nutrition bite #003 - the truth about sports drinks for young athletes & adolescents...


It gets DAMN HOT here in Australia during the summer, just look at the past weekend we've had - it hit 47.3 degree's out in Penrith... Joe Root suffered from severe dehydration and had to retire during the Ashes, and it prompts the question about hydration and sports drinks, specifically the viewpoint many parents and coaches take towards these "sugary" drinks...

Seeing what happened to Root brought back a memory of mine when I used to play for Newcastle, I was sitting on the sideline awaiting my turn at the crease. The heat was immense, and the pressure on me even more so. Butterflies filled my stomach, and before I could take a breath, the next wicket fell and it was my turn at the crease. 

I felt terrible...

My nervousness meant I hadn’t consumed anything since breakfast, about five hours prior. And when I say nothing, I mean NOTHING…

No liquid, no food. And it was a 40+ degree summer day

Needless to say it didn’t go well. I got out for a measly score of five by trying to play a bouncer instead of casually getting under it. And with that, my time in the U/14 Newcastle Cricket Side was over

It’s been proven that 2% dehydration is all it takes to have a negative effect on performance and concentration. And on this occasion, it severely harmed my concentration and thought pattern

Today though, we’re going to delve into why you should be choosing sports drinks over water to hydrate yourself on training and competition days. That’s right, if you're training or competing for longer than 60minutes, consuming a carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement drink (like Gatorade, Maximus, or one of the myriad of others) is going to benefit you immensely

WAIT A SECOND... THOSE SUGAR CONTAINING DRINKS? AREN'T THEY BAD!

This is a common, and terrible negative dogma around this beneficial supplement. For the general population, yes, they shouldn’t be consumed. But that's taking this out of context 

These drinks are not meant for sedentary people to enjoy as a treat, or whilst watching TV, to quench their thirst or playing the PS4. They are meant to be consumed solely during or after bouts of physical activity to help rehydration, provide vital electrolytes lost in sweat, replace lost glycogen, increase energy levels, and promote proper recovery

It happens all too often… coaches or parents will demonise and withhold these drinks from their kids in times of training/games, which is harming their performance and recovery. Carbohydrates should NOT be demonised, as they are essential for proper growth, performance, and recovery

Why are they so beneficial? Whilst exercising, we are breaking our body down. We are using our stores of carbohydrates - our body's preferred energy source, and our brain's only energy source - to produce energy. Without carbohydrate in the system, the body will turn to either fat or protein stores for energy, (a process known as gluconeogenesis that is not very efficient) and convert these into carbohydrates for energy. Yep, if the body doesn't have any carbohydrate in it, it will make it from other substances within the body

At times of physical activity, our bodies are physiologically primed to utilise these carbohydrates for energy, performance, and begin to promote recovery. These sports drinks contain these essential carbohydrates, and also contain electrolytes - minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium - which we lose in sweat, and are vital for in muscle and cardiac (heart) contractions

I am sure you've seen more than one player go down with cramp... and it's due to these electrolytes having been lost in sweat and not being replaced. The AIS (Australian Insititute of Sport) have a phenomenal recommendation to go off when thinking of which sports drink to use. Choose one that is 4-8% carbohydrate and contains 10-20mmol/L of sodium.

Not the best at math? That's alright, we've got you covered in the table below :)

 Note: Maximus claim to have 50% more electrolytes than others, however this may not always be the best choice

Note: Maximus claim to have 50% more electrolytes than others, however this may not always be the best choice

One thing to be mindful of when it comes to these drinks is the source of the carbohydrate within it, as some tend to use Hugh Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as their source. HFCS is a cheap source that is often found in soft-drinks amongst other processed items

The reason to be mindful of it is that chemically, it is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Fructose must first be broken down in the liver before it can be used as a fuel, and if there is sufficient glucose in the system, it is easily converted to fat. Small amounts of fructose within the diet (from fruits) are fine, but high amounts of HFCS are not ideal - so it is recommended you choose a sports drink that does not use HFCS

When choosing a sports drink, you’d like something with a form of glucose or sucrose used as the carbohydrate source. A quick delve into the labels of the above five found the following sources of CHO being used:
- Gatorade: cane sugar; a source of glucose
- Powerade: HFCS; however this may have been changed at time of publishing this article
- Staminade: glucose
- Maximus: a mix of glucose and sucrose


Actionable Tips/Takeaways:

  • Proper hydration is essential - and something as small as 2% dehydration is harmful to your performance
  • DO consume sports drinks during, and post training/competing - this is the time these drinks were scientifically designed to be consumed. They replace electrolytes and carbohydrates
  • Choose a sports drink containing 4-8% carbohydrate and 10-20mmol/L of sodium to sip on during and after training or a game that lasts longer than 60minutes
  •  Choose a sports drink that uses either glucose or sucrose as their carbohydrate source, and steer clear of those using HFCS

 

Nick Maier