Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sports Drinks

Another great article from Runner's World that I thought I would pass along. I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Personally, I only drink the full on Gatorade (nothing else) when I've got more than 8 miles to crank out. Otherwise I'm drinking water or my new favorite, G2.

Sports Beverages: Help, Harm, or Hype?

The market is inundated with beverage choices advertised to athletes: caffeinated, with amino acids, taurine, vitamins, minerals, etc. Necessary or not? Let's examine more closely.
What are the benefits of a sports drink and why choose one?

1) They provide fluid. And as a runner, you lose fluid through sweat, and being inadequately hydrated will decrease strength, speed, and stamina, as well as increase the perceived effort of exertion.

2) They provide carbohydrates to exercising muscles during activity, and also help fluid to empty more rapidly from the stomach.

3) They provide sodium, which can help to maintain fluid balance within and between cells.
But manufacturers have been adding lots of other bells and whistles, which can introduce complications. For instance...

Protein, which can delay gastric emptying. (Even though some studies show that the branched chain amino acids may delay central fatigue, the protein added to beverages may have a longer gastric emptying time and may cause digestive distress in some people.)

Caffeine, which may have an ergogenic (performance-enhancing effect) by increasing mental focus and expediting use of free fatty acids as a fuel source earlier in exercise, therefore sparing muscle glycogen -- but this is most likely to be benefical before, not during, runs. And for those who are caffeine-sensitive, the stimulant effect may not enhance performance.

Vitamins and minerals. Most drinks that contain micronutrients have only select vitamins or minerals, not all of them, so these products are not a substitute for a daily supplement. And vitamins and minerals are not a source of energy; therefore you really won't notice any difference in performance while running, although your wallet will be lighter because these products aren't cheap.

So what should you do?

Look for a product with 14-15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces. More is too concentrated and will take too long to leave your stomach. If you are calorie conscious, there are some that have 7 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces.

Look for a product with about 110 milligrams of sodium per 8 ounces. Less is not enough. And sodium is the bigger factor here, as the body loses more sodium than potassium during exercise.

Don't worry so much about the caffeine, amino acids, or vitamins and minerals.

Have your latte or cup of joe, eat a turkey or veggie burger to get the amino acids, and if you are worried about your micronutrients, take a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement. In the long run, it will cost you less and you'll be better nourished!



  1. I like this article. I've always been a little wary of sports drinks. I like the tips here, though. Helps me sort out which drinks are good and which aren't. I still think that water is best, with sports drinks as a supplement later in my long runs. Plus my stomach is pretty sensitive, so sometimes sugary sports drinks upset my stomach.

  2. Oh, and I'm pretty against taking caffeine while running. I'm a hypocrite, though, because the only Gu I can handle is the Orange Burst flavor, which has caffeine. I really wish it didn't, but I just can't handle any of the other flavors.

  3. My GI doctor said that taking GU and taking sports drink together can be harmful. According to him, it's one or the other, not both. The potassium in both the GU and the sports drink can make your heart palpitate or can give you a heart attack if you already have a high potassium diet (i.e. red meat).

  4. Geeez, that's super intense. We were always told at TNT that we could water down our Gatorade by 1/2 and still be OK. Makes sense.