Sports drinks are formulated specifically for athletes (weekend or otherwise) to help rehydrate during or after exercise. Sports drinks contain water, are usually rich in carbohydrates (sugar) for quick energy, and may also contain electrolytes, electrically charged minerals that ensure bodily functions (like muscle contraction) run at optimal levels.
When choosing a sports drink, look for one that has all three components: fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. The percentage of each in combination is referred to as concentration and falls into one of these three groups:
- Isotonic – Isotonic drinks contain the same osmotic pressure as the body. A fancy way of saying that isotonic drinks have the same concentration of salt and sugar as cells, tissues, and blood in the human body. This solution is easily and quickly absorbed by the stomach and digestive tract to quickly replace fluids lost through sweating while also boosting carbohydrates. Isotonic drinks are the preferred choice for most athletes involved in team sports.
- Hypertonic – Hypertonic sports drinks contain a higher concentration of salt and sugar than the human body. Through osmosis, the higher concentration of salt and sugar (sports drink) move towards the lower concentration solution (blood and body fluids) until the solutions reach equilibrium and become isotonic (equal) to each other. In simpler terms, a hypertonic sports drink forces electrolytes and sugar into your body and cells. This could be useful if you run ultra-marathons, extreme sports, train in hot humid climates or for very long periods of time. For some individuals, hypertonic drinks can be less than ideal, especially those with high blood pressure or diabetes. If you need a hypertonic solution to replace lost electrolytes and carbs, you may also need an isotonic drink to replace lost fluids.
- Hypotonic – Hypotonic drinks contain a lower concentration of salt and sugar than the human body. Hypotonic drinks cause a fluid shift similar to hypertonic drinks, but this time in the opposite direction. The higher concentration of electrolytes and sugars in your cells, tissues, and blood draw the fluid in the drink in – quickly replacing fluids lost by sweating. Hypotonic sports drinks are best for athletes who require fluid without an electrolyte or carbohydrate boost, athletes whose training and performance require short bursts followed by rest like a gymnast or Olympic lifter.
Sports drinks are designed for athletes to help delay depletion and fatigue during exercise and help rehydrate athletes after intense training or competition by replenishing carbohydrates, electrolytes, occasionally protein, and other nutrients. Most sports drinks provide a readily absorbable form of carbohydrates (simple sugars), important to exercising muscles as carbs are the primary fuel for exercise and improved performance. Sports drinks are NOT designed for daily or casual consumption as most contain between 4 and 5 heaping teaspoons of sugar per 250ml serving.
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