What you need to know about sports drinks

When it comes to sports drinks, there are a huge number of different products on the market to choose from, each one promising to increase your performance, fight off fatigue or help you recover from training faster. In this article I will explain the main types of drinks available and explain which ones are best suited to your training and competition goals…

 

Water

For many exercisers, water is probably the sports drink of choice and with good reason – it’s exactly what the body is using lots of while you exercise. If your workouts are less than 60 minutes in duration, you are well fed having had a suitable pre-training meal and you don’t feel you need any extra energy to fuel your workout then water is a fine choice as a sports drink. As a general rule of thumb, consume 250ml per 15 minutes of exercise to replace fluids as you are losing them. Drink more if you begin to get thirsty. Water has the advantage of being very cheap or even free and containing no calories. If fat loss is your primary exercise goal, water is really the only choice.

 

Hypotonic drinks

This variety of sports drink contains a small amount of carbohydrate in the form of sugar which can provide energy for exercise. Hypotonic drinks contain around 2g per 100ml which is just enough to give you a small lift but is insufficient to fuel a long or hard workout. This type of sports drink is best suited to workouts of an hour or less where fluid replacement is more important than refuelling. Hypotonic drinks are absorbed well and are therefore ideal for countering dehydration. They will often contain chemicals called electrolytes which are the minerals lost when we sweat such as potassium and sodium and may reduce cramping. Because of the sugar content, a hypotonic drink could interfere with fat loss.

 

Isotonic drinks

Containing more sugar than hypotonic drinks (around 6g per 100ml) isotonic drinks bridge the gap between fluid and fuel. These drinks are ideally suited to longer workouts or matches where carbohydrate and fluid replacement are necessary to avoid a drop off in performance. Because isotonic drinks provide energy they may not be ideal for exercisers who are trying to manage their weight but for sports people they may stave off fatigue in the latter stages of training or competition. To make your own isotonic drink, just mix 500ml of unsweetened fruit juice with 500ml of water or, alternatively just buy one of the many isotonic drinks available e.g. Gatorade, PowerAde or Lucozade.

 

Hypertonic drinks

Containing 10g of carbohydrate per 100ml, hypertonic drinks are excellent for refuelling after exercise but the presence of so much carbohydrate can mean that water absorption is delayed. Hypertonic drinks can be thought of more as food than fluid and are best used after training or alternated with water during longer events. Hypertonic drinks are also great as a convenient pre-training snack if eating solid food isn‘t possible e.g. if training early in the morning. Pure unsweetened fruit juice is a good example of a hypertonic drink but there are also commercial versions available. Sugary hypertonic drinks will definitely interfere with fat burning so steer clear if you are exercising for fat loss.

 

Protein drinks

Generally considered the reserve of bodybuilders and weight trainers, protein drinks have changed a great deal over the last 20 years. Originally, protein drinks were made from dried eggs which were not very pleasant tasting or very easily digestible. Soya protein was also popular and later protein shakes based on milk were in vogue. More recently protein drinks derived from dairy whey have become popular and seem to be the best in terms of bioavailability and digestibility. Protein drinks are a convenient way of getting extra amino acids (the body’s building blocks) into the diet without having to spend all day cooking and eating meat. They offer portability and come in a variety of flavours from savoury to sweet to suit most people’s tastes. Not all products are created equal though and as whey proteins can be damaged by excessive heating it’s best to look for ones that have been cold processed. If you feel you need more protein in your diet (you should be aiming for around 2g per kilo of bodyweight depending on your workout program and activity levels, a protein supplement may be useful to you but generally, real food is a better choice and remember that protein supplementation doesn’t automatically equal larger muscles!

Protein/carbohydrate drinks

Usually containing a 1:2 ratio of protein and carbohydrates, this type of sports drink can be thought of as a meal replacement making it ideal for athletes on the move. Training hard and often requires frequent feeding and it’s not always convenient to chow down on a normal meal! Often referred to as MRPs (meal replacement products) protein/carbohydrate drinks offer a portable and instant alternative to carrying large amounts of food with you wherever you go. Athletes who are underweight and find it difficult to eat enough food often find that they can consume additional calories easily by using MRPs but this is a double edged sword as those who are interested in losing a few pounds may end up consuming more calories that they need as their MRP may not fill them up very much although it contains plenty of calories.

 

Creatine drinks

Creatine is one of the few sports supplement products that has stood the test of time and been tested  and studied successfully numerous times. Users of creatine often report that they recover faster from workouts, feel stronger during training and competition and gain muscle mass faster than usual when using this product. Creatine drinks often include carbohydrates which enhance its absorption and can be very useful for anyone involved in sports that utilise the anaerobic energy pathways such as field sports. However, not everyone gets noticeable benefits from creatine supplementation but because of the potential benefits – both anecdotal and empirical – it’s worth trying at least once. To get the most from creatine supplementation, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions stay “on” for 6-8 weeks to give the product time to work. If after that period you notice no changes in performance then chances are that creatine is not for you.

 

Energy drinks

Energy drinks such as Red Bull are becoming more and more popular – not just with exercisers but with the general population. Containing caffeine and varying amounts of sugar, energy drinks give you a lift and may also provide energy. However, if you are feeling tired all the time, an energy drink will merely mask the symptoms of fatigue when really you need to do something about why you feel tired all the time. The occasional use of an energy drink if fine but if you have to use one as a crutch to help you get through your day or every single workout, there is an underlying problem you need to address. Many energy drinks contain artificial sweeteners and other synthetic nastiness which is best avoided whenever possible. Also, remember that most energy drinks contain a LOT of sugar – as much as two tablespoons per serving for some well known brands. Needless to say, this means that energy drinks are not a good idea for most health-conscious exercisers.

 

So, eight different sports drinks that may be of benefit to you which, with the exception of water, should be considered as “add ons” to a good healthy diet. No sports drink will ever be able to replace a healthy diet but may add to it and could possibly provide you with an edge in both training and competition.
Share this:
Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)

AUTHOR

Hi, my name is Dinny Morris. I’m a personal trainer and in sunny Sydney, Australia.

I work with men and women at all levels of their physical development, from overweight couch potatoes who want to get in shape, to professional athletes and natural bodybuilders who want to beef up strength and body mass.

* Testimonials found on Dinny Morris Fitness have been sent to me by past and present customers and may not reflect the typical customer’s experience and are not intended to represent or guarantee that anyone will achieve the same or similar results. The testimonials are meant to be a showcase of the best results personal training with me can produce, and should not be taken as the results a typical user will get.