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As an athlete, sports nutrition and hydration can get incredibly confusing. Are you supposed to drink plain water, sip a sports drink, or drink a protein shake? Do you really need electrolytes…and if so, which electrolytes are most important? Unfortunately, answers to sports nutrition questions tend to be nuanced and change depending on the style and length of your training or game, as well as factors such as temperature.
Here, TrueSport expert Kristen Ziesmer, Registered Dietitian and Certified Sports Dietitian, explains exactly when sports drinks are the best choice during training and competition – and when they’re not so helpful.
First, a word about sports drinks in general: When we talk about sports drinks, we’re not talking about caffeinated energy drinks, which are unhealthy for athletes. Sports drinks contain essential carbohydrates and electrolytes, including sodium and potassium.
So when should you sip a sports drink instead of water?
Although you don’t need a sports drink before every practice or game, if you haven’t eaten in a few hours, a few sips of sports drink can help provide the fuel and hydration you need. you need to show up for training with all the energy. “A sports drink is great when you need something that will stay light in your stomach while providing fast-digesting carbs along with hydration,” says Ziesmer. For students who have an early lunch hour at school and don’t have the option of an afternoon snack, a sports drink can be extremely helpful.
If your practice or game day includes a lot of exertion, sipping sports drinks throughout your day will help keep your energy levels steady while keeping you hydrated. That means sipping a sports drink between sprints, intervals, or breaks in any game like soccer that involves explosive movement. However, you don’t have to drink an entire bottle of sports drink all at once, says Ziesmer. A few sips at a time will be enough, and drinking too much, too quickly, can lead to an unpleasant sloshing feeling during your next interval.
For long efforts, like a cross-country practice that lasts longer than 45 minutes, sipping a sports drink will help maintain proper electrolyte balance, potentially helping you avoid things like cramps, in addition to fatigue. and loss of coordination that come from mild dehydration. . The carbs in sports drinks also help replenish your glycogen stores, which quickly deplete during those longer, more sustained efforts. Again, you don’t want to down 16 ounces of sports drink in one break; sipping slowly and steadily will be more helpful throughout the practice.
In extreme heat or humidity, even a short, easy practice can dehydrate athletes. If you sweat a lot during training, it means your body is losing water and electrolytes and working harder than usual. Electrolytes, including sodium, are expelled when you sweat, and if your body is out of balance, drinking too much plain water rather than replenishing yourself with an electrolyte-infused sports drink can actually be dangerous. A sports drink is important to help replenish both your electrolyte and water stores, says Ziesmer.
If you’re in a tournament or competition where there are multiple rounds in a few hours, sipping a sports drink throughout the day may be the best way to continue to make sure you’re hydrated and your energy stores. fuel are filled without making you feel like there is a lot of food in your stomach. Many athletes also feel jittery or mildly nauseous on days like this, Ziesmer says, so a sports drink can be the perfect alternative to snacking — but don’t hesitate to snack if your gut isn’t upset by it. the usual foods!
When to Skip Sports Drinks
If your workout isn’t very long or difficult, a few regular sips of water during workout and a snack or meal within an hour after workout is enough to keep you balanced. For hot or long practices, you may prefer to drink plain water and snack on something salty, like pretzels, if you don’t like sports drinks.
Strength training is another time when you probably don’t need a sports drink during the workout (unless there’s a cardio component to it and you’re sweating profusely and frequently increasing your cardiac frequency). You also don’t have to drink a sports drink once you’ve already finished your workout. After training, your body needs to rehydrate, but it also needs protein in addition to carbohydrates. You would be better served by having a chocolate milk, which contains protein, carbohydrates and water. Eating a regular meal within an hour of working out—as well as drinking plenty of water—will usually provide you with the carbs, protein, and electrolytes your body needs to speed up its recovery process.
Whenever you exercise above normal (in terms of time or intensity) or sweat a lot, a sports drink is the best way to replenish critical electrolyte stores and rehydrate you, while bringing you a small amount of fuel to help you absorb water better and improve workout performance. And don’t forget that your health is important, so don’t be afraid to ask for time to rehydrate during practices or games!
About True Sport
TrueSport®, a movement powered by the experience and values of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, champions the positive values and life lessons learned through youth sport. TrueSport inspires athletes, coaches, parents and administrators to change the culture of youth sport through active engagement and a thoughtful program based on fundamental lessons in sportsmanship, character building and clean performance and healthy, while creating leaders in all communities through sport. For more expert-led articles and papers, visit TrueSport’s comprehensive LEARN resource.