Do Sports Drinks Really Improve Your Athletic Performance?
Every runner would like to discover a magic formula which helps improve their endurance and helps them become more resilient to increased effort. The food industry has listened to their pleas, and now we have a wide range of sports drinks to choose from. Fruit flavoured, these sports drinks have become a staple in many runner’s equipment, attached to their hip.
But are they actually effective in improving your athletic performance, as some ads claim? To answer this question, we looked around the web for proof from tests and various medical institutions which analyse the effect of hydration and nutrition on runners’ bodies.
Know What You Drink
Before we start discussing some of the findings, let us make a very clear differentiation between sports drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin water. Here is what makes them different:
Sports drinks – these drinks contain electrolytes, glucose and carbohydrates. They are meant to replace these substances which are lost through sweat while you are running. The formulas for these drinks are designed to replenish the body with energy through an influx of glucose and carbohydrates, as well.
Energy drinks – these types of drinks are totally not recommended for athletes. They are extremely rich in sugar (a runner’s enemy), caffeine and taurine, and their only effect is giving an energy boost and cutting fatigue. However, they do nothing in terms of hydration, and do not replace the minerals lost by sweating. Adding to these the fact that some people have negative reactions to energy drinks, you should definitely stay away from them.
Vitamin water – this is a specific type of water designed for athletes, enriched with some vitamins. This is a lighter form of sports drink, with no additions of glucose and carbohydrates, and it has the neutral taste of bottled water.
So, Do Sports Drinks Really Work?
It depends on what you mean by “work”. If you think that they will turn you into a running pro overnight, or double your endurance in long distance runs, then we have bad news – there is no such magic formula.
However, studies have shown that, for athletes who train hard, drinking sports drinks before and during the race helps push the fatigue threshold further, by replenishing their body with the necessary electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) which regulate muscle function. Apart from this, sports drinks contain useful carbohydrates which give you an extra energy boost in a healthy and safe manner.
Compared to drinking plain water, studies have shown that runners who drink sports drinks have reached higher resistance levels, and managed to re-hydrate faster at the end of the race.
Whatever You Choose, Hydration Is the Key
One of the greatest dangers while running is becoming dehydrated. Even mild dehydration is bad for you because it will quickly drain you of energy, cause your muscles to cramp and increase the risk of suffering an injury. Whether you opt for vitamin water or sports drinks, they are both a great option to maintain you properly hydrated.
If you want an extra boost in energy and the replenishing of electrolytes (especially if you sweat a lot) then sports drinks will actually bring an improvement in your athletic performance. However, remember to have realistic expectations and to remind yourself that no drink will replace your continuous training and endurance building.