• Category: Blog
  • Published Dated: January 12, 2013
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From energy drinks to coconut water, protein infusions, Gatorade and everything in between, how do sport’s drinks stack up when it comes to your fitness?  Love them or hate them, these products are a result of big industries and you really should do a little research and experimenting before devoting yourself to any one brand or mix.

Sport’s drinks are designed for convenience.  They are advertised as tools to delay fatigue, enhance physical performance, and speed up the recovery process in athletes.  When it comes down to it, their main purpose is hydration, and with added flavors and electrolytes, they are often preferred to water during endurance exercise and challenging workouts when you work up a sweat.  Whether you hydrate with water, a sports drink, or any other concoction before, during and after exercise is up to you, but let’s consider your options versus your exercise style, intensity, recovery, and exercise goals.

Water is your number one go-to beverage if you exercise less than one hour.  For salty sweaters and after longer runs, rides, competitions, and intense exercise bouts, (particularly in hot and humid weather) choosing water along with some other source of electrolytes and carbohydrates can do the trick.  However, research has shown that people are more likely to avoid dehydration and undesired effects, such as fatigue during endurance training when they hydrate with sport’s drinks versus just water.  Flavor can make a pretty big difference.

We really should look at energy drinks because there is some confusion as to whether they serve a purpose during exercise. Energy drinks are not specifically designed for fitness and despite claims to give you wings and help you fly, realize that they are often loaded with sugar and caffeine, most often lack sufficient electrolytes, and are not amiable to the gut during endurance training.  If you tolerate them well before or during exercise and do not experience gastrointestinal upset, consider yourself lucky; however, they are not recommended sports drinks.

Coconut water has been fun to follow.  It comes from the center of young green coconuts and its popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years, especially since receiving celebrity endorsements from Madonna and Rihanna.  Coconut water is popular because it is a natural drink and contains up to about five times as much potassium as Powerade or Gatorade.  However, it is low in sodium, the dominant electrolyte lost in sweat.  Thus, it is a better choice for light exercise, along with plain water.

What about adding protein to your sport’s drink?  Research is varied and what it really comes down to is testing how your gut responds.  Remember, protein takes longer to digest versus carbohydrates.  Accelerade contains a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, which may be beneficial for muscle recovery and the body’s use of carbohydrates for energy.  Research is controversial.

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute has done a tremendous amount of research on hydration, and thus Gatorade is a huge industry with several different products in their G-series line, containing varying amounts of carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes, and flavors specific to training and the timing of hydration.  Many sports products are designed quite similarly to Gatorade products with slight variations on added electrolytes and sources of carbohydrate.

Bottom line:  All beverages are capable of promoting rehydration and supporting sustained levels of energy during exercise.   Think beyond celebrity endorsements and flashy ads and go with your gut, literally and physically.  Drink when thirsty and don’t go overboard with calories.  If your goal is weight (fat) loss and if you aren’t exercising for more than an hour, water is a primo choice.  For longer exercise and strenuous training or competitions, consider your sports drink options.  Also, consider working with a sports dietitian (hello) to tailor your nutrition to your goals and optimize your recovery and performance down the road.

What’s your go-to drink for endurance and intermittent training?  

All the best!


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