Fuelling with fluids

Amanda O'Brien
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Many of our province’s finest young athletes are away in Sherbrooke, Que., this week to compete in the 2013 Canada Summer Games. No matter what the sport, staying hydrated while being active is crucial for fuelling, performing one’s best, and of course, staying well.

On average, teenagers and adults need around two to three litres, or nine to 12 cups of fluid a day to stay hydrated. This is a daily minimum, and on days of activity, more fluid is needed. Sports drinks are important for many athletes and sports, and have several different purposes. They provide fluids to aid in cooling down the body, and replace any nutrition that has been lost, such as carbohydrates (a.k.a. sugar) through energy expended, and minerals, such as sodium and potassium, lost in sweat.

If your body temperature rose just a few degrees, situations such as heat illness, heat stroke and even death could potentially occur.

Sweating helps to cool down the body, but it can lead to dehydration as well. Athletes can lose anywhere from one to four pounds of sweat in just one hour.

Sports drinks are designed to replace electrolytes (minerals in sweat such as sodium and potassium) and to provide energy in the form of carbohydrate for active muscles and the brain.

Sports drinks are better than plain water in several circumstances:

‰    When exercise is intense (sports like soccer, hockey, basketball or interval training), and when the activity lasts longer than one hour.

‰    If you sweat a lot while playing sports, or the weather is hot and humid, a sports drink may also be a better choice over water.

‰    Sports drinks are also better when a lot of protective equipment is worn, such as hockey or football, and when athletes have back to back games, tournaments or multiple-day training sessions.

There are many sports drinks on the market besides the standard Gatorade and Powerade, so what should one be looking for?

No carbonation or fizz is important. This will make it easier to drink and less likely that you’ll become bloated.

Carbohydrates help to improve taste, and thus help you to drink more. They also keep blood sugar from dropping, and fuel active muscles and the brain so that you can exercise longer and harder. Ideally a sports drink should contain 40 to 80 grams of carbohydrate per litre from different sources like glucose, sucrose, fructose and/or maltodextrin (look to the nutrition facts table and ingredient list for this info).

The reason juice, pop, and energy drinks aren’t suitable for sports is because they contain too much carbohydrate per litre (about 100 grams of carbohydrate per litre).

Sports drinks should also have 300 to 700 milligrams of sodium per litre. Depending on whether sports drinks are consumed prior to exercise, during or after, the drink may a have little more or less carbohydrate and smaller amounts of protein as well.

For the most part, sports drinks are safe, however there are safety concerns when a drink contains caffeine, herbs or other unregulated substances. Carbs and electrolytes are the only ingredients proven for safety and performance.

Other ingredients such as herbs, amino acids and caffeine should be avoided.

So, what if you’re not an athlete and drink sports drinks?

Chances are it’s not going to be of much benefit.

As I’ve mentioned above, these drinks are specially formulated to replace energy and nutrients lost in longer durations of exercise. Drinking sports drinks in the absence of the recommendations above is likely to result in excess unnecessary calories.

Extra calories often equals excess weight. For regular folks, water, and not sports drinks, is the best quencher for thirst and meeting daily fluid needs.

Whether you’re an athlete or not, knowing the signs of dehydration are important. Thirst, dizziness, tiredness, nausea, chills, headache and muscle cramps are some of the early signs.

Athlete or not, it’s important to know these signs and drink enough daily to prevent them.

Pale, yellow pee, like lemonade, or lighter, is the best way to determine if you’re drinking enough to stay hydrated.

Amanda Burton is a registered dietitian in

St. John’s. Contact her through the website: www.recipeforhealth.ca.

Organizations: Gatorade

Geographic location: Sherbrooke, Canada

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