Rethinking sports drink drinking

Sprinting the final steps of your 30-minute run, you fantasize about pouring a chilly sports drink down your throat and over your perspiring face. But recreating that iconic advertising image while bathed in the triumphant light of the open refrigerator door might not be the best idea. First off, that stuff is a sticky mess to clean. Second, your body likely doesn’t need all the electrolytes and carbohydrates packed into that bottle. 

When you exercise, you convert water, electrolytes and calories into movement. The more you move, the more you burn. But if you have ever watched the slow rise of calories expended while exercising, you know just how stingy the body can be in shedding its reserves. In fact, sports nutritionists widely agree that sports drinks are appropriate training table fare only after 90 minutes of hard, sweat-producing exercise. If you are posting such mega workout or racing durations, you can still replenish your body with water and electrolyte-rich foods or choose more user-friendly sports concoctions.

The electrolytes that most sports supplements and drinks target are potassium, sodium and chloride. Potassium is essential for normal cell function, heartbeat regulation and proper muscle performance. Excellent potassium replacing foods include yogurt, orange or pineapple juice, raisins, bananas, apricots, figs, wheat germ, soy beans, nuts and skin-on potatoes. 

Sodium helps regulate the balance of fluids in the body. The average American diet is jam-packed with sodium, thus it is likely the last electrolyte you’ll need to sweat. Some naturally sodium-rich foods are celery, cheese, spinach, milk, olives, chickpeas, beets and bananas. 

Chloride aids in the absorption of potassium, preserves the acid-base balance of our bodies, and increases the blood’s capacity to carry and eventually eliminate carbon dioxide from body tissues. Yogurt, skin-on apples, celery, tomatoes, olives, beets, cheese and eggs are all chloride-crammed edibles.

Though lacking the bright colors and hard body promotion of sports drinks, water is still the undefeated champ of hydration for the average workout. Water aids in digestion, nutrient transportation, waste product elimination, temperature regulation and joint and tissue lubrication. Suggested water consumption levels for 45-minute to hour-long athletic endeavors are 16 ounces within two hours prior, 12 to 16 ounces during and 16 ounces within 30 minutes after exertion.

For longer workout sessions, aim for 12 to 16 ounces of water and 200 to 250 complex carbohydrate calories per hour. If your workout demands calories as well as hydration, be kind to your tummy. Look for sports drinks, gels and bars – in combination with good old-fashioned water – whose complex carbohydrates come from glucose polymers, maltodextrin and sucrose and steer clear of harder-to-digest fructose, corn syrup, proteins and artificial sweeteners. Powdered sports drinks of complex carbohydrates are also kind to your wallet and allow you more mixology control. After finishing a longer workout, remember consuming 250 to 400 carbohydrate and protein calories as well as 16 ounces of water within 30 minutes of exercise will aid your body in recovery and help maintain your energy.

Still – like prodding a reluctant vegetable eater – it is sometimes difficult to swallow enough of the colorless, tasteless hydrating powerhouse. If you are in this camp, try zipping up your drink with citrus or cucumber juice or sweetening your water with stevia. A sweet tropical herb cousin of the sunflower, stevia contains no calories, is sold as a supplement and has a negligible effect on blood glucose.

 

A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

Until very recently, running was the White Whale to my Captain Ahab. Yes, running was that vast, sub-aquatic monster of my consciousness that stole functionality from my lower limbs and left me obsessed with dispatching the beast. 

Since learning how to run with the women of the running rEVOLUTION, I have begun to feel sorry for Ahab. Now I see his problem. Ahab didn’t have pals to help him turn his gimp into a measured stride. 

As for me, I know that every Tuesday evening I will have my best run of the week because I’ll be jogging with my posse, my co-conspirators, my support sisters and friends. 

Each week I look forward to the physical test, and even more so the excited stories of woman after woman who credit running as a group with helping them achieve personal milestones. 

It is true that every challenge is an opportunity. I think the challenge to become runners – or better runners – has taught each of us something. For myself, I’ve learned that the demonic leviathan of my nightmares was really a gentle mammal coaxing me to the water’s edge. I’ve also learned that you can go places together that you could never reach alone.

 

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