THE Neutral Corner – Sports Drinks
I’ll start by introducing myself. I am Dr. Robin Goodfellow, MD. Many of you already know who I am as I go to many events and sometimes travel with the teams. I am also involved with the Anti-Doping Program. I have been asked to write a series of brief columns for you on dehydration issues, supplements and Antidoping. As these will appear only once a month, if you have pressing questions about related things you may reach me home at 517-629-6732 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
The topic for this issue is Sports Drinks. By this I will stick to drinks that are meant to be used to replenish your body’s resources after workouts or actual bouts. I’d like you to start paying attention to the list of ingredients on the bottle for all the drinks and supplements you use. Keep in mind that the makers are not required to list everything in there – “high energy drinks” may have things that are prohibited or even not good for you. That is for another column in the future. For now we’ll stick to those meant to replace substances used up or lost with vigorous activity. (Future articles will be shorter next time, I hope. Don’t give up.)
FIRST of all is water. Mainly for this discussion we are talking about sweat and water lost with heavy breathing. This can be replaced by – you guessed it – water. It doesn’t have to be expensive spring water or water that bubbles or has a pretty color. In the USA, tap water would be OK, but when we are out of the country we want you to use bottled to be sure the water doesn’t have germs in it. Even at home it is often convenient to carry bottled water so you can use it when you want/need it. FREE, IMPORTANT TIP #1: by the time you are actually thirsty, you are already partially dehydrated. Sip often during exercise and throughout the day.
SECOND - there are some electrolytes in sweat, mainly Sodium (Na), Potassium (K) and chloride (CL). There really are not huge amounts in sweat. If you eating regularly, you most likely will get enough of these in your food if you include some fresh fruit and leafy vegetables. However, the Sport Drinks do add some electrolytes which often include Magnesium (Mg) and Zinc (Z) as well. Look at the labels and you will see they are usually fairly small percentages of your daily requirements.
If you were to take into you body no food and drink only water to replenish, you would get low on electrolytes because our bodies naturally loose electrolytes every day. If you get too many electrolytes, your body will naturally get rid of the excess as long as you are making normal amounts of urine. IMPORTANT TIP #2: Sports drinks will generally contain electrolytes, but so does real food. Avoid drinks athletes can lose enough electrolytes to require replenishment with properly balanced drinks along the way.
THIRD-many sports drinks advertise adding vitamins. This is true. However, read the label. Many give you a lot more than you need and many others don’t give you a full day’s supply. Usually what they add is also what is in a multivitamin pill and the pill is a whole lot cheaper. IMPORTANT TIP #3: most of us get our essential vitamins in food, but a vitamin pill a day is more than enough and saves money.
FOURTH – is energy sources. Your main energy source is carbohydrates. Sugars are carbohydrates and are used first to supply fast energy. They are fast carbs and are what you use first when boxing or working out. They are stored in long chains called glycogen in our liver and in our muscle where we can get to them fast. Slow carbs like pasta can be broken down into sugars and sent to the bloodstream a bit slower. These are our main energy sources. In situations where we don’t get enough of these, our body can convert proteins to sugar but it takes time to adapt. Burning fat for energy takes time. DO YOU WANT your muscles devoured to provide energy?? IMPORTANT POINT #4: if you are going to use Sport Drinks anyway, consider whether they have sugar in them. It’s up to you whether you want to get the carbohydrate calories in your drink or in what you eat.
FIFTH - it is becoming popular to add amino acids to Sports Drinks. There are only a few amino acids which our bodies cannot make ourselves, called essential amino acids. Even vegetarians learn how to get their protein building blocks from their diet, This adds to the price of the Sports Drink.
If you have a favorite Sports Drink that you are convinced helps you enough to justify the expense you are paying for it, I’m not telling you to stop taking it. However, please start reading the labels. IMPORTANT TIP #5: Rehydration and Carbing-up are important after workouts and exercising in general. Do you need your Sports Drink or can you do it more cost effectively with another brand or with water and attention to what you eat?
Next time – do high energy drinks really work and if so how?