How Do Sports Drinks Improve Athletic Performance?

It seems like there is a new supplement for the wellness and fitness industries almost daily. We see it all – supplements that claim to improve beauty, weight loss, cognitive function and even athletic performance! 

Commercially available sports drinks like Powerade and Gatorade contain carbs, electrolytes, and other nutrients. These products claim to not only improve rehydration but improve athletic performance as well. It is because of these claims that almost every athlete and non-athlete have used sports drinks during a workout at one time or another for the past 50 years, but are they actually doing anything? 

We all know that hydration is imperative for optimal performance for all athletes. Athletes who develop a systematic approach of ensuring they are consistently keeping their body’s hydrated, report having much better recovery and higher energy levels. When an athlete is properly hydrated, their body is able to transport oxygen and nutrients to working muscles which supports: 

  • Muscle repair
  • Elimination of nitrogenous wastes
  • Removal of lactic acid build up
  • Regulation of body temperature

Believe it or not, losing as little as two percent of body weight through sweat can hinder an athlete’s ability to perform due to a low blood volume and less than optimal utilization of oxygen and nutrients such as electrolytes. 

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks have been studied extensively and typically provide a great alternative to plain drinking water for those who are working hard on their fitness goals. Generally speaking, your body’s preferred source of fuel comes from carbohydrates. The majority of sports drinks available on the market today are formulated to deliver carbohydrates, electrolytes and other nutrients to your body in such a way that will minimize stomach upset, but maximize intestinal absorption for delivery of energy directly to your muscles. 

The three main ingredients found in sports drinks are: carbohydrates, water, and electrolytes.

Carbohydrates - The source of carbs found in sports drinks comes from a mixture of glucose, fructose, and glucose polymers. This mixture typically varies from brand to brand because different ingredient combinations of carbohydrates are used to improve digestion or flavor for an example. 

Water - Arguably the most important substance that makes up the body, water transports nutrients, maintains blood pressure, regulates temperature, and eliminates waste. 

Electrolytes - Electrolytes are simply minerals with an electrical charge. They have many functions like balancing the amount of water in your body, moving nutrients to cells, eliminating waste from cells, and supporting a healthy heart, nerve, and cognitive brain function. Other than water, electrolytes are also the major component of sweat. The main electrolytes found within the body are:

  • Sodium – this critical mineral helps to retain water in your body. It also plays a key role in normal muscle and nerve function.
  • Potassium – another important mineral, potassium works with sodium to maintain water balance and acid/base balance.
  • Magnesium – mostly in bones, magnesium supports enzyme activity, cell function, muscle function, nerve signaling, and sleep.
  • Calcium – everybody knows calcium is important for strong bones, but it is also important for muscle contraction, blood clotting, neurotransmission and hormone secretion. 
  • Chloride – similar to sodium, chloride helps to retain water to prevent dehydration and increases blood volume.
  • Phosphate – another powerful electrolyte, phosphate helps to build and repair bones, stores energy, supports muscle contraction and enables nerve function. 

How Much Electrolytes are Lost?

Like we mentioned, electrolytes are the major component of sweat besides water. Sodium and chloride make up the largest proportion of electrolytes in sweat, with small amounts coming from magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, calcium, and copper. This means that when an athlete sweats, they are naturally losing these important minerals. In some cases, when athletes do not replenish the electrolytes they lost through sweat, they can become electrolyte deficient which can come with wide range of unfavorable side effects, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheaded
  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy

It goes without saying that replenishing your electrolytes are important, but how much are actually lost? 

Everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it boils down to trying to figure out how many electrolytes are lost through exercise. Some athletes lose more than others due to simple genetic differences, sweat rate, diet, and heat acclimatization. It is a good idea to always keep electrolytes close by when exercising, just in case your workout is a little more strenuous and you need to rehydrate. 

Can a Sports Drink Help? 

If athletes are only drinking water to rehydrate, they could be diluting their internal electrolyte concentration which can throw their body further off balance. So, in a nutshell – yes sports drinks can help because they work to replenish the electrolytes lost from sweat, not just water! However, not all sports drinks are created equal. 

It is very important to read the nutrition label and understand what ingredients are in the sports drink that you are looking to fuel your body with prior to purchase. Stay away from artificial sugars as well as fructose and artificial flavoring that could hinder your fitness goals rather than support them. Instead, reach for sports drinks made with natural and high-quality ingredients like supplements from Adapted Nutrition!

When to Use Sports Drinks

You can use a sports drink anytime you feel the need to hydrate, but they are most commonly used:

  • Prior to exercise – Sports drinks provide an amazing source of easily digested carbs to maximize your muscle fuel storage for optimal performance. The sodium also helps by promoting fluid intake and aids in fluid absorption and retention to kick dehydration to the curb.
  • During exercise – Sports drinks can also help during exercise because they can enhance your performance by delivering carbs (energy) and fluid throughout your body. This will help to keep you going strong throughout the whole workout. 
  • Recovery after Exercise – Re-hydration is a key component for maximizing recovery. A sports drink is a great choice post workout to help re-fuel for subsequent training sessions or competitions. 

Sports drinks are an easy and convenient way to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to keep you performing at your very best. If you are looking for a surefire way to bump up your electrolyte intake, a sports drink or an electrolyte supplement such as Adapted Nutrition’s Hi- Lyte Concentrate will do the trick!