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Preventive Maintenance: Sports drinks

It looks like the heat is going to be with us a bit longer. It's not the best temperature to be slugging loads around....

Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen

It looks like the heat is going to be with us a bit longer. It’s not the best temperature to be slugging loads around.

Especially since your body is creating its own heat as you slug away (15 to 20 times as much heat as when you’re resting).

Fortunately, you have a built-in cooling system. Sweat. One litre of sweat cools off 600 calories of heat. If you didn’t sweat, your body temperature could rise over 10 degrees Celsius! Talk about being hot blooded!

The more active you are, the more you sweat. Marathon runners can lose 1.5 litres of fluid each hour they are competing! In order to prepare, they drink before, during and after running. This would be good for you, too, when you know you will be slugging a load around in the heat. Drinking extra won’t hurt you, but dehydration will.

Drinking water works well because water is absorbed easily in the digestive tract, and it cools the body from the inside out. But if you don’t prefer water, here are some other options:

Caffeine drinks: People sometimes use pop, coffee and other caffeine drinks as stimulants to give them an edge. Unfortunately, caffeine is also a diuretic and makes your body lose water. This is not the best idea when you’re already sweating. As well, sometimes when pop makes you feel full, you’re just full of bubbles, and may not have taken in as much fluid as your body needs.

Alcohol: Some people feel that loading up on beer has an extra bonus – carbohydrates for energy as well as fluids. Too bad that a 12 ounce bottle of beer only gives you 13 grams of carbohydrates, compared to 39 grams in an equal-sized glass of orange juice. (Besides that, beer doesn’t have many minerals or vitamins, while orange juice does.) Even though the alcohol in beer creates energy, that energy is broken down in the liver and doesn’t feed the muscles. So it doesn’t give you strength. As well, alcohol is a diuretic and upsets the body’s fluid balance. Alcohol also makes an active person more prone to heat stroke and hypothermia because it impairs the body’s reaction to heat, not stimulating it to cool itself off. It’s best to avoid caffeine and alcohol drinks.

Sports drinks: Even though drinking water is an excellent way to get fluids, so are sports drinks. There are over 20 different sports drinks on the market. Are they better than water? What do they have to offer?

Fluid – They are composed of fluids to replace the fluids lost during strenuous activity, but so is water. If you’re tired of plain, old water, how about mixing in some fruit juice for a little flavour? At least you’d be getting some vitamins along with the liquid. For fluid replacement, water and sports drinks are equal.

Glucose – Sports drinks are made of simple sugars that help maintain hydration and blood sugar levels.

Because of this, they are better than water. Most drinks have about seven per cent glucose (about half the sugar of ordinary pops.)

Six per cent or (slightly) more of glucose will improve your performance, but over 10 per cent can lead to stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea.

If you’re watching your weight, the 10 per cent glucose drink is not for you; stay around the six per cent level.

Sports drinks are better than water when considering sugar levels.

Sodium and other electrolytes – Sport drinks are formulated with sodium and the other electrolytes that your body sweats out during exertion. The salt also makes your body absorb water from the digestive tract quicker, so your blood volume level remains constant even when losing water through sweat.

Don’t worry too much about the minerals you lose in perspiration.

Many are stored in your body and you’ll replace the rest of them with your next healthy meal. However, when sweating a lot, sports drinks are better than water to maintain your electrolyte balance.

Good taste – Let’s face it, sports drinks taste good. Manufacturers believe that if something tastes good, people will drink more of it. So, fewer people will become dehydrated.

If you’ll drink more of a sports drink than water, use the sports drink.

Psychological edge – Many people feel they can perform better using a sports drink. More power to them. A sports drink won’t hurt you.

For very strenuous activities, or if you’re an endurance athlete and train for one or more hours at a time, I recommend a sports drink. For the rest of us, water is just fine.

But really, the most important question is are you replacing the fluids you’ve lost? And remember that it takes a while for your mind to recognize your body’s low on liquid.

Then make the best choice – water or a sports drink?

Either, or a combination of both! Most importantly, just remember to drink, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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