrients? The body loses sodium when it sweats. Intense heat and sun increases sodium loss. While it’s important to replace this element, too much sodium will keep you feeling parched, leading to over-drinking without ever completely satiating your thirst. Manufacturers of sports drinks defend their products by saying that the purpose of more sodium is to encourage hydration. On the other hand, drinking too much during physical activity could cause cramping and have a negative impact on your performance. So unless you’ll be competing for several hours, look for a drink that contains 55mg of sodium. For more intense activity, drinks with 110mg or more will have more benefit.