Monday, December 13, 2010

Understanding Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are intended and were developed for use during sports, as the
name implies. Many people are confused about the role these drinks should
play in their lives as a beverage choice. Sports drinks should be used only
if an individual is participating in strenuous activity or sport that is
constant and lasts over an hour. For an activity lasting less than hour or
one that is not intense (walking the dog), water will meet hydration needs
just fine and the carbohydrate and electrolytes (sodium, potassium) provided
in the sports drink are not necessary. Sports drinks should not be consumed
unless you need them during exercise or immediately after exercise for
hydration. They are not a good beverage choice outside of that because
then they are just adding extra calories, in the form of sugar, that are not
being used. These extra sugar calories have no valuable nutrition and can
easily be stored as fat, if not burned. With obesity rates in children (as
well as adults) skyrocketing, the appropriate use of these drinks is
essential. If not used properly and judiciously they can promote excessive
calorie consumption, leading to high Body Mass Index numbers, overweight and

Sports drinks are a great tool during long, high intensity workouts because
they provide a small amount of carbohydrates to fuel muscles along with
sodium and potassium for fast, effective hydration. The carbohydrates help
replenish the carbohydrate stores in the muscle (called glycogen) that are
being used to fuel the work of exercise. For the serious exerciser, these
carbohydrates help to delay the fatigue that happens when the muscles run
out of fuel, enhancing performance through longer and more effective
training. They also help keep blood glucose levels stable (optimal fuel
for the brain) which enhances mental focus, so that the athlete or fitness
buff are able to concentrate and perform at the highest level possible.

Sports drinks actually hydrate better than regular water even post exercise.
Individuals who sweat a lot or who are "salty" sweaters will benefit from
using a sports drink during and after exercise to replace the sodium and
potassium that are lost in sweat. They also stimulate thirst, as opposed to
water which does not, that encourages more fluid consumption to aid in

Because this is a multi-billion dollar industry today, it's important to
look past the marketing and choose the best sports drink, being armed with
good information. Look for one that is around 50 calories per 8 oz., which
supplies about 6-8 per cent carbohydrate.

Although sports drinks are effective during exercise and for hydration after
exercise, they are not adequate for recovery. Foods or fluids that are high
in carbohydrate, accompanied by a small amount of protein are a better
choice to jumpstart the muscle recovery process, after high intensity
exercise. Wholesome, nutrient rich choices will supply the vitamins,
minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants active children and adults need
for good health. Some examples include: a peanut butter/jelly sandwich, low
fat fruit yogurt and fresh fruit, low fat chocolate milk, fresh fruit
smoothie and a handful of nuts, granola bar & stick of string cheese.

Kim Larson, RD, CD
Total Health


  1. I agree with this post completely. Choosing a sports drink can be tricky with all the different kinds out there with Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water, etc. The best way I've gone about it is to have Yoli before or during workouts and having a well-rounded meal after like you suggested, maybe a protein shake. The question I am concerned with in regrards to baseball is how do we get players, specifically pitchers, recovering optimally from acid buildup from pitching? Would water, contrast showers/bath, and eating an alkalizing diet be best? Or is there another way?

  2. Kevin,
    The first thing that your need to know is that lactic acid build-up is not an issue. The latest research tells us that because of the work:rest nature of baseball pitching, there is ample time for the body to clear any lactic acid from the system. And even if it didn't it would be cleared within an hour after pitching even without any intervention. I would suggest that you check out these articles: "Performance Variables and Fatigability in Baseball Pitching" at , "The Physiological Responses to a Single Game of Baseball Pitching" by Potteiger and Blessing in the Journal of Applied Sport Science Research (1992), and "Physiology of Baseball Pitching Dictates Specific Exercise Intensity for Conditioning" by Szymanski in the Strength and Conditioning Journal (2009).The recovery process following an outing should focus on returning the body back to it's resting state. My overall approach has been an active recovery program followed by target soft tissue therapy and flexibility. There will be an article relating to this coming in the June 2011 issue of's free on-line journal.