There are a number of factors that determine what you should consume during exercise. The most notable factor is duration. The primary concern during short duration exercise is to maintain proper hydration. I require that all my clients bring water with them during our trainings, a sip here or there from a water fountain is not enough. If your exercise lasts less than and hour then purified drinking water should be adequate at low intensities. Bring the effort level up with heavy weight training, or exercising above that so called fat burning zone and now your workout should be accompanied by a sports drink or electrolyte replacement drink. If you are pregnant, have low blood sugar or are diabetic you should bring some carbohydrate based food as a back up for times when you feel your blood sugar dropping. In some cases a sports drink will work well for this population as well, the point is to plan and experiment.
Before I go further into sports drinks and electrolyte replacement I want to delve into the importance of water. Most people are dehydrated before they even begin exercise. Do you ever experience headaches and unusual fatigue during a workout? If so you are most likely dehydrated. Do you check your heart rate and notice that it seems a bit high for the level of work you are doing? This can also be a sign of dehydration. Before you even begin your workout you should be consuming water. The amount I recommend to start with is half your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 160 pounds, you should start tracking your water consumption and be sure to drink at least 80 ounces a day. On days you exercise you will need to consume even more. For those who workout first thing in the morning you should be aware that this is the time of day that your body is naturally most dehydrated, so drink up as soon as you roll out of bed.
What is in a sports drink or electrolyte replacement drink? An electrolyte replacement drink is designed to replace the fluids (that would be water) and electrolytes (which are sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, etc) lost during exercise. Sports drinks and electrolyte replacement drinks are one choice for instant energy during moderate to heavy exercise and also for muscle recovery afterwards. The idea is to start hydrated before you workout, drink an appropriate amount of electrolyte fluid during exercise to maintain blood glucose levels and then perhaps ingest some as well after exercise to balance fluid losses.
Here’s the scoop on electrolytes and why you should think about whether you need to add this to your workouts. Electrolytes are minerals that, when dissolved in water, break into small, electrically charged particles called ions. They are present wherever there's water in your body, such as your blood, cells and cell surroundings. Electrolytes regulate your body's fluids, helping to maintain a healthy blood pH balance, and creating the electrical impulses essential to all aspects of physical activity; from basic cell function to complex neuromuscular interactions needed for athletic performance. Many people know sodium and chloride are among the body's most important electrolytes, they both help excite nerves and muscles, but don't think dousing your food with table salt (sodium chloride) is the key to proper electrolyte replacement. Consider these other key electrolytes:
Calcium - aids muscle contraction
Magnesium - aids healthy cell function
Potassium - helps regulate pH balance
Phosphate - helps regulate pH balance
If you eat a balanced diet you are probably consuming adequate quantities of electrolytes for normal human function. When consumed, electrolytes separate into positively and negatively charged ions in the water inside or surrounding each cell and in the bloodstream. As long as your hydration and electrolyte levels stay in balance, you enjoy normal physical function. However, add exercise to the equation and that balance begins to shift, first by increasing the concentration of electrolytes in your body and then, over time, depleting them from your blood stream. This circumstance can seriously hinder athletic performance and in extreme cases can lead to serious illness.
With so many options on the market, from Vitamin Water, to Gateroade, it can be difficult to make a good choice for a sports drink. Because so many of them are marketed as performance and so called health foods one may think that any of these popular brands would be appropriate. Look for these qualities in a sports drink and avoid the products that meet these criteria. Avoid high calories per serving, and pay particular attention to the serving size. During an hour of moderate intensity exercise most people will not need more than 120 calories. Look for sugars glucose, fructose, maltodextrin, and cereal starches. These are carbohydrate sources that are not recommended for people looking to reduce fat, maintain weight, or who are diabetic. Look carefully at the labels and avoid products with added coloring and dies. My favorite electrolyte replacement is called “want more energy” is only 35 calories a serving, is added to your water as you need it, and replaces all electrolytes. It also includes minerals which assist in absorption of the electrolytes and is all natural with no additional colors or dies.
There is also a time and place for drinks that are higher in calories and carbohydrates. Power events of short duration require rapid use of carbohydrates for fuel. For example a sprinting event, power lifting event, a race of short duration such as a 5K, as well as long endurance events all require additional carbohydrate and a drink or gel that includes electrolytes plus carbohydrates will be beneficial. If you are an endurance athlete participating in events that last more than an hour then you will need to replace carbohydrates throughout your training and racing. You will want to choose a product or combine products to replace fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. It is extremely important to practice with the nutrition you will race with and recognize that it may take some time to come up with the right combination. Generally endurance athletes will choose to use gels or powder formulas for the additional calories along with electrolytes required. I highly recommend a line of products by Infinite Nutrition. They have both pre-formulated options and custom-made training and recovery products. If interested in ordering go to www.infinitnutrition.com and use “compleat” as your discount code during check out and receive 10% off all your orders.
How do you know if you are getting enough fluids and replacing enough electrolytes? There are some very simple tests you should perform to determine this. First start by assessing your urine, is it yellow or almost clear? If it is dark yellow then you are already dehydrated. Keep in mind that when you take supplemental vitamins or eat certain foods it will change the color of your urine, so this is just a guideline. Try to get to a hydrated state before you exercise. Before you workout get on the scale and weigh yourself and then weigh yourself again after the workout. For every pound of body weight lost during exercise you need to consume 16 oz of fluid. Now look at your skin and clothing post workout. Are their white sweat marks on your clothes, are your clothes fairly damp, is your skin a little tacky or can you feel salt granules on your skin? These are all really great indicators of your sweat rate and the amount of electrolytes lost during your workout. Wet clothing means you lost a lot of water during your workout and based upon ho heavily you sweat you should consume 6-12 oz of fluid every 15-20 minutes of exercise. That amounts to a minimum of 18 ounces to maximum of 48 ounces in an hour. Now back to those nasty sweat marks. If you are salty, then you lost a lot of electrolytes and need to consume an electrolyte drink during and after exercise. Remember this does not necessarily need to be a high calorie drink, the key is to replace vital nutrients.
The key to properly fueling your body during training is to experiment with which foods in what quantities work best for your body. Consider the type of exercise, intensity, duration of exercise, time of day, when your last meal was, and your ultimate goal. Still feeling a bit at loss? Then contact me for a free nutrition and exercise consultation.