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Athlete 101 - Energy Drinks and Their Importance in Performance

Published : Jan 09, 2020 4 mins read Updated On : Sep 13, 2023

What happens when endurance athletes don't consume enough fluids during training or racing?

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, exercise performance can be significantly impaired when 2% or more of body weight is lost through sweat. For example, when an 80-kg athlete loses more than 1.6 kg of body weight during exercise (2%), performance capacity is seen to be significantly decreased. Additionally, weight loss of more than 4% of body weight during exercise may lead to heat illness, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and possibly death.

Hence it is critical that athletes consume a sufficient amount of water and/or sports drinks during exercise in order to maintain hydration status.

Sports Drinks for Endurance Athletes

The normal sweat rate of athletes ranges from 0.5 to 2.0 L/h depending on temperature, humidity, exercise intensity, and their sweat response to exercise. This means that in order to maintain fluid balance and prevent dehydration, athletes need to ingest 0.5 to 2 L/h of fluid in order to offset weight loss.

This requires frequent ingestion of 150mL of water or an energy drink every 5 to 15-min during exercise. One should not depend on thirst to prompt them to drink because if you are thirsty then you are already dehydrated. It is claimed that people do not typically get thirsty until they have lost a significant amount of fluid through sweat.

Athlete 101 - Energy Drinks and Their Importance in Performance

In conclusion, athletes should train themselves to tolerate drinking greater amounts of water during training and make sure that they consume more fluid in hotter/humid environments.

With all that being said, what are the best types of fluids endurance athletes should be consuming during exercise to prevent dehydration and maximize performance?

1) Water

Water is the most common fluid the majority of athletes consume during exercise, and for reason. Water is refreshing, unlikely to cause stomach problems, and is easily accessible.

Good: Water is a great choice when training will be under an hour and the body has enough glycogen stores to provide energy for the duration of the activity.

Bad: Water has zero calories and is not an ideal choice when training goes above and beyond an hour when glycogen stores are likely to be depleted, and the athlete needs additional carbs to fuel performance.

Ugly: Over hydrating with water can lead to hyponatremia. With this condition, the body holds onto too much water. This dilutes the amount of sodium in the blood and causes levels to be low. Nausea, headache, confusion, fatigue, can result from hyponatremia.

2) Electrolyte Sports Drinks

Sports drinks typically contain electrolytes, salt, and carbohydrate at scientifically engineered quantities. Studies show that the ingestion of sports drinks during exercise in hot/humid environments can help prevent dehydration and improve endurance exercise capacity. In fact, research has shown that carbohydrate intake during endurance activities can increase exercise performance.

Athlete 101 - Energy Drinks and Their Importance in Performance

Good: Electrolyte sports drink can keep the endurance athlete hydrated during exercise while also providing carbs to help keep blood glucose levels elevated. This is especially useful when exercise and training go beyond one hour. You can try India's first effervescent and Informed Choice certified electrolyte sports drink - Fast&Up Reload which is the runner's nutrition of India and the choice of elite athletes across various sports.

Bad: The majority of sports drinks on the market are over-glorified sugar water with salt and potassium thrown in.

Ugly: Most drinks lead to more thirst and spike in sugar leading to erratic performance.

3) Coconut Water

Coconut water has been the oldest hydration drink is often thought of as a healthier alternative to the more traditional sugar-laden sports drinks people consume during exercise. This is because it naturally contains both carbohydrate and electrolytes, despite having an overall middling micronutrient content.

Good: It often tastes good. That's about it.

Bad: Studies have shown coconut water is no more effective than water or sports drinks in regards to hydration.

Ugly: Difficult to carry and often cumbersome.

4) Energy Drinks

Instant Energy drinks as the name implies give energy. They usually contain caffeine or taurine and probably B-complex vitamins. They are designed to provide mental boost such as focus, and anti-fatigue. Most energy drinks have caffeine as their primary ingredient. Energy drinks are fairly well studied as a combination of ingredients, and even more so as isolated ingredients.

Good: Energy drinks are for the most part palatable and easy to drink. Also, their main ingredient, caffeine, can boost endurance performance and fight fatigue. Check Fast&Up Reload plus Caffeine that is the go-to nutrition for elite cricketers of India. Read more of what fuels India's ace cricketer Mayank Agarwal.

Athlete 101 - Energy Drinks and Their Importance in Performance

Bad: Conventional energy drinks use excess sugars which will provide a short-lived spike followed by a subsequent crash.

Ugly: Drinking only energy drinks (especially conventional ones that have higher levels of caffeine) over the course of an entire race or training session isn't practical or safe. It could also cause anxiety, nausea, and jitteriness.

Things to Remember:

  • For endurance exercise lasting under one-hour use water.
  • For endurance exercise lasting one-hour and beyond use a carbohydrate/electrolyte sports drink to maintain hydration & blood glucose levels. However make sure the sports drink being used is not just simple sugars but instead a combination of fast, medium, and slow digesting carbs to help prevent a blood glucose crash and to provide sustained energy like Fast&Up Reload plus Caffeine.

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