Too often people suffer from dehydration as they over exert themselves in the gym, or during long runs. Dehydration isn’t just limited to people who exercise. It can occur to anyone who doesn’t drink enough water Sports drinks provide an easy way to rehydrate and replace electrolytes lost during a strenuous exercise or a hot day.

A sports drink contains carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to help increase blood sugar and rapidly replace fluids and nutrients used during vigorous exercise, sporting events or a day in the hot sun. Sports drinks contain sodium and electrolytes to replenish sweat-loss and carbohydrates and sugar to help refuel muscles.

Many elite athletes drink sports drinks during and post workout to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates During high intensity workouts, the average body looses enough fluid to fill between one and two 24oz water bottles.  Carbohydrates burned per hour depend on the intensity of the exercise as well as body composition and individual differences. Greater percentages of calories are burned from carbohydrates at high intensity workouts like boxing than low intensity workouts like yoga.

Sports drinks are available in a variety of flavors. Some are pre-made liquids while others are mix-it-yourself powders.

Types of Sports Drinks?

  1. Isotonic Fluid
    1. Electrolytes and 6-8% carbohydrate Quickly replaces fluids lost by sweating and supplies a boost of carbohydrate.
    2. Choice for most athletes (middle and long distance running or team sports).
  2. Hypotonic Fluids
    1. Electrolytes and a low level of carbohydrate quickly replaces fluids lost by sweating.
    2. Suitable for athletes who need fluid without the boost of carbohydrate such as jockeys and gymnasts.
  3. Hypertonic
    1. High level of carbohydrate
    2. Used to supplement daily carbohydrate intake normally after exercise to top up muscle glycogen stores.
    3. Suitable for ultra distance events where high levels of energy are required and hypertonic drinks can be taken during exercise to meet the energy requirements.
    4. If used during exercise, hypertonic drinks need to be used in conjunction with Isotonic drinks to replace fluids.

How fast will the body absorb the sports drink?

There are two main factors that affect the speed at which fluid from a drink gets into the body:

  1. Carbohydrate Level
    1. The higher the carbohydrate levels in a drink the slower the rate of stomach emptying.
    2. Isotonic drinks with a carbohydrate level of between 6 and 8% are emptied from the stomach at a rate similar to water.
  2. Electrolyte level
    1. Sodium and potassium in a drink will reduce urine output. Reduced urine output enables the fluid to empty quickly from the stomach, promotes absorption from the intestine and encourages fluid retention.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes serve three general functions in the body:

  • Many electrolytes are essential minerals.
  • Electrolytes control osmosis of water between body compartments.
  • Electrolytes help maintain the acid-base balance required for normal cellular activities.

The sweat that evaporates from the skin contains a variety of electrolytes. The electrolyte composition can vary from person to person but is generally:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Chloride
  • Bicarbonate
  • Phosphate
  • Sulphate

How to pick a sports drink that is best for you?

There are many different brands of sports drinks with different amounts of carbohydrates and electrolytes. Make sure you get a sport drink that works best for you by trying different brands, flavors and potencies.

Also, ask your fitness trainer and/or doctor if you need them.

Questions to ask your doctor about sports drinks?

  • How much should I drink per day?
  • Is it possible to drink too much sports drinks?
  • Will the sports drink interact with my current medicines?
  • Which brand (Gatorade, PowerAde, Propel, BodyArmor) is best for me?