Athletes Stay Better Hydrated with Sports Drinks
July 27, 2006—New research suggests that some athletes stay better hydrated with sports drinks that provide sugar and salt than with plain water.
Staying well hydrated while exercising in hot conditions presents a special challenge: During exercise, the body’s water loss increases because of sweating and a higher respiration rate. Sweat also contains sodium (salt), which helps the body hold on to water; so when sodium levels drop, more water is lost in the urine.
Sports drinks have increased in popularity in recent years, especially among young people who are drawn to their bright colors and high sugar content. However, sports drinks contain more salt than other sugary drinks, as they are designed to replace both the water and sodium lost during a sweaty workout.
A new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, followed 14 teenage tennis players training in Florida over two days. On the first day, half of the teens were given plain water and the other half were given an orange-flavored sports drink containing sugar and sodium to drink during their two-hour workout. Their drink assignments were switched on the second day during a similar workout.
Unlike younger children, who have been found in previous studies to drink more when offered sugary sports drinks than when offered plain water, these athletes drank about the same amount of fluid at both of their workouts. They lost more weight during the water workout than the sports drink workout, however, indicating that the sports drink was retained better than the plain water. Core body temperature did not rise as high with the sports drink, adding to the evidence that exercising in the heat was safer with sports drinks than with water alone.
The results of this study suggest that teenagers exercising rigorously in hot conditions are likely to lose less body fluid and more likely stay well hydrated if their drink provides some sodium and sugar.
“I am a believer in electrolyte replacement drinks,” said Dr. Peter Loescher, a medical doctor who specializes in sports medicine. “Replacing water without sodium and potassium in an athlete who is sweating heavily on a hot day is okay for a time, but can be dangerous if it goes on too long. Sodium levels especially can become dangerously low and lead to mental status changes, seizures, and even death in extreme cases.”
Athletes should keep in mind, however, that most commercial sports drinks are colored and flavored with chemicals and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, a simple sugar that can cause fluctuations in blood sugar. The long- and short-term effects of these ingredients are not known.
Dr. Loescher added that he often recommends diluting sports drinks with up to 50% water to reduce sugar intake. Future research might tell us if a pinch of salt and a few ounces of orange juice to add potassium and flavor to drinking water could work as well as the designer sports drinks.
(Br J Sports Med 2006;40:406–10)
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Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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