A Survey of Sports Drinks and Gels
By Roy Stephenson
One of the major factors we can control to improve our running is hydration. It has long been established that keeping our fluids up while running will ensure optimal performance. And the corporations have not been slow to capitalise on this. Sports drinks, and more recently, sports gels, have flooded (sorry!) the sports market. Bottled sports drinks have an annual sales increase of 20% and total sales top $2 billion, according to MarketResearch.com.
And therein lies the problem - there are now so many brands of sports drinks, and so much hype about their benefits, that the uninitiated runner has no idea which ones work best to improve running performance. Most runners don't even realize that, apart from preventing dehydration, there are actually three other major proven benefits to ingesting these drinks. But sports also drinks have some significant disadvantages, as we'll see later.
Let's look at what the research says about their effectiveness, their functions, main ingredients, and the downside to drinking them, including their possible side effects. We'll look at how water compares to sports drinks, and end with some general advice to runners on how to take sports drinks. And as a bonus I'm going to list some home made sports drink recipes for you to mix to your own taste - experiment with them, and save yourself a lot of money.
How effective are Sports Drinks?
Many research papers show that a carbohydrate solution of about 6% - 8% enter the bloodstream as fast as water. Carbohydrate (usually in the form of glucose polymers like maltodextrin) and electrolyte additives also have the benefit of improving endurance performance.
What are the functions of Sports Drinks?
Minimize Dehydration - enhance running performance.
Sports drinks improve performance by minimizing the deterioration of performance due to dehydration, and providing carbohydrate to keep the muscles functioning optimally during running.
Prevent Heat Injury
Many of you have probably figured out that if you have lots of fluids before and during a long distance race or training run on hot, humid days, you don't seem to be as badly affected by the heat. Drinking fluids are a good way to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Sports drinks help you replace the calories you burned up during your training run, an important key to staying healthy and being able to continue training, day after day, at a high intensity or over long distances. This is more of a problem with elite and highly trained runners than with semi-serious and recreational runners, because of the enormous amount of calories burned.
Consider these astonishing energy expenditures of elite distance runners: their daily workouts burn from 800 calories to three times that, bringing their total daily caloric needs up in the region of 4,000-5,000 calories. That's a lot of grub for a skinny runner weighing only 150 pounds or less!
Help Muscles and Immune System Recover Faster
Recent research shows that certain ingesting carbohydrates and proteins within an hour of finishing training or racing efforts, help our muscle tissue recover and regenerate quicker, and replace lost electrolytes. They may even help prevent upper respiratory tract infections.