For anyone that spends time around gyms or sports fields’ one of the most common sights to see are people guzzling down sports or energy drinks. These drinks have become so popular that there are entire sections of supermarket shelves dedicated to them and they are fast becoming a staple of everyday life in much the same way as coffee has done before. Herein lies the problem, sports drinks are not all created equal and much like the difference between a double espresso and a cream covered, double-choc, full-fat milk, sugar-laden coffee shake there is much to consider as to the benefits and dangers of sports drinks in relation to sport and exercise goals.

Do I Need a Sports Drink?

In relation to hydration, research suggests that energy drinks are beneficial to those who are engaged in physical activity for longer than 60 minutes or for those who are engaged in physical activity in hot temperatures. Absorption of nutrients and fluids is directly related to the rate that they are emptied from the stomach into the small intestine. For those that meet this categorisation fluid absorption is increased by consuming low to moderate levels of glucose at the same time.

What to Look for in a Sports Drink

A sports drink intent on improving hydration should contain  5-10% carbohydrate – approximately 30-50 grams per 500ml. Fructose is not beneficial in this instance because of its slower absorption rate. The sodium content of sports drinks is a consideration for extreme endurance athletes but as a general rule it is less of a factor in choice of product.

When Should I drink My Sports Drink?

Drinking an entire bottle of a sports drink immediately before physical activity will increase the benefits of the product and ensure that the body has the nutrients available to draw upon when needed. That said, running around with that much liquid in one’s stomach may cause unintended impediments and this should also be considered. If possible then 150-250ml of liquid should be consumed every 15 minutes to replace that which has been used. To attain the benefits of the carbohydrate content of the drink around 25-50g of fast acting carbs an hour is recommended – taken approximately 30 minutes before the usual tiredness would kick in. In this instance it is helpful to have conducted the activity previously to establish a baseline.

Sports Drinks Summary

  • Sports drinks can enhance endurance.
  • Sports drinks can enhance performance.
  • Taste is not the only consideration when choosing what drink is best for you.
  • Sports drinks are only needed for those engaged in activities over 60 minutes or in hot conditions.
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