Do sports drinks enhance athletic performance?

We’ve all seen the sports drinks available in the fridges and vending machines around the country. They make all sorts of claims, but what do they mean? Do they offer an increase in performance or are they simply marketing talk? In this blog, we’ll look at sports drinks and see if they do actually offer any benefits.

Why do we have sports drinks?

Hydration is important for athletes. Athletes who hydrate themselves properly have better recovery and higher energy levels. When an athlete is hydrated, their body is able to transport nutrients and oxygen to working muscles. This lets your muscles repair better, removes lactic acid build up and regulate body temperature. When you exercise you also lose chemicals for your body through your sweat. These include salt and what are called electrolytes.


What is in sports drinks?

Sports drinks are usually beverages that are water-based with added carbohydrates – a source of energy. The normal form of carbohydrates in a sports drink is a sugar of some kind – usually fructose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and maltodextrin – glucose polymers. Other additives to sports drinks include electrolytes that are lost whilst sweating including sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, copper and zinc. Sodium stimulates thirst and enhances the absorption of carbohydrates and water by the small intestine.


What are the benefits?

  • Prior to exercise, sports drinks can fuel your body with easily digested carbohydrates. The sodium in drinks also encourages fluid intake.
  • During exercise, they deliver carbohydrates and fluid
  • After exercise, they help rehydration and help replenish electrolytes lost during sweating.


Are there any downsides?

Consuming sports drinks as part of a balanced diet should bring about no problems. If you consume sports drinks and don’t do exercise, you are mainly just consuming sugar water, which, if you don’t exercise, can contribute to weight gain and potential type 2 diabetes.


If you partake in moderate exercise for an hour at a time, then sports drinks offer no real benefits. You will be kept as rehydrated with plain water. Other options to rehydrate yourself other than water include low-fat milk or occasional 100% fruit drinks (but beware of the amount of sugar fruit juice can contain).

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