Saturday, March 31, 2012

Water, sports drinks & energy drinks

Derek Bannister threw me a question a while back.

“I am working outside in the hot weather lately and wonder what you recommend to help to rehydrate. I am drinking heaps of water however I feel like I need something more to assist. What are your thoughts on sports drinks? Do you have a recipe for something that can be made at home.”

When it is hot, water is a great drink, but it may need a helping hand sometimes. Recently, I was up in the north-west of Australia working with Rio Tinto employees on remote iron ore mines. They have to endure some high temperatures for six months of the year. Water is great. An electrolyte drink may be better when it heats up. Energy drink? Mmmm, no.
Energy drink ≠ Sports drink
Let’s clear up one thing first. An energy drink is not a sports drink. An energy drink (like the ones advertised on Formula 1 motor racing cars) is a soft drink with added caffeine. That’s it. Nothing more.

I’m not really that concerned with a bit of caffeine. Indeed, I love it early in the morning. It reminds my brain that there is work to be done. Each can of energy drink has 80 mg caffeine. One can; not a problem. When kids drink 6 cans a day; problem. Excess can cause anxiety and disrupted sleep in children.

Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant, like, it wakes you up, makes you more alert. Caffeine can also increase endurance in athletes. That’s why some footballers, for example, take 1-2 NoDoz tablets (100-200mg caffeine) before a game.

Energy? Another word for Calories
Look at the Nutrition Information Panel on a food and it has the word “Energy”. Next to it are the kilojoules or calories. Energy = kJs/Cals. The word “Energy” doesn’t mean it gives you zip or vitality. That will come from the quality of your kJs/Cals, not from a magic drink.

Sports drinks
Swallow an energy drink, or a soft drink/soda, and it goes into your stomach. There it stops. Then small amounts get slowly released into the next section after your stomach, called the small intestine. Here it gets “analysed”. These drinks are about 12% sugar, too concentrated for the intestine to handle. So, it needs to dilute the drink with water. Where does it get the water from? Your blood. Some water from your blood passes into the small intestine, dilutes the soft drink, then the drink, and the extra water can be absorbed into the blood. Weird as it sounds, you need to slightly further dehydrate before you hydrate with a soft drink (I’m not talking about diet drinks here).

A sports drink is only 6% sugar, about half that of a soft drink or energy drink. At this concentration it will pass from the stomach into the small intestine and then into the blood quite quickly. Sports drinks (and other electrolyte drinks) also have sodium (salt). This is handy if you sweat a lot. Some people lose a lot of salt through sweat and that may trigger cramping. A sports drink may solve the problem.

You can make a sports drink at home, although they usually don't taste that good because it is basically salty, dilute cordial. This is a good article discussing making a sports drink from scratch or from fruit juice. As I say, don’t expect to immediately think “Yum”.

What does it all mean?
Water is the perfect drink for humans, except when that human being starts doing something his forebears are unlikely have done, like running 42 kms non-stop, bricklaying in 36C heat, or (and many people swear this actually happens) swim for 3 km, cycle for 180 km and then look at their watch and say: “Boy, do I feel good. I’ve got time to jog for 42 km to finish off the day.”

When the insanity gene takes hold then you are going to benefit from a sports drink. Water is for humans; sports drinks for the self-punishers (is this where I put in a smiley emoticon?). Or when your job involves working in the heat, often with all the safety clothing too. Thanks again for your question Derek.

No comments: