Jones & Bartlett Learning Health Blog

    Sports Drinks: To Drink or Not to Drink?

    Posted by Katie Hennessy on Oct 14, 2014 11:05:11 AM

    Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

    Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC

    Would you like to learn more about sports drinks? Read a special guest blog post from Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC, authors of 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition & Exercise.

    One of the most common questions those with active lifestyles ask is “Should I consume sports drinks during exercise or is water enough?”

    Proper beverage selection during exercise is important for athletes of all levels and ages. The general rule of thumb is that an athlete who exercises less than 60 minutes per workout only needs to consume water. Athletes exercising for more than 60 minutes and/or multiple times per day will benefit from a sports drink.

    Sports drinks are designed to provide three basic needs:

    1. hydration (water),
    2. energy (calories),
    3. and electrolytes (sodium, chloride, and potassium).

    Athletes that are exercising less than 60 minutes normally do not burn enough fuel nor sweat enough to warrant the energy (calories) and electrolytes (sodium, chloride, and potassium) in the sports beverage.

    Like the majority of athletes, if you fall into the category of 60 minutes or less per workout then it is necessary to consume water. Water consumption during exercise provides several advantages including:

    1. Regulates body temperature (evaporative cooling)
    2. Promotes waste product removal from the exercising muscle
    3. Helps to prevent injuries
    4. Lubricates joints
    5. Maintains blood flow and oxygen to the exercising muscle
    6. Aids in digestion
    7. Optimizes muscle contraction
    8. Decreases mental and physical fatigue

    If your exercise regimen warrants sport drink consumption, then there are several questions to ask before selecting a beverage:

    1. How much energy (calories) does it provide? The beverage should provide a 4% to 8% carbohydrate solution, meaning approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate (50 calories) per 8 ounces.
    2. Are there electrolytes in the beverage? Sodium is the most abundant electrolyte lost in sweat, therefore, the sports drink should contain between 100 and 200 milligrams of sodium per 8-ounce serving in order for it to be effective.
    3. How does is taste - sweet, salty, sour, bitter? Taste buds change during exercise and it is important the beverage complements those changes.
    4. Is the flavor intensity weak or strong? If a flavor is too weak or too strong it may prevent consumption.
    5. Is it appealing or unappealing? Pick a drink that is visually appealing as you will be more likely to consume it.
    6. Is the texture thin or thick? Mouthfeel of the beverage is important.
    7. Should I dilute or concentrate the sports drink? No. A solution that is less or greater than the recommended 4% to 8% may reduce its effectiveness, causing gastrointestinal problems and delaying gastric emptying.
    8. Are energy drinks sports drinks? No.

    A variety of formulas and flavors of sports drinks exist on the market to satisfy each athlete’s unique personal preference. Athletes should take the time to experiment (in practice, not competition) with the various beverages on the market to help determine what works best for them.

    No matter your athletic endeavor, the following hydration guidelines will improve your performance.

    • Before exercise/competition: Consume 8 to 16 ounces (1 to 2 cups) of fluid 15 to 30 minutes before exercise.
    • During exercise/competition: Consume 5 to 12 ounces (0.5 to 1.5 cups) of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes (sport intensity and environmental conditions may have an effect on how much is consumed).
    • After exercise/competition: Consume 24 ounces (3 cups) of fluid for every pound lost. Weight loss should be minimal.

    100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition & ExerciseMore information on sports drinks and hydration can be found in 100 Questions and Answers About Sports Nutrition and Exercise by Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC.

    Do you have a nutrition or exercise question? If so, submit them to . Questions will be answered on a monthly basis.

    Topics: Health, 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition &, Author, Lilah Al-Masri, nutrition, Simon Bartlett

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