The Effect of Sport Drinks on Athletic Performance

Young female athlete drinking sports drink, portrait
A woman drinks a sports drink after a workout. (Image: PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

As an athlete, the food and drink you consume around workouts are pivotal in your success. Once upon a time, water was considered the only beverage any budding athlete needed to get through a tough game or practice session, but now, sports drinks are all the rage. When looking to maximize performance, a sports drink could be a useful addition to your diet.

Crucial Carbs

For an athlete, one of the key advantages of drinking a sports drink is the high carbohydrate content. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a typical sports drink supplies between 13 and 19 grams of carb per 8-ounce serving. These carbs can help boost your energy before a competition and also aid recovery. One of the main goals after a workout is to replenish glycogen levels -- your body's stored carbohydrate -- to allow you to train at a high level again in your next session. Therefore, refueling properly after exercise is vital, notes Sports Dietitians Australia. A carb-based sports drink is a good option if you struggle with eating solid food after your sessions.

Healthy Hydration

Keeping and staying hydrated before, during and after competition is critical for any athlete. By simply not taking in enough fluid you put yourself at risk of increased heart rate, fatigue, reduced mental function and stomach upset. The Australian Institute of Sport notes that the main advantage sports drinks have over plain water is flavor that can encourage an athlete to drink more.

Easy Electrolytes

When you sweat, your body loses valuable minerals known as electrolytes. When you lose electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, and don't replace them, you run the risk of dehydration and losing muscle function, notes professor W. Larry Kenney of Penn State University. Drinking only water could leave you feeling bloated and potentially lead to low sodium levels in the body -- a condition known as hyponatremia.

Total Performance

Athletes can benefit from using sports drinks that contain both carbohydrate and sodium, according to Dietitians of Canada, though they do advise sticking to non-carbonated drinks and testing your drink of choice in a practice session first. When picking a sports drink, consult with a sports nutritionist to determine the best type for your particular sport and goals.

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