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august 9-15 2012 NOW

Sporting gulp

Sure, we need to replace liquid when we sweat, but are sports drinks the answer? By elizaBeth Bromstein Going for a run or a bike ride? Gotta stay hydrated, right? But your body can only handle so much water. It needs electrolytes in the form of minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium, which allow you to

process fluids. All of which brings us to the question of whether popular sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, with their electrolyte content, are critical to good exercising, as advertised, or just more sugary drinks.

What the experts say


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“The message is always “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.” But dehydration doesn’t compromise performance and isn’t a risk factor for heatstroke. The message runners need to get is that over-hydration, or hyponatremia, is more of a risk than dehydration. Nobody in any marathon or sporting event has ever died of dehydration, but many people have died of water intoxication. Please drink responsibly. If you drink to thirst you’ll be fine. In marathon running, stress hormones like cortisol, prolactin and arginine vasopressin, the hormone that governs water balance, are released. When it’s present, the body can’t excrete the water load, and the dilution of body fluids causes brain swelling. Sports drinks don’t protect from this problem or prevent hyponatremia. They are a very diluted salt solution.” ARTHUR J. SIEGEL, MD, professor, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts “Water is good for hydration, but when you’re exercising in the heat and sweating a lot, you’re also losing sodium, an important part of fluid balance. Sports drinks have an advantage because they provide both carbohydrates and flavour; water gets boring, and people tend not to drink. Sodium’s the important electrolyte to take in while you’re exercising. Eating crushed pretzels, which have both sodium and carbohydrates, with water, would be fine. There’s a backlash against sports drinks, but not even the industry is suggesting you should be drinking sports drinks watching sports. Coconut water doesn’t have sodium, and fruit juices don’t work as sports drinks because there is a density issue: too much carbohydrate to water.” HEIDI SKOLNIK, nutrition and fitness expert, co-author, Nutrient Timing For Peak Performance, New Jersey “Sports drinks have slightly fewer calories

than other sugary beverages, but they have the same adverse effect on weight gain and diabetes and other cardiovascular disease problems. The only people who would benefit from drinking them are endurance athletes – those running 10 to 50 miles. Below that, there’s zero benefit. Water’s all that’s needed. You don’t unbalance your electrolytes by working out in the gym for an hour, doing a Zumba class or biking for an hour. If you’re dehydrated from diarrhea, that’s different, but you won’t find that very often. In around 22 countries, sports drinks are banned from schools. Very few athletic teams use them, except in professional basketball. They’ve been marketed to teenagers and young adults but have zero to do with their health.” BARRY POPKIN, professor of nutrition, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill “Sports drinks replace what we lose in sweat, sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates, which are fuel for our muscles. Instead of buying a sports drink, you can make your own, or choose coconut water, which is terrific at hydrating the moderate exerciser. If you’re doing intense, endurance activity, add a pinch of salt to every 8 ounces of coconut water. Sports drinks should be used during activity and not during sedentary times. Make a homemade sports drink: 3½ cups water, ½ cup orange juice, 2½ tablespoons honey, ¼ teaspoon salt (makes four 8-ounce servings). DAWN JACKSON BLATNER, registered dietitian, Chicago