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Choosing the Right Sports Drink
by Nina Anderson • East Canaan, CTNina Anderson

Sports drinks are everywhere today, being consumed in the workplace, at home, and in the car as well as before, during, and after exercise. While there may be a place for each of them within the sports arena, on closer examination, the drinks are really made to be used for completely different purposes. Electrolyte replacement drinks are designed to replace the fluids (water) and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chromium, manganese, etc.) lost during exercise. Carbohydrate drinks are an acceptable choice for instant energy during strenuous exercise and muscle recovery afterwards. Many carbohydrate drinks include electrolytes. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, consuming adequate food and fluid before, during and after exercise can help maintain blood glucose levels during exercise, maximize exercise performance and improve recovery time. Athletes should be well hydrated before beginning exercise and should also drink enough fluid during and after exercise to balance fluid losses.

Not all sports-minded people need carbohydrate drinks, but most need electrolyte replacement. According to the International Sports Medicine Institute, many Americans are dehydrated even before exercise, because they don’t drink enough water. The average person loses between 3-6 liters per day from normal bowel and urinary elimination. Moisture is also lost just from breathing.

Obvious signs of low water levels in your body include headaches and fatigue. Sports endurance is compromised as dehydration worsens. Heart rate increases and oxygen and nutrient delivery to muscles can drop 10 percent even with mild exercise like hiking. Unreplaced water losses equaling 2 percent of body weight will impact heat regulation. At 3 percent loss there is a decrease in muscle cell contraction times, and when fluid losses equal 4 percent of body weight, there is a 5-10 percent drop in overall performance, which can last up to four hours. Lost with this fluid are electrolytes and essential minerals. Mineral replacement is essential to helping restore proper blood volume and blood sugar levels, and is necessary for enzymatic reactions that promote proper blood volume. Without them the quality of performance during long-term or explosive short-term exercise decreases.

Getting people to drink enough water is not easy. Most prefer juice or soda pop or sports drinks that include high-caloric sugars (glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, cereal starches) as carbohydrates. These are not recommended for dieters or diabetics and may be less than beneficial in electrolyte drinks because the added sugars need to be broken down by the digestive system, thus delaying electrolyte absorption. When your body wants water, it wants it immediately, and carbohydrates may actually interfere with water absorption.

The book Analyzing Sports Drinks explains that to receive benefit from electrolytes, the body must be able to absorb and utilize the minerals. Research scientist Dr. George Earp-Thomas, along with a team of researchers funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, conducted a worldwide study on soil microbes and minerals. They discovered that when combined, some inorganic minerals were not compatible with each other. However, when he added the Foulhorn bacteria, found on the surface of mineralized rocks beneath the sea, the mineral mixture became stable. This bacteria makes new compounds, transforming the elements into an organic mineral compound that can be readily absorbed by the body. Two supplements using this procedure for their organic mineral formulas are the liquid Trace-Lyte and ElectroBlast effervescent tablets.

Formulations with too many trace- minerals in combination can actually prevent electrolyte formation because they compete with one another for absorption. Too few trace-minerals in a drink are unable to form the proper electrolyte balance for the minerals to be able to enter the cell and maximize rehydration. These are important considerations when purchasing electrolyte products.

A major part of the sports drink market is geared toward carbohydrate drinks. Carbohydrates are considered the principal dietary source of energy. Muscle cells store limited amounts of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a high-energy phosphogen. They depend on metabolic pathways to provide sufficient ATP for muscle function during activity. Power events of short duration require the rapid hydrolysis of ATP for energy, which is significantly depleted within 10-20 seconds of high-intensity activity, thereby limiting its use as a source for energy. Carbohydrate drinks are useful in these circumstances.

In longer exercise periods, hydration is primary. In these circumstances, the body may begin using circulating blood glucose as its source of energy, rather than the ATP muscle glycogen pool. If blood glucose is not maintained, performance will decrease. Fat contributes to the energy pool, but the portion of energy that can be derived from fat decreases as exercise intensifies. Protein also contributes to the energy pool, but probably provides less than 5 percent of the energy expended, although it may contribute to the maintenance of blood glucose.

During exercise, if a hydration sports beverage is taken that is too high in carbohydrate content (normally glucose or sugar), it will increase the time it takes the stomach to empty. This prolongs the time needed for absorption and reduces the ability of the drink to quickly satisfy rehydration needs. The primary use of carbohydrates during heavy exercise is in replacing the glycogen lost from muscles in the first two hours after exercising. Glucose and sucrose are the carbohydrates of choice, being considered twice as effective as fructose in restoring muscle glycogen.

According to Dr. Zakir Ramazanov, Ph.D., one of the foremost biochemists and molecular biologists in the world, there is an alternative for long-term stamina. While sports and fitness enthusiasts consider carbohydrates the best source of energy, they are actually a relatively poor source. Fatty acids are the richest source of energy, and in fact, play a greater role in supporting the energy demands of the body during long-term exercise than glucose alone.

During times of high physical activity, energy and macronutrient needs must be met, and fat intake should be adequate to provide essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins for energy. When more fat is burned, less muscle glycogen is used. This glycogen sparing effect aids endurance because glycogen stores are limited, but fat stores are abundant. Maintaining a higher fatty-acid base will support the muscles without excessive carbo-loading. Dr. Ramazanov suggests supplementing your diet with an herb grown in the mountains of Russia, Rhodiola rosea. This herb has been shown to raise the levels of fatty acids found in the blood, thereby significantly increasing muscle ATP and creatine phosphate levels. Research is also underway on Glycerol, a 3-carbon non-intoxicating alcohol, a product of triacylglycerol (free fatty acids), which is used in the body’s citric acid cycle of aerobic energy metabolism. Glycerol enhances hydration in muscles, thereby reducing fatigue and the need for continued carbohydrate ingestion. In studies on athletes, it has been shown to increase their total body water by nearly 2.5 percent, which helped them to adapt to heat during extended exercise. Staying hydrated is essential to performance.

It is up to the consumer to pick a product that works for them and tastes good. There is a place for carbohydrate sports drinks as a supplement to electrolyte replacement drinks, but they are not interchangeable. You may use carbohydrate drinks in addition to electrolyte replacement drinks, but at different times in relation to the intended sports activity.

Excerpted with permission from:
Analyzing Sports Drinks, Safe Goods Publishing, (888) NATURE-1.
Nina has been an active researcher in the alternative health field for over twenty years and has co-authored twelve books, including
Analyzing Sports Drinks, Overcoming Senior Moments, A Doctor in your Suitcase and Super Nutrition For Dogs n' Cats. Contact her through Safe Goods Publishing,
(888) NATURE-1