Fit Family: Sports Drinks, Do You Really Need Them?

by Mike Levinson

sports drinkKeeping cool means staying hydrated so that your body can perspire. The best way to do both is to consume plenty of water. During summer months, you may need 10-12 eight ounce glasses of caffeine-free fluids. Physical activity at any time of year increases your body’s fluid requirements and with the heat of summer, it needs even more. When you’re physically active, perspiration evaporates from your skin and, thus, increases your needs for fluids an additional 2-4 cups daily.

To keep hydrated, drink:

  • At least 2 cups of water, 2-2½ hours before your activity
  •  1 cup 15 minutes before your activity
  •  ½ cup –1 cup every 15 minutes during the activity (depending on intensity) 

When do you need to replace electrolytes with a sports drink?

After an intense workout that lasts more than one hour or after you’ve exercised in extreme heat, you may need to replace electrolytes with a sports drink. Recommendations are 16 ounces for each pound lost post exercise. The carbohydrate solution of a sports drink should be less than or equal to 6 percent. This prevents the bloating and discomfort that can be caused by some flavored beverages. A sports drink that is formulated as a 6 percent carbohydrate solution means that it contains 60 grams of carbohydrate per liter of water. This is the right amount of carbohydrates to enable your body to absorb the sports drink as fast as water, as well as quickly working muscles with needed electrolytes. Research shows that a carbohydrate solution that contains more than 6 percent is not better and won’t further improve your performance.

So bottom line; if you are working out intensely longer than 60 minutes at a time, you may need a sports drink, but remember, most of them have calories, so be careful when choosing one. I recommend drinking flavored water when working out and when finished with your exercise, consume fruit or some complex carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores as well as 16 ounces of water.

Mike Levinson, a Calabasas resident, is a former amateur bodybuilding champion and registered dietitian who holds dual degrees in sports nutrition and physical education. He has worked extensively as a nutritionist with the California Angels baseball team and with famous athletes such as Charles Oakley, JT Snow and Sean Rooks. He also worked as a nutritionist for the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders.  

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