Sports drinks are targeted at those taking part in exercise, and used to rehydrate athletes after they sweat during exercise. Sweating occurs to keep the core body temperature at 37°C.
Manufacturers generally say sports drinks replace water, energy and electrolytes lost during the exercise. Electrolytes are minerals including calcium, chloride, sodium, potassium and magnesium, and they control osmosis of water between body compartments. They also help to maintain the acid-alkali balance required for normal cellular activities.
Types of sports drinks
There are three main types of sports drinks.
They contain higher concentrations of sugar and salt than our bodies. They are usually consumed after workouts, to complement the daily intake of carbohydrate, and also replenish muscle glycogen stores.
Best for athletes competing in ultra-distance events, it is important to consume an isotonic drink as well in order to replace lost fluids.
They contain lower concentrations of sugar and salt than our bodies. They are usually more suited for athletes such as gymnasts who do not require a carbohydrate boost.
Hypotonic drinks are also capable of replacing fluids quickly after sweating.
They contain a similar concentration of sugar and salt to our bodies. They are able to replace lost fluids quickly, and provide a carbohydrate boost. Isotonic drinks are commonly chosen by athletes.
If you consume too much water and not enough electrolytes after heavy sweating, it may result in an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. Although rare, this condition, called water intoxication, could be fatal.
The low concentration of electrolytes can cause over-hydration, affecting the functioning of nerve cells. For the most severe cases, it could cause confused behaviour, seizures, comas or death.
Do sports drinks improve performance?
There has been plenty of scientific debate on the supposed benefits sports drinks bring, such as better performances and better recovery. Experts from the University of Oxford claimed that there is insufficient evidence to support manufacturers’ claims on the benefits provided by sports drinks.
There is no definite proof that sports drinks are able to improve your performances more than just drinking water, but it is known that they can help replace lost electrolytes which water fails to do.