Sports Drinks: How Are They Beneficial for Athletes and Their Performance?

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Sports drinks for athletics performance
Image Source: National Post

I tell a lot of athletes that plain water dehydrates and they look at me confused: “ How can water dehydrate you?”

This fact hits them hard because from the very beginning of their career as they always have been told to drink water for their hydration needs. Only an expert sports nutritionist understands the importance of the presence of certain other elements in water for performance.

Yes, water intake is important and it is an essential part of an athlete’s nutrition strategy but mere water is not sufficient for someone who is sweating for professional sports accomplishments.

The Water myth

Water contains no electrolytes, glucose or sugar and lowers the concentration of salt inside the blood. So when an athlete drinks water he is not getting any nutrients out of it to support his/her training. On the contrary, he/ she tends to lose salt & minerals as they dissolve themselves in the water thus leaving an athlete more DEHYDRATED!

The ideal sports drink for exercise performance

The ideal thing is to drink a specially designed sports solution which contains approximately 6-8 % glucose and 5:1 ratio of Sodium to Potassium. If you ever have tasted your sweat – it’s salty because it contains sodium.

The science of sports drinks
Image Source: Hendon Publishing

The Indian gene loses 5 times more sodium than potassium, whereas a foreign athlete’s body loses 3 times more sodium than potassium. The foreign sports drinks are designed keeping in mind the same, which is ideally not be suitable for an Indian athlete.

It is of vital importance that an athlete rehydrates with the correct glucose & electrolytes and should also add certain Vitamins to it as these will help release energy from stored glucose inside the body.

Also Read: Best Sports Nutrition Tips For Peak Performance

Type of Sports Drinks

All sports drinks contain Water, Carbohydrates & Electrolytes.

Water is the main ingredient in sports drinks, Carbs are present in the form of Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose & Maltodextrin and Electrolytes in the form of Sodium, Potassium & Chloride. Carbs are an important energy source for athletes, whereas electrolytes help replenish lost body fluids.

1) Hypotonic Sports Drink

Faster uptake of fluid when drinking hypotonic drinks
Image Source: precisionhydration.com

This drink generally contains upto 4% carbohydrates. It is less concentrated than human blood & is the fastest to be consumed by the bloodstream. It keeps an athlete hydrated but provides a lesser amount of energy. It is beneficial for recreational & less strenuous, short duration exercises.

2) Isotonic Sports Drink

It generally contains 6-8% carbohydrates. This drink is similar in concentration to human blood & is consumed by the body as quickly as water. It provides energy to the body and is beneficial for shorter duration high-intensity exercises.

Diagram to explain the movement of hypertonic, isotonic and hypotonic fluids across cell walls
Image source: precisionhydration.com

3) Hypertonic Sports Drink

This kind of drink generally contains more than 8% carbohydrates. It is more concentrated than human blood. They are infused with lots of carbohydrates to provide maximum energy as a source of fuel for high-intensity activities. This drink delivers calories and micronutrients quickly and effectively into the bloodstream.

It is ideal to use this drink 45-60 min before training and immediately post-training. It is also beneficial for less strenuous, long duration exercises.

Usually, sports drink contains 20-60mg sodium /100mL and may or may not contain small amounts of other electrolytes.

How sports drinks can help enhance your sports performance

Water in sports drink transports nutrients, discards waste, regulates blood pressure, lubricates joints, and manages temperature. Carbohydrate intake boosts the energy levels before the training. It also aids in proper recovery by replenishing glycogen levels post a workout which helps an athlete to train to his/her highest level in the next session.

Electrolytes manage water in the body. It also helps transport nutrients & waste in and out of the cells respectively. During an exercise when athletes sweat, they lose out on water and electrolytes, which if not replenished actively will result in catastrophic shut -down of the body via cramping and in worse cases, heat stroke or death.

Caution: Energy drinks are not sports drinks

A lot of athletes gets confused between an energy drink and sports drink. Sugar is the biggest enemy for any athlete if its intake is not balanced correctly. Any beverage which contains more than 10% of sugar is considered to be an energy drink. So aerated beverages, sodas, juices (like mango, lime etc.) all fall under the energy drink category.

When an athlete consumes any energy drink, it creates a sudden insulin spike in the body and for a short duration of period feels energetic. However, the insulin spike is soon followed by an insulin spike drop, leaving behind the athlete dull, lethargic and fatigued. This is not desirable in an athlete as they need to constantly maintain their energy & focus for higher performance.

Hey Reader, Do Not Miss Reading: Psychological Effects & Key Tips to Prevent Sports Injuries


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Ryan Fernando is an award-winning celebrity sports nutrition coach with 2 GUINNESS world record and 2 Olympic medals under his belt. He is the CEO & Chief Nutritionist at Qua Nutrition Signature Clinics. He is also the author of the book “Eating Secrets of Champions”, a leading sports nutrition book in India.

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