One Small Change
When to Reach for a Sports Drink
If you think your job stinks, consider what goes on at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute in Barrington, Illinois. In their ongoing quest to hydrate the world, experts there routinely conduct sweat testing of top athletes. This involves a hydration check in which they’re weighed before and after exercise to gauge fluid loss—just like we’ve been doing during this month’s One Small Change experiment.
But they don’t stop there. The white-coats also collect sweat by applying absorbent patches to various parts of the athletes’ bodies. After exercise these are analyzed for electrolyte content (sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc.). In this way, replacement drinks can be individualized to an elite athlete’s specific needs. So a guy like Lance Armstrong isn’t necessarily sipping the same stuff you are.
Over the years and after extensive research, Gatorade and other sports-drink manufacturers have come up with their own formulas for helping everyday athletes exercise longer and recover faster. For evidence, look no farther than the shelves in your nearest convenience store or supermarket. It is literally a wall of choices. But do you really need this stuff? And, if so, which one should you pick? To get a better idea, answer these five questions:
1. Do you understand the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks?
The latter usually contains caffeine, ginseng or other special herbs, plus high doses of sugar (up to 62 grams in some cases, which is equivalent to 5½ servings of Frosted Flakes). These are designed to raise heart rate and make you feel temporarily more alert. (Monster Energy Drink, for instance, contains 160 milligrams of caffeine, or the equivalent of almost four cans of Coke.) Their primary function is to energize.
Sports drinks, however, generally lack such stimulants and are designed to replace fluid, carbohydrate, salt and other things lost in sweat. Their chief function is to replenish. But because there are so many brands, and advertising is often misleading, always read the labels. What works for late-night studying is quite different from what’s effective for late-race endurance.
2. Are you exercising long enough and/or intensely enough to benefit from sports drinks?
Despite those inspiring TV commercials and all the nanas in Boca sipping Powerade on mall-walks, the majority of people don’t need traditional sports drinks, says Douglas Kalman, Ph.D., R.D., director of nutrition and applied clinical research at Miami Research Associates.
If you’re exercising for less than 75 minutes at an easy-to-moderate pace then sipping water is fine, he says. It’s not that you aren’t burning fuel or losing essential nutrients, it’s just that your existing stores can handle it. And afterwards, your normal diet will replenish them naturally.
There are, however, exceptions to this rule—if the weather is warm, for instance, if you’re a heavy sweater, or if you’re exercising intensely, like many Core Performance users do.
3. Do you understand the difference between original sports drinks and new low-calorie versions?
“There’s been an evolution of the sports drink with G2,” says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, director of performance nutrition at Athletes’ Performance. “There are times when we do not need all the fuel, but we do need fluids and electrolytes. G2 is a great option since it provides half the fuel (carbs) with the same amount of fluid and electrolytes.”
So when is this a good option? Carlson-Phillips says when activities cause a big sweat but not necessarily a big fuel loss. Another time when you can break the “75 minute training rule” noted earlier is if you train early in the morning and can’t stomach food. 16 ounces of sports drink or even a lower fuel version (G2) will help you get some fluids and fuel to support your early morning training session.
4. Do you like the taste of sports drinks?
Sports drinks are designed to taste good. They have spent years mastering taste profiles. And let’s face it, if you’re dehydrated, you’ll start to have a decline in performance, so the beverage you choose needs to satisfy your taste.
A word of caution: Recognize how much you really enjoy the taste. At a certain point, you may be consuming needless calories, and what you think is fueling your workouts may actually be fueling weight gain.
5. Do you like chocolate milk?
According to Kalman, a growing body of research is showing that a combination of carbohydrates and protein after training is better at promoting recovery than traditional carbohydrate-only drinks.
“After your workout, you want to shoot for a 2:1 to 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio depending on your training intensity,” says Carlson-Phillips. Engineered products in the form of shakes and ready-to-drinks (RDTs) make this very convenient—Myoplex has a new bottle form. This can also be as easy as downing 16 to 20 ounces of chocolate milk immediately following your workout.
About The Author
Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.