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Hydration, Exercise, Sports Drinks & Caffeine: What You Should Know

Every athlete knows that drinking plenty of fluids is essential to staying in the game. But finding the right balance of water, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and other substances can be a little more complicated. At Hedley Orthopaedic Institute, sports medicine physicians educate their patients on the basics of hydration. Understanding how your body uses fluids and other essential minerals is critical for any athlete performing in the Valley’s extreme heat.

Before, During & After Your Workout

Hydration should start about an hour before your workout. Begin with 12 to 16 ounces of water or sports drink. By drinking this much water an hour in advance, you give your body plenty of time to process the fluids. Immediately before your workout, you may wish to drink another five to 10 ounces of fluids.

During your workout, you should drink at least eight ounces of fluids for every half hour spent in the sun. If you’re working out in a cool environment, then you may not need quite as much fluid.

After your workout session is complete, rehydrate with more water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals in the blood and body fluids that affect muscle function, blood acidity, and the amount of fluids in your body. These include: potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, chloride, and calcium.

Water v. Sports Drink: Is One Better Than the Other?

Both water and electrolyte-charged sports drinks have their place in working out. Many sports medicine professionals recommend sports drinks because they offer an easy way to replenish your body with necessary minerals. Secondly, if there’s a sports beverage that you enjoy, you’re more likely to want to hydrate often. Thirdly, sports drinks almost always contain carbohydrates, which can help keep you fueled while you burn energy.

At what point does your body really need electrolytes? If you’re only exercising for an hour or so in a cool to moderate environment, then you don’t necessarily need to go out of your way to get electrolytes. You should be fine drinking the recommended amount of water and having a healthy snack. If your workout extends beyond 90 minutes – and/or if you’re exercising in the heat – then you should probably have a sports drink on hand.

Sports drinks aren’t necessarily “better” than water. The most important thing is that you stay hydrated. As a general rule of thumb:

  • 90 minutes or more: Be intentional about getting your electrolytes one way or another.
  • Less than 90 minutes: There’s probably no need to worry about electrolytes. After your workout, eat a healthy snack or meal with protein, carbohydrates, and electrolytes.

Energy Drinks & The Caffeine Conundrum

Many athletes want to know if they can drink energy drinks before, during, or after an exercise. It’s best to avoid these drinks. Some studies have indicated that limited caffeine can be beneficial for high-performance athletes participating in endurance events. However, caffeine and sugar – the driving ingredients in many of energy drinks – inhibit fluid absorption, actively working against your attempts to stay hydrated. Also, caffeine has been shown to inhibit the body’s ability to increase blood flow to the heart during exercise, which makes this ingredient not only counterproductive, but potentially dangerous for the average athlete’s use.

Any necessary and beneficial ingredients found in energy drinks can be obtained without the extra sugar, caffeine, and other harmful elements that may inhibit your performance and put you at risk. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that caffeine – in high dosages – is a banned substance for NCAA and Olympic athletes. The legal limit for the NCAA is 15 μg/mL urine, and 12 μg/mL urine for the International Olympic Committee. Other questionable ingredients frequently found in energy drinks include taurine, ginseng, guarana, and ginkgo biloba.

Recharge with water, sports drinks, electrolytes, healthy food, and plenty of rest. Your body will thank you for it!

For more information about sports medicine services in Phoenix, Tempe, or Mesa, contact us.


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