Sports Drinks: Aid For Intensity?

If tasked to bring drinks for their child’s soccer team, most parents know that bottles of plain old water will be met with frowns. Sweet-tasting and brightly-colored sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are what the kids want. But there is some question as to whether these drinks, which have less sugar than soda but obviously much more than water, are a smart choice for athletes. The answer depends on the intensity of the activity.
“Sports drinks do help athletes replace fluids and electrolytes that they’ve lost during high levels of competition,” says Brian Tuten, a certified athletic trainer for St. Joseph's/Candler Sports Medicine and the head athletic trainer at Benedictine Military School. “We recommend them for any sport or conditioning lasting longer than an hour or so of continuous play. These longer periods take a ton of carbohydrates and energy out of our players.”
“We encourage our athletes to replace fluids with water as well,” Tuten adds. “The first hour of any of our sports we encourage the athletes to drink 6-10 ounces of water every 10 minutes.  The longer and more intense the sport, the more you lose ATP.”  

ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate, the energy currency in a person’s cells.
“At that point, replacing the carbohydrates becomes important to maintaining a high level of competition,” Tuten says. He has observed that the sweeter taste in sports drinks helps prevent athletes from taking in too few fluids.
“I feel like individuals will drink more sports drinks than water,” Tuten says. “But you also have to look at each individual’s needs. For instance, athletes with diabetes definitely have different needs that have to be considered.”
If athletes are not engaged in high-intensity exercise for an hour or longer, then sports drinks are not a good choice. The sugar and sodium in the drinks will not offer any benefit and could be detrimental. For everyday thirst and low-intensity workouts, water can provide healthy hydration without the empty calories.
Tuten and his staff also encourage his students to eat a balanced diet and to avoid fast food.
“Diet plays a huge role in hydration,” Tuten says. “You need to have the vitamins and minerals needed to help get the fluids into the muscles and where they need to be.”

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