Water VS Sports Drinks
April Thomas LATC
Head Athletic Trainer Timberlane High School
Northeast Rehabilitation Health Network
With all the highly publicized incidents of heat related illnesses over the summer there has been a big concern with keeping our high school and college athletes hydrated in order to prevent heat stroke and heat exhaustion. These concerns raise questions like: Are sports drinks better than water?, and When are sports drinks better than water?.
Most often games and practices rarely exceed ninety minutes. The exceptions include two a day practices, all day tournaments, triathlons, marathons, and other events that deplete available glycogen stored in the liver. Along with glycogen, electrolytes are also lost; electrolytes are ions like salt that allow proper absorption of water and aid in muscle function. Under normal exercise situations with proper training and diet there are enough nutrients: electrolytes and carbohydrates, available in the body for the entire exercise session. When exercise depletes these nutrient storage’s, they need to be replaced in order for the body to perform at optimum levels. Sports drinks are the best way to replenish lost nutrient storage’s, although some sports drinks are better than others.
Sports drinks that contain a carbohydrate level greater than 8% or 2 gm/oz hinder the absorption of fluids into the body, thus having a negative effect on the athlete. Gatorade and 10-K are two sports drinks that do not exceed recommended carbohydrate levels. Fruit juices have high levels of carbohydrates varying from 10% to 17%, so if one prefers to use fruit juice than it should be diluted with water.
During normal practice sessions where weather conditions are reasonable water is all you really need. Water is free, readably available, and is the best source of hydration when it comes to normal practices under normal conditions. Although, athletes will drink larger amounts of fluid if they like the way it tastes. Sports drinks usually taste good, encouraging athletes to drink more.
Beverages containing caffeine and or alcohol should be avoided because they stimulate urine production and increase the risk of dehydration significantly. This is more important now to athletes than ever before because of the introduction of new “energy boosting” drinks containing large amounts of caffeine. Carbonated drinks including some sports drinks, caffeine free soda and carbonated water should be avoided. Carbonated drinks fill the stomach with air giving the athlete a full feeling, therefore decreasing the overall amount of fluid consumed.
You can easily find out the percentage carbohydrate in a sport drink by checking the nutritional table on the back of the bottle’s label. Make sure that the suggested serving size is 8 oz since all recommendations are based on gm/8oz.
It is important to remember that heat related illnesses do not only occur during summer time activities. High humidity together with high temperatures can easily lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, although these factors do not have to be present. Warning signs of heat related illnesses include muscle cramping, thirst, flushed skin, dizziness, headache and, or vomiting.
Anything that can potentially dramatically increase core body temperature can lead to a heat related illness.