Athletes are looking for that competitive edge in their training and competitions. This can be challenging
with varying schedules for work/school, practice or events, as well as travel. There are ways to enhance
athletic performance. The key is to be properly informed so you can make the best decision. Energy Drinks – How Do They Work?
Energy drinks provide a burst of energy by using a combination of B vitamins, herbal ingredients, caffeine,
guarana, taurine, ginseng, inositol, carnitine, creatine and varying concentrations of sugars or artificial
sweeteners. The central ingredients in energy drinks are caffeine, most often in the form of guarana or
yerba mate and sugar. The caffeine acts as a mild central nervous system stimulant by increasing heart rate
and blood pressure – providing an initial boost of energy that keeps you alert and prevent fatigue. The
average energy drink has ~ 80mg of caffeine, about the same as a week cup of coffee. However, 16 oz
drinks can contain 150mg up to 300mg of caffeine.
Responses to energy drinks vary, which is why it is important that athletes are aware of not just the
stimulating benefits, but also the potentially harmful and performance degrading effects: anxiety,
increased perspiration, shakiness, upset stomach, laxative effect, headaches, dehydration, and prevent
. Energy drinks should not be used while exercising as the combination of fluid loss from sweating, poor
rate of hydration from high sugar and the diuretic quality of the caffeine can leave the athlete severely
dehydrated. Dehydration is one of the most common indicators for poor performance and recovery in sport. Energy Drinks and Alcohol: Be Informed
It is well known that energy drinks have been used as mixers with alcohol. This is actually a very scary
combo and you should be aware of the dangers:
Fatigue is one of the ways the body tells someone they have had enough to drink. Since alcohol is a
depressant and energy drinks are stimulants, the stimulating effects can mask how intoxicated you are and prevent you from realizing how much alcohol you have actually consumed.
The stimulant gives the impression that you are not impaired. However, no matter how alert you may
be feeling, your blood alcohol concentration is the same as it would be without the energy drink. Once the stimulant effect wears off, the depressant effects of the alcohol remains and could cause vomiting in your sleep or respiratory depression.
Both energy drinks and alcohol are dehydrating. Dehydration can hinder your body’s ability to
metabolize alcohol and therefore increase toxicity.
SIMPLE SPORTS SCIENCE
Sports Drinks – It’s not jus about the carbohydrates
Sports drinks are sports supplements that are used to enhance performance in a variety of sporting events.
They can be an ideal fluid to consume before, during and after training/competition, allowing the athlete to
replenish fluid and electrolyte losses, as wel as provide additional fuel in the form of carbohydrates.
Basically, sports drinks serve 2 roles: re-hydration and fuel exercising muscles.
Sports drinks that contain higher concentrations of carbohydrates (Gatorade Performance Series; 21.7%)
are better consumed either well before the event for carb-loading or post-competition to replenish muscle
glycogen. Sports drinks within the 4 to 8% range are generally well tolerated during exercise or competition. Why Is Sodium Replacement Important to the Athlete?
It is also important that athletes who are “heavy sweaters” or involved in endurance sports incorporate
sodium as part of their sport nutrition plan. Sodium is the predominant electrolyte lost in sweat, and
athletes need to be mindful of replacing losses in order to perform at their best. Some athletes with only a
moderate rate of sweating can still lose significant amount of sodium during exercise. The rate of sweat
electrolyte loss can range from 1000 to 3000 mg of sodium per hour, and in hot/humid climate can increase
to 6000 mg. This is equivalent to more than 15 grams or 2 ½ teaspoons of salt loss per hour. The optimal
concentration of sodium in a sports drink is 20-40 mmol/L or 110 – 220 mg/8oz serving. Other sources
suggest even higher sodium content of 50-80 mmol/L if a heavy sweater and or in hot/humid temperatures.
Sodium intake during exercise can help athletes better retain and distribute the fluids they dink, therefore
assisting in maintaining vital cardiovascular responses:
Lowers body core temperature (prevent heat stroke) Allows muscles to contract and nerves to send signals Prevents severe muscle cramping, premature fatigue, exertional collapse, or even
hyponatremia. If too little fluid in brain cells – unconsciousness, coma and death can result
Keeps sensation of thirst stimulated (as we know, feeling thirsty is not a good indicator of
The Bottom Line
Where there are potentially performance degrading and harmful effects from using energy drinks, there
appears to be a benefit from sports drinks that contain appropriate amounts of carbohydrates and sodium to
assist in optimal performance and recovery. When choosing a sport drink make sure you try it out in training
before taking it to competition.
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