The link between hydration, physical endurance, and performance is quite strong. Anyone who’s ever felt severely dehydrated and hungover after a night of drinking knows how terribly sluggish and unalert you feel, until you pound a few glasses of water, or a bottle of Gatorade.
It is essential to develop a consistent systematic method of hydrating your body for better performance. Sports drinks play a vital role when it comes to hydrating your body.
How do sports drinks benefit performance?
As sports drinks have electrolytes, multiple minerals and vitamins, they play a critical role in increasing athletic performance. Sports drinks provide energy to the body’s muscles and brain. Our brain is 80% water, and our muscles are 75% water.
But if all we need is water, what’s the point of sports drinks? Why do so many athletes reach for a sports drink instead of just plain old water? Well let’s discuss the benefits of sports drinks and how they improve performance compared to just water alone.
It’s also worth noting that sports drinks and energy drinks are not the same thing. You might find Gatorade in the same aisle as Monster or Red Bull at the supermarket, but they’re absolutely not interchangeable. You can read this guide on energy drinks for more information.
Ingredients in sports drinks
Sports drinks contain a combination of carbohydrates as the main ingredients. It’s important to know that the carbs in sports drinks typically come from several different sweeteners, such as glucose, fructose, sucrose, and others.
The proportion of mixture varies in different brands. Carbohydrates help in digestion that is why sports drinks get digested and absorbed by the small intestine quickly. Preferably, a sports drink containing 4-8% carbohydrate should be your option at all times.
Other than water and carbohydrates, the main ingredient of sports drinks are electrolytes. When you exercise extensively, electrolytes sweat out of your body, and these need to be replenished.
The word ‘electrolytes’ is often a trendy buzzword in sports drink commercials, so let’s break it down. Electrolytes is an umbrella term for a range of minerals that are vital to our body functioning properly. These minerals include zinc, potassium, iron, calcium, sodium, and others.
Lower levels of sodium ensures better absorption of carbohydrates in the small intestine. Normally, in sports drinks there is 20-60 mg sodium. However, if the sodium levels aren’t optimum in the body, it can cause hyponatremia.
Some sports drinks also contain amino acids which help with the recovery of your body after an extensive workout.
Natural sports drink alternatives
Other than commercial sports drinks like Gatorade, there is a choice of numerous natural sports drinks as well. Coconut water helps in rehydration and also contains numerous electrolyte minerals.
Watermelon water also helps with rehydration and contains several vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin B6. Surprisingly, watermelon water provides you with 6 times more electrolytes than the standard sports drink. But beware of high sugar content in watermelon water.
Cactus water not only contains natural electrolytes but it also helps with inflammation as it has anti inflammatory properties.
Aloe Vera water has healing properties, it heals the body after an exhausting and extensive workout.
You can also try your own DIY natural sports drinks, combining some of the following ingredients:
- Citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, etc.)
- Non-citrus fruits (apple, banana, watermelon, etc.)
- Green vegetables (cucumber, kale, celery, etc.)
- Sea salt for electrolytes (magnesium, calcium, potassium)
- Baking soda (counters acidification in muscles)
Why not drink fruit juices after workout?
So you might think that chugging a big bottle of 100% apple juice would be a great idea after a workout. It’s typically not though.
The carbohydrate concentration in pure fruit juices can be quite high. This is partially due to the amount of sugars (natural sugars, granted, but sugars nonetheless) in many fruits. Just 8floz of 100% pure natural apple juice, for example, contains around 28g of sugar. If you’re buying apple juice off the supermarket shelf, you can expect this to possibly be even higher, due to added sweeteners.
So when sugars get converted to carbs, the sugar content of a bottle of apple juice works out to higher than than the optimal percentage of 4 – 8%. In fruit juices, carbohydrates concentration ranges between 11-15%.
It takes a toll on intestines to absorb such a high amount of carbohydrates. Also, it takes quite a lot of time to digest too much carbohydrates.
This isn’t saying that drinking 100% all-natural fruit juices is bad for you, quite the opposite. Fruit juices are absolutely wonderful for you and full of great vitamins, if you’re making them yourself.
Homemade fruit smoothies made from fruits you blend up yourself is a totally wonderful idea, I’m only suggesting that you shouldn’t pound a bottle of Mott’s Apple Juice after getting off the treadmill.