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The Science of Sports Drinks

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether sports drinks may benefit you. While sports drinks can benefit athletes who engage in long or intense training sessions, they are probably unnecessary for most gym-goers. For those trying to maintain or lose weight, another important factor to consider is energy balance, or the balance between the number of calories you consume and burn. If sports drinks are unnecessary for the type of exercise you do, consuming them provides you with unnecessary calories that could hinder your weight loss goals. Gatorade has on average 34g of sugar (9 teaspoons) in a 500ml bottle. Powerade has on average 32g of sugar and 280 calories in a 900ml. Powerade and Gatorade are both made by Coca-Cola. Lucozade contains 62g of sugar per 500mls (the equivalent of 2 family packets of jelly sweets).

So why do so many people believe that sports drinks are necessary?

Hydration is important before, during and after exercise, particularly if exercise is prolonged. Water is the best source of typical re-hydration. Before exercise, it is recommended to take on board approximately 200-250mls of water for 4 hours before exercise, This prevents you taking on too much fluid just before exercise and reduces the risk of cramp during exercise. If you don’t drink enough fluids before, during or after playing a sport, you may become dehydrated. This may mean you are not able to keep your body as cool while playing a sport. It may also affect your performance.

Sport drinks are a combination of water, sugar and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) that can be used to replenish your energy and hydration levels  after sports or exercise. They are made with specific amounts of sodium and sugar to make it easy for your body to absorb. Typically, sports drinks are 6–8% carbohydrates. A 6% solution contains about 14 grams of carbs per 8 fluid ounces (240 ml) Sports drinks are usually only necessary if you have been exercising and sweating heavily for more than 45 minutes. It is recommended that you sip an exercise drink with electrolytes every 10-15 minutes to restore the hydration balance that you are losing through sweat. These recommendations are for continuous high-effort activity without rest. The same guidelines don’t apply to certain intermittent activities like weight training.
These sports drinks are a big business around the world. While much research has been conducted on sports drinks, some people have questioned the validity of these studies. Specifically, some have raised concerns about the relationship between the large companies that make sports drinks and the scientists performing the studies. One report examined nine studies of intense cycling or running lasting 30–60 minutes. Six of the studies showed that sports drinks benefited exercise performance. However, all participants were trained athletes performing intense exercise. One study in trained cyclists found that a sports drink improved performance by about 2% during one hour of intense cycling, compared to a placebo. Despite these findings, there is not strong evidence to support the benefits of sports drinks for short-duration activities, such as jumping, sprinting and agility exercise.


References:

Coombes, J., Hamilton, K. “The effectiveness of commercially available sports drinks,” Sports Medicine, 29, 181-209, 2000.
Coso, J., Estevez, E., Baquero, R., Mora-Rodriguez, R. “Anaerobic performance when rehydrating with water or commercially available sports drinks during prolonged exercise in the heat,” Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 33, 290- 298, 2008.
Jeukendrup A.E, Killer, S.C. “The myths surrounding pre-exercise carbohydrate feeding,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 57 (2), 18-25, 2010.
Shirreffs, S. “The optimal sports drink,” Schweizerische Zeitschrift für «Sportmedizin und Sporttraumatologie, 51, 25-29, 2003.

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