The Olympics are in full swing and all the competing athletes are looking for that extra edge to get them that elusive gold. Endurance athletes in particular rely heavily on ‘sports’ drinks including some very famous brands, but are these any better than diluted cola? Some research suggests not, so here is a recipe for the ultimate homemade sports drink that will not only rehydrate but will also replenish many more nutrients.
One of the main functions of sports drinks is to increase rehydration during and after extensive exercise but also to ensure that the electrolyte micronutrients (including sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and phosphate) are replenished. This is vital as these nutrients have many important roles in the body and can directly impact athletic performance. Key roles include maintaining fluid balance in the body, controlling muscle contraction, controlling nerve transmission and helping maintain cognitive function. Research suggests that magnesium is the most common electrolyte deficiency and can contribute to muscle weakness, poor cardio-respiratory performance, constipation, PMS, anxiety, insomnia and hypertension. Unfortunately many popular sports drinks focus the replenishment on sodium (with a small amount of potassium) and neglect the need to increase magnesium levels also.
Research suggests that rehydration during endurance exercise (including running, cycling, rowing etc) should be at a rate of 1 litre of water per kilo of weight lost (if from fluid loss whilst exercising). Obviously more fluid will be lost on hot and/or humid climates so this should be considered when considering how much fluid an athlete should consume during/shortly after an event or training session.
So why can’t athletes just rehydrate with water? Adding electrolytes to the water ensures it is more similar to the composition of fluids in the body, and is therefore more easily absorbed and addresses dehydration quicker. Also, consuming water with no electrolytes added may result in hyponatraemia (low sodium levels) in the body which is potentially fatal. Commercial sports drinks do contain sodium at levels similar to those in body fluids. Another important characteristic for effective sports drinks is having enough sugar to deliver a quick and easily absorbed energy source to the body but not so much that it affects hydration. Flooding the blood stream with soda or pure fruit juice could actually increase dehydration as water would be drawn from cells and tissues to dilute blood sugar levels.
A well designed sports drink can also help to increase delivery of nutrients to muscles and spare muscle glycogen and proteins, limit the immune suppression associated with high levels of exercise, minimise muscle damage and generally set the nutritional stage for a faster recovery following your workout.
IHS recommend the following recipe as a much more nutrient dense version of expensive commercial products for endurance athletes. For shorter spurts of exercise (less than an hour), salt may not need to be added:
• 250ml of grape juice
• 750ml of water
• 30g glucose (maltodextrin) – this is important as it ensures the correct fructose/glucose ratio which cannot be found in fruit juice alone
• ¼ tsp Himalayan rock salt
• ¼ tsp vitamin C powder
• ½ tsp magnesium powder
You can also add rooibos powder or steep a rooibos teabag in the drink for a few minutes prior to consumption.
It is also important that you train with the drink you will be using during an event so that you know the body is used to it, that it won’t affect gastrointestinal function and induce cramps. For endurance athletes, it is also important to train the body to accept drink and small amounts of food whilst exercising - as the body would normally shut down the digestive system during exercise as it considers it ‘fight or flight’. Athletes should also avoid carrying drinks and snacks during endurance events as it can impact on biomechanics. Therefore consider whether these can be passed to you if you are a runner and do not have a bike or similar on which to carry bottles etc.
After exercise you might also use a recovery drink to help shift metabolism from breaking down stored carbs (glycogen) for energy to replenishing these stores again. It will also help speed the elimination of metabolic wastes by increasing muscle blood flow, initiate tissue repair and set the stage for muscle growth and reduce muscle damage and bolster the immune system.
The following is a great recovery formula and should be consumed within 1 hour of conducting high intensity and/or endurance exercise. Add to water:
• 40-60g Glucose/sucrose or maltodextrin
• 20-30g whey protein
• 2-3g leucine
• 2-3g glutamine
• 100-300mg vitamin C
• 60-200 IU vitamin E
The above recipe should only be consumed after exercise as during high intensity exercise it will not be digested and may affect digestive function.
Sports Drinks: No Better than Diluted Cola….Except these Ones! Suzanne Laurie