Why Water Isn't Enough for Athletes

Get better at the sports you play and the life you lead at STACK. Improve your training, nutrition and lifestyle with daily

Gatorade Bottles

High performance athletes know that water is essential for keeping their bodies hydrated and functioning at the highest level. But for intense physical activity lasting longer than 30 minutes, water simply isn't enough. Your body needs to be fueled and replenished with carbs and electrolytes [sodium, potassium and chloride] lost through sweat during a workout or competition.

During intense physical activity, your body burns carbs and sweats out essential electrolytes. Electrolytes enable proper neuromuscular function and a healthy blood pH level. Without proper hydration balance, your body could essentially shut down, which means muscle cramps, loss of focus and a dramatic drop in performance. Thus, it is imperative for athletes to consume a sports drink to maintain health and performance. Use the following  guidelines to avoid common mistakes.

The most common mistake is refusing to replenish because you don't feel thirsty. "It's important to replace fluids as well as electrolytes even if you don't feel thirsty," asserts Leslie Bonci, sports nutrition director for the University of Pennsylvania Center for Sports Medicine and a member of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute's Sports Nutrition Board. This is especially true in colder temperatures, when you might not realize how much you're sweating.

You can achieve better hydration and electrolyte balance by consuming a sports drink. "Sports drinks are designed to provide adequate amounts of key electrolytes, and they also deliver the added benefit of providing carbs for energy and water to supplement hydration," says Bonci.

But how much should athletes consume and when? The typical athlete needs between 20 and 40 fluid ounces per hour. For activities lasting more than an hour, Bonci advices downing a sports drink with at least 250 mg of sodium per 20 ounces (100 mg per eight ounces). Such a sports drink will likely also deliver the right amounts of other electrolytes.

Unfortunately, our old friend H20 doesn't come with any of these electrolytes. Athletes who drink only water risk crashing during a workout, even when they're taking in enough fluid. Sports drinks use water as a base to dissolve the electrolytes needed for proper cell function and sustained muscle function.

All that's left is finding the right sports drink for you. Just as every athlete has his or her own pre-game ritual, personal preference governs selection of a sports drink. Follow the guidelines below as a general rule, and find out exactly how much fluid you need to take your training and game to the next level.

Before
Exercise physiologist Elizabeth Quinn recommends drinking 15 to 20 fluid ounces of water or a sports drink two to three hours before exercise. As you get within 10 to 15 minutes of your activity, drink another eight to 10 fluid ounces.

During
To reiterate, as an athlete you need between 20 and 40 fluid ounces per hour and 250 mg of sodium per 20 fluid ounces of a sports drink. For longer workouts, adjust your sodium intake accordingly. Bonci: "If you're doing an especially long workout [more than two hours] or you sweat a lot of salt, look for sports drinks that supply 500 milligrams of sodium per 20 ounces. You should replace lost electrolytes at a rate of 250 to 500 milligrams per hour if you hydrate at the recommended rate." We also suggest sticking to cold drinks during your workouts.

After
It's easy to determine how much to drink after physical activity. Weigh yourself before and after your workout, and drink 20 to 24 fluid ounces for each pound lost. Quinn suggests, "Consume a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein within two hours of exercise to replenish glycogen stores." You can also use this formula for fluid replacement from PowerBar.com.

Source:  Active.com; SportsMedicine.About.com
Photo:  topnews360.tmcnet.com


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: GATORADE NUTRITION | WORKOUTS | NUTRITION | ELECTROLYTES | WATER | SPORTS DRINKS | SODIUM | HEALTH | EXERCISE | SPORTS | SWEAT | DRINKS | PHYSICAL ACTIVITY