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Sports Drinks – what should you look for?
Sports drinks are becoming increasing popular with athletes of all levels. It is important however, to understand what you should look for in a sports drink and to know just when they are beneficial to performance. By Sarah Burkhart, nutrionalist.
Dehydration is a serious issue to an athlete, even a 2% decrease in fluid balance can decrease your performance by a whopping 20%! This is because every litre of water lost causes the heart rate to increase by 8 beats per minute, cardiac output to decline by 1L/min and core body temperature to increase by 0.3˚C.
Cardiac output is the amount of blood pumped out of the heart per minute. Even if the heart rate is increased, if a decreased supply of blood is moving around the body there is a decreased supply of oxygen to, and removal of waste products from, the working muscles = decreased performance.
Dehydration also removes water from the blood making it thicker and more viscous – this also means it is harder for your heart to pump it around the body.
Preventing dehydration is important and that’s where you’ll often hear about the concept of sports drinks. Sports drinks are designed to help you stay more hydrated.
They are formulated to contain carbohydrates (which are designed to replace the carbs you are burning and therefore provide more fuel), water and sodium. The sodium is a crucial part of a sports drink, sodium works in the following ways:
Sports drinks do work but you must choose one with a carbohydrate content of 4 – 8%. You can check this on the back label and make sure there is between 4 and 8 grams of carbohydrates per 100mL.
This is the range research has shown to be the most effective – any lower than 4% and it may not be absorbed as effectively, any higher than 8% and you may experience stomach discomfort and absorption problems. Ideally the sodium concentration should be 500 – 700mg/L – you can also check this one the label.
Sports drinks are best used for periods of exertion over an hour in duration (as your body should have enough carbohydrate stores for any session less than 1 hour, and water is fine to drink in that time). Be careful that you don’t drink these drinks as a fluid during the day (when you are not exercising) as they contain extra kilojoules, and are not good for the health of teeth if they are being consumed too frequently.
Most of all make sure you choose a sports drink that suits you – there is no point using a drink that everyone else does if it doesn’t suit your tastes, or it doesn’t sit well in your stomach.
About Sarah Burkhart....
Sarah is a Sports Nutritionist who is known for her practical and realistic approach to improving performance and getting results with athletes from recreational to elite international level. She has a BSc majoring in Human Nutrition and Physiology, and has just completed a MSc in Human Nutrition.
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