Supermarket shelves are stocked with an array of designer drinks which promise to hydrate, improve performance and infuse energy. Powerade and Gatorade are now names we are all familiar with. What happened to plain water and is it no longer good enough? For the average consumer, these beverages are costly and not necessary for optimal health. They add extra sugar and calories and can sabotage a well intended diet. On a hot humid day, H2O is still the ideal drink to hydrate and quench thirst. So who are the ideal candidates for this engineered liquid food and why?
Our bodies, which are two-thirds water, function best at a temperature of 98.6 degrees. When we exercise, our bodies generate heat which raises core temperature. Tiny sensors in the blood, organs and capillaries detect these changes and respond by shunting heat to the body’s surface. Here, sweat glands produce sweat which acts as air conditioning for the body’s external layer as it evaporates off skin. How much you sweat depends on several factors: conditioning (fit people sweat more and begin sweating more quickly), environment and duration of activity (how hot/humid is it and how long will you train for?) and heredity (some people sweat more excessively than others). You may not realize it, but you perspire swimming or even on cold days when you are not performing any strenuous activity.
According to Martha McKittrick RD, CDE, (endurance athlete, nutritionist and blogger at City Girl Bites), “Anyone exercising vigorously for more than 60 minutes would benefit from a sports drink.” Electrolytes such as sodium and potassium are lost through sweat, and need to be replaced for athletic performance. McKittrick says, “A sports drink like Gatorade is ideal because it contains approximately 7% carbohydrate solution. The carbohydrate and sodium in sports drinks accelerates water absorption from the intestines.” This increased rate of absorption allows you to hydrate more quickly. “A beverage with a higher than 7% carbohydrate solution will slow down this process,” claims McKittrick. On average, aim to consume 16-24 ounces of liquid for each hour you are active. Sports drinks taste good which encourage people to drink more, and more frequently.
To test for proper hydration, weigh yourself pre and post workout. Ideally, you should be drinking enough that your weight is the same before and after. If the scale is down, drink 24 ounces of liquid for each pound lost to make up for it. Skip the pricey “recovery” drinks after exercise, and instead opt for a balanced meal containing protein and carbs. I aim to eat foods rich in sodium and water content, such as soup and a tuna sandwich along with fruits and vegetables. Couch potatoes beware….sports drinks can be expensive, nutritionally neutral for your health and add inches to your waist. When used appropriately, these drinks are an effective training tool and nutritional supplement.