What are the Best Sports Drinks and When to Consider Using Them
After practice you're thirsty! On the way home you likely have your regular stop at a convenience store and choose from an array of brightly colored bottles that look oh so thirst quenching. As an athlete, you're no stranger to the seemingly endless brands of sports drinks that line the shelves of stores and vending machines. These drinks may even be provided to you by your coach or parents during practices and games.
There is no argument that hydration is the highest priority when it comes to performing at your best. We all think of water first when we think of hydration. While water is the foundation of hydration, it's not the only thing you should be drinking. Your body requires electrolytes (including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) in order for water to be absorbed into your muscle cells. When your muscles are loaded with water, you're hydrated!
Sports drinks have become a common fixture in the world of sports. Companies who manufacture sports drinks are fabulous at marketing to athletes. They make promises and hire pro athletes to make you think you need these products. I want to challenge you by asking yourself: “Are they always the best choice for me and my goals?” Let's dive into when to use sports drinks, when not to use them and what the best alternatives are.
Carbohydrate-Based Sports Drinks
Most typical sports drinks, including Gatorade and Powerade, fall into this category. They are designed to help athletes rehydrate quickly by replacing fluid, electrolytes lost and carbohydrates. Your carbohydrate needs will depend on what you do during the day and the type, duration and intensity of your activity. There may be a place for sports drinks for athletes who need carb replenishment (like endurance athletes), but if you have fueled well beforehand, it’s simply not necessary.
Liquid carbohydrate drinks contain a high amount of simple sugar and can lead to energy crashes. If consumed frequently and in excess they can even lead to fat gain. They also commonly contain added artificial colors and preservatives. You want to put good ingredients into your body - remember that!
Alani Nu, CELSIUS, GHOST, Monster, and dozens of other brands have popped up in recent years touting increases in energy, power and strength after drinking them. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it were that easy? You know how much hard work, dedication and consistency it takes to do everything that you do. A canned beverage is not going to replace any of that. Nor will it replace nutrients in food that are the real source of energy.
There are a few things to know as a responsible athlete who prioritizes their health. First of all, these drinks are poorly regulated and many are not third-party tested or certified safe for sport. Most of them have MUCH more caffeine than is listed on the label. A recent study in The Anatolian Journal of Cardiology showed that long term use of these energy drinks can damage your cardiac muscle. As an athlete your heart is your engine - you can not afford to damage it!
We already talked about how important electrolytes are. Did you know that you can get electrolytes from food? Foods like pickles, pretzels, broth-based soup, cottage cheese and tomato sauce can provide an ample amount of sodium. Fruits, veggies, nuts and grains will provide you with potassium, calcium and magnesium.
There are however times when we will need more than we can get from food. Maybe you're traveling, have a high sweat rate or it's 100 degrees and 80% humidity outside. In cases like these, electrolyte supplements can be very helpful. Products like ZYM, Nuun, UCAN Hydrate, BASE Electrolyte Salt and many others can boost your intake of electrolytes when you need them the most - without the added sugars.
You can actually make your own sports drink! Mix water, a pinch of salt and a splash of orange juice and you’ve got yourself a tasty and refreshing sports drink that will replenish electrolytes and fluid.
You're likely going to grab a Gatorade at some point. However, you certainly don't need to on a regular basis. You have now learned that there are better options. It’s most important to know your body and know what you need for your goals. You're unique! Your hydration needs are as well. I hope this article has increased your awareness and has encouraged you to ask yourself some vital questions in order to determine the best hydration methods for you.