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Sports drinks and Exercise

Sports drinks have been around for ages now, the most commonly seen here being Gatorade and Powerade. But are they actually good for you when exercising like they market?

Well like almost anything when it comes to exercise related, the answer is... Maybe.

The maybe will be because there are so many variables to consider. The major factors being type of exercise, length of exercise, intensity of exercise, are you a light or heavy sweater, nutrition (overall dietary intake or CHO and Sodium (Na)), as well as other factors.

Sports drinks two major ingredients are carbohydrates (CHO) and Electrolytes (sodium and potassium in this case). CHO are obviously are form of energy which is going to be good to help you with you exercise as either pre or intra training. Electrolytes are also great to get back into you as you lose them when sweating (sodium being the most significant lost). Now I am sure some people are already reading this and saying to themselves “well that’s good because sodium is bad for us”, but that is wrong. Sodium is actually quite beneficial and needed, especially when exercise is being performed. The key here is to find that balance between becoming hyponatremia (low levels of sodium in your blood) and hypernatremia (high levels of sodium in your blood). Hyponatremia can lead to headaches, nausea and poor balance. So obviously this is something we most definitely do not want when exercising. On the other hand, hypernatremia can lead to thirst, weakness and nausea. As you can see we don’t want to go either way here. A lot of these symptoms would be leading to a “worst case” scenario when exercising. At the most you would more than likely get some thirst, weakness and possibly a headache (if it was an especially hot day that was causing you to sweat more). This is where I can personally see some value in the consumption of sports drinks pre/intra/post training.

A researcher, Robert Roberg from the University of New Mexico who studied Gatorade said “that unless someone is exercising or competing in a sporting event longer than 90 Mins, there is no reason to drink something with excess sugar and electrolytes”. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any sort of research that confirms or denies this. But going anecdotally and with what I understand I tend to disagree with his statement. Any sort of exercise you are doing which is causing you to sweat would require replenishment. Now depending if you are quite a heavy sweater (like myself), this could mean you might actually need to replenish what is lost more/quicker than someone who doesn’t sweat as much.


Article written by Timothy Steward

· UFQ Strength & Conditioning Coach

· UFQ Sports Nutritionist

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