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Choosing A Sport DrinkLeave a Reply

On television and in print ads professional athletes promote various sports drinks for fluid replacement as well as enhanced recuperation and performance. From Michael Jordan and Shaquille Oneal of basketball fame to professional bodybuilders Troy Zuccolotto and Sandy Riddell, athletes espouse the virtues of their respective products. With all of this promotion going on, it's difficult to decide which, if any, is best to use before, during or after a workout.

Fluid-replacement drinks became popular in the '70s and '80s with the advent of Gatorade and the interest in running and jogging. Since that time, and with continued research, Gatorade has changed its formula, and scores of other drinks have come on the market. Gyms no longer just have drinking fountains, but like the newly opened Gold's in Fullerton, California, they feature cafes serving the latest in fluid replacement drinks. Vadek Hawkins, co-owner of Gold's, Fullerton, claims that J.J. Marsh and Zuccolotto, two regulars at his gym, spend more time imbibing in the cafe than they spend on the gym floor.

Beverage Comparison Chart
CHO Source
CHO Conc. (%)
Na (mg)
K (mg)
Other Minerals & Vitamins
Osmolality (mosmol/L)
Orange Juice
Fru, Glu, Suc
A, C, B1, B2, B6, Iron & Calcium
High Fru, Corn Syrup, Suc
Fru, Glu Polymers
Cl, Ca, Mg, Phosphorus
Glu, Suc
Cl, Phosphorus
*CHO = Carbohydrate, Na = Sodium, K = Potassium, Fru = Fructose, Suc = Sucrose, Glu = Glucose.

While water may be the optimal replacement for short-term fluid loss, drinks containing electrolytes and energy are best for lengthy workouts and competitions. Although your individual workout may last only an hour or so, when combined with aerobics and sun tanning, where you can lose significant amounts of water, the need for replacement drinks can become as important for bodybuilders as it is for endurance athletes.

Many factors determine the optimal replacement fluid. While the intensity and duration of the sport are extremely important, the climate the activity takes place in and the caloric limitations of the athlete also play key roles. The ideal fluid replacement beverage should be one that tastes good to the athlete, does not cause gastrointestinal discomfort when consumed in large volumes, promotes rapid absorption of extracellular fluids and maintains fluid volume and provides energy for working muscles.

Performance can be jeopardized by even minimal water loss due to sweating. A 2 percent drop in bodyweight results in significant decrements in strength and endurance. In warm environments it is not uncommon for an athlete to lose five to 10 pounds in a given workout. While ingesting water will return hydration levels to normal, there is ample evidence that consuming sport drinks maintains physiologic function as well as water and provides even more performance benefits than water.

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Most sports drinks contain electrolytes as well as some form of carbohydrate. Some contain fat in the form of medium-chain triglycerides for energy, yet there is little research to suggest that triglycerides provide any performance benefits beyond what you’ll get from the carbohydrates. Of all the electrolytes sodium is most important. Although sodium levels change little during light and moderate sweating, sodium in the fluid aids in quicker rehydration, enhanced carbohydrate absorption and the continued elevation of plasma sodium levels to maintain thirst and slow urine loss. An electrolyte concentration in the range of 300 muilliosmols per liter is similar to plasma sodium levels of 140 mEq/l and prevents the so-called water intoxication that commonly occurs when athletes ingest large volumes of water following dehydration.

Various sources of carbohydrate are used in replacement drinks. The most common are glucose, sucrose and fructose. Maltodextrins, or glucose polymers, are also popular because they supply a concentrated form of carbohydrate that is readily absorbed. For pre-exercise fluids, however, plain water gets the highest rating. Drinks containing carbohydrates do little to enhance muscle glycogen levels when ingested just before you exercise; in fact, these sweetened fluids raise blood insulin levels, which causes a drop in blood glucose levels as well as a drop in the amount of fats burned during endurance exercise.

Carbohydrate drinks provide the most benefit during and after exercise because they help maintain blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels, which enhances performance. After exercise they also aid in rapid resynthesis of muscle glycogen stores and thus promote faster recuperation. In addition, flavored, sweetened drinks encourage voluntary fluid consumption, which helps ensure adequate fluid intake. Glucose, sucrose and maltodextrin yield similar results in terms of intestinal absorption, cardiovascular and thermoregulatory responses and their effects in terms of increased performance. Fructose takes longer for your body to convert into blood glucose and appears to be more beneficial in post-exercise drinks rather than during exercise. The optimal quantity to ingest is 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrate for each hour of exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking four to six ounces of a 6 percent solution every 15 minutes during exercise to meet these carbohydrate and fluid requirements.

Guidelines for Maintaining Proper Hydration During Training and Competition

  • Do not restrict fluid before, during or after exercise.
  • Avoid beverages containing caffeine and alcohol because they increase urine productions and add to dehydration.
  • Weigh yourself without clothes before and after exercise, especially during hot weather. For each one-pound lost, drink two cups of fluids.
  • Drink 2.5 cups of water two hours before training or competition and then drink another 1.5 cups of water 15 minutes before.
  • Drink one cup of fluid every 20 to 30 minutes during exercise.
  • Rehydration beverages consumed during and after exercise should contain sodium to replace lost body fluids and maintain thirst and 6 to 8 percent carbohydrate to maintain blood glucose levels and replace muscle glycogen stores.

These guidelines, which are based on scientific research, suggest that Gatorade and similar products are best for rehydration during and following exercise. As discussed above, water is best to hyperhydrate the body before exercise because, unlike products that contain glucose or sucrose, it will cause no detrimental changes in insulin or blood glucose levels. Remember that once you're dehydrated, your thirst mechanism will not compensate adequately for fluid losses. Follow the guidelines and you will maintain proper fluid and energy levels and maximize your performance and workouts.

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