Sports Drinks and Their Effect on Your Exercise Performance

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

If you’re a serious runner, particularly if you run marathons, you understand the importance of good hydration and replacement of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. These critical components are often depleted from the body through the process of sweating during vigorous exercise. Even if you do an aggressive workout in the gym, you can have a significant loss of fluid and electrolytes, depending on the conditions. This can cause symptoms ranging from fatigue and reduction in exercise performance to more serious conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Because of this risk, many serious athletes turn to sports drinks to replace the missing elements lost through rigorous exercise. Is this a wise decision? What are the effects of sports drinks?

The primary effect of sports drinks is to replace water and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium lost during the process of sweating. In addition, sports drinks contain sugars in the form of sucrose, glucose, or fructose which have the function of replacing lost carbohydrate stores and serve as a source of energy during an intense workout.. It’s been shown that the loss of as little as two percent of your bodily fluid during exercise can result in decreased exercise performance

Do you really need a sports drink? If you’re a casual exerciser who exercises at low intensity for short periods of time, it’s unlikely that you have a critical need for a sports drink supplementation.. Rehydrating yourself at regular intervals with water is probably all that’s needed. Excessive use of sports drinks when you’re burning calories at a low level may actually hinder weight loss due to the relatively high caloric content of commercial sports drinks.

If you run outdoors or participate in longer, more intense workouts, the effects of sports drinks may work in your favor by providing you the energy needed to sustain your high level workout as well as protect you from dehydration and electrolyte loss. If you exercise vigorously outdoors during warmer weather, sports drinks assume even more importance due to your potential for increased sweating.

Are there any disadvantages to the use of sports drinks during running and other vigorous exercise? One problem encountered with the use of sports drinks, other than the high caloric content, is the fact that drinking fluids can cause bloating which may reduce your performance during an exercise session. This sports drink effect can be reduced by drinking smaller amounts of your chosen drink more frequently.

Many sports drinks also contain the carbohydrate fructose which in some studies has been linked to an increased risk or heart disease. When choosing a sports drink, it’s best to avoid one that has fructose or high fructose corn syrup listed as an ingredient. Many sports drinks also contain citric acid which has the potential to erode tooth enamel. For this reason, you should drink a sports drink with a straw as quickly as possible to avoid prolonged contact of the liquid with your teeth.

As you can see, the effects of sports drinks are mostly positive in that they help to prevent serious loss of fluids and electrolytes as well as help to maintain good exercise performance. If you choose the right sports drink and use it appropriately, your running and exercise performance may be enhanced and your sports performance improved.

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