As I have already discussed here, water constitutes most of our body weight and is essential for the proper functioning of the body and physical performance. When we exercise, we eliminate water and minerals by sweating and we need to replace lost fluids.
Hence the idea that many people have that we should always drink sports drinks or isotonic drinks in training (or before and after it). But it is not so and to understand this we need to know better what these supplements are.
What are the ingredients of sports drinks?
Water is the main ingredient in sports drinks, which also contain other substances, including carbohydrates and electrolytes (mineral salts), which help improve performance.
The carbohydrates in these drinks serve as fuel for the muscles and are usually in the form of sugars, such as glucose, sucrose and fructose. Sports drinks typically contain 6% to 8% carbohydrates — a 6% solution contains about 14 grams of carbohydrates per 240 ml. However, some sports drinks are low in carbohydrates for those who want only water and electrolytes – no extra calories.
Electrolytes or minerals are essential for the normal functioning of your body, the main electrolytes found in sports drinks are sodium and potassium.
Thinking about the compounds and the action of exercise in the body, sports drinks emerged with the aim of providing these ingredients in order to improve performance in exercise and recovery.
Although much research has been carried out on sports drinks, some professionals and researchers questioned the validity of these studies, as they raised concerns about the relationship between the large sports drink companies and laboratories that carry out the studies. In addition, many surveys were conducted on competitive athletes (minimum statistical percentage of the population), such as those described below:
- Short-term exercise A review that analyzed studies with intense cycling or running protocols lasting 30 to 60 minutes shows that there are performance benefits, but all participants were elite athletes. Another study of trained cyclists found that a sports drink improved performance by about 2% during an hour of intense cycling compared to a placebo. Despite these findings, there is no strong evidence to support the benefits of sports drinks for short-term activities, or with weight training.
- Intermittent exercises Studies of sports that involve intermittent activities (football, for example), which alternate between intense exercise and rest, show that drinking carbohydrate drinks can reduce fatigue and improve performance. A review showed that this type of exercise improves performance when sports drinks were consumed compared to a placebo.
- Prolonged continuous exercise Unlike intermittent exercise, continuous exercise is performed without rest periods. Many studies have examined the effects of carbohydrate drinks during continuous exercise lasting from one to four hours or even longer. Most of these studies show improvements in performance when consuming these drinks.
The amount of carbohydrate that can be beneficial increases as the duration of exercise increases. Research shows that small amounts of carbohydrates (less than 30 grams per hour) can improve exercise performance in competitions or workouts lasting 30 to 75 minutes.
It is recommended:
- Consume up to 30 grams per hour of carbohydrates or about 500 ml of a sports drink with 6% carbohydrates, in workouts that last from one to two hours.
- Workouts lasting two to three hours can benefit from more carbohydrates – up to 60 grams per hour.
However, these recommendations are for continuous high-effort activities without rest. The same guidelines do not apply to certain intermittent activities, such as weight training and football with friends.
For the vast majority, it may not be necessary
There are several factors to consider when deciding whether sports drinks may be necessary for you (but first of all, always look for a professional).
- Type and intensity of exercise Consider your training routine, as well as its duration and intensity. Although sports drinks can benefit athletes who participate in long or intense training sessions, they are probably unnecessary for most exercise practitioners. If you do light to moderate exercise, such as walking or running, for less than 1 hour, you probably won’t need to drink sports drinks. Likewise, if you only do weight training, you probably won’t need to use sports drinks, even if you spend more than an hour at the gym. If you decide to drink a sports drink, consume smaller amounts for exercises that last less than an hour and no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates for a 1 to 2 hour workout.
- It can affect weight loss For those who are trying to maintain or lose weight, another important factor to consider is the energy balance. If you want to lose weight, you need to burn more calories a day than you consume. If sports drinks are unnecessary for the type of exercise you do, consuming them can provide unnecessary calories that can hamper your weight loss goals. Think about whether the type and duration of exercise you do requires a sports drink and be aware of how many calories you consume from those drinks.
I have already written a very complete text on the subject here, but the amount of sweat we lose can vary based on many factors, including how long and intensity you exercise, your level of training and the environment. The rate of sweat in humans can vary from about 0.3 liters / hour to 2.4 liters / hour. In addition, it is recommended that athletes lose no more than 2% to 3% of their body weight through sweating during exercise.
However, there are other options to replace fluids lost in sweat besides sports drinks and almost always the best is water.
According to the Brazilian Society of Sports Medicine, hydration recommendations include:
- Hydrate yourself well in the 24 hours before physical activity.
- Start the exercise well hydrated. For this, it is recommended, two hours before exercise, to drink from 250 ml to 500 ml of liquids.
- Drink fluids during physical activity whenever possible. Try to hydrate yourself every 15 or 20 minutes of exercise with a glass of water (from 150 ml to 200 ml).
- If the activity time is long, opt for the consumption of isotonics – when necessary.
So it will all depend on your goal.
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