By: Ann M. Swank
As little as 15 years ago, drinking fluids during sports practice or exercise was considered a sign of weakness. In fact, water was often withheld from athletes as punishment or as an attempt to make them “tough.”
Today we know better, and staying well hydrated is the name of the game. Athletes or anyone who plays sports or exercises is well advised to consume liquids before, during and after exercise to aid in rehydration and prevent heatrelated illnesses. We now have many choices of sport drinks to choose from, along with good old water.
Sports drinks are formulated with four purposes in mind: improving hydration, enhancing performance, optimizing recovery and adding weight or lean mass. Each drink uses slightly different ingredients, depending on the purpose.
Drinks for aiding in fluid replacement typically contain carbohydrates and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. These promote rapid fluid and carbohydrate absorption and are more effective than water alone.
When Are Sports Drinks Necessary?
Athletes who do strength training or low-intensity exercise for less than an hour can usually get by with just plain water as long as they drink enough. For longer and more intense activities, a sports drink can be beneficial.
Sports drinks have a high glycemic index, so diabetics need to check caloric and carbohydrate content and adjust insulin and nutrition intake as necessary. The type 2 diabetic needs to be cautious regarding the calories in sports drinks.
Sixteen ounces of a typical sports drink (the amount commonly recommended for one hour of exercise) contains 120 calories, about the same as a can of regular soda.
Diabetics who exercise for long periods of time may be more prone to dehydration, especially if blood glucose levels are high due to increased urine production. The color of urine can be a good indicator of dehydration. If the urine color is dark, fluid is necessary. Symptoms of dehydration such as dry mouth and lethargy mimic those of low blood glucose, so check to confirm the problem.
Find the Drink That Is Best for You
Do not consume fluids only when you are thirsty—thirst is a poor indicator of dehydration.
No drink will be effective if you won’t drink it, so palatability is crucial. Cold water is better than warm water, and sports drinks all have different tastes, so do some sampling and find the one you like best.
Five Things to Know About Using Sports Drinks for Your Workout
- If you exercise for under one hour and at moderate intensity, plain water is probably sufficient.
- To replace fluid lost during intense exercise of more than one hour, a sports drink containing 6 percent carbohydrate and electrolytes is best.
- Brand names with this composition include: Gatorade, Powerade, Accelerade, Endura and All Sport.
- Sports drinks come in a variety of flavors, so find the one that you like best and chill it before drinking.
- Monitor blood glucose before, during and after exercise to ensure safety.