Saturday, March 24, 2007

Water, Sport Drinks and Exercise

Last week, I was asked “what should I drink while I exercise”. This is an important question that I get frequently. The answer is it depends on how long you exercise. If it is less than 1 hour, water will suffice. There is little evidence that consuming a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink (such as Gatorade, PowerAde, Cytomax, etc.) versus plain water during exercise that lasts less then 1 hour improves performance or fatigue. Consuming a carb-electrolyte drink if you are exercising less than 1 hour is only suggested if you are trying to gain weight or if it’s a morning work-out and you did not eat breakfast. If you are exercising for more than 1 hour, studies have shown that a drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes will delay fatigue and may enhance performance. The sodium added to the drink may improve palatability, promote fluid retention, and possibly prevent hyponatremia in individuals who drink excessive quantities of fluid. Studies recommend that the percentage of carbohydrate in the drink is 4%-8%. Although recently disputed, some studies have shown that a combination of carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 ratio improves the muscle's fuel efficiency and spares muscle glycogen contributing to an improvement in endurance.

With so many options of fluid replacement drinks, what should you drink? I have tried Gatorade, Cytomax, Amino Vital, Accelerade and many more. You may want to try Accelerade which contains a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. I know athletes who love it and others who cannot stomach it. If you have problems digesting or drinking any fluid replacement drink, do not force it on yourself. You’ll just feel sick and uncomfortable which will hinder your work-out. Try something else and you’ll eventually find the drink that is right for you. (Note: Never try a new food or drink on a long ride, event or race day – it will ruin the day if you have problems digesting it.)

How much should you drink? The best answer is to determine your hourly sweat rate. Your size, gender and fitness level influence sweat rate. So don’t expect your friend’s fluid needs to be the same as yours. Weigh yourself before and after a one hour work-out. For each pound of weight you lose, your fluid shortfall is about 16 ounces (2 cups). For example, if you lose one pound, you have sweated away 16 ounces (1 lb x 16 oz) more of fluid than you have consumed. Add in the amount of fluid consumed during the work-out. If you drank 16 ounces, then your hourly sweat-rate is 32 ounces (16 ounces of fluid + 16 ounces of sweat). This means you should consume 8 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes.

On long bike rides, unless you drink Gatorade which you can purchase on the road, don’t forget to bring a supply of your fluid replacement powder to mix at the lunch spot. I do not recommend buying Snapple or other juices because they do not contain the recommended amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

Eat well to feel strong!

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